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The Value of Humor in the Catholic Middle-School Classroom
by Patricia Anne Columbus
Make learning more fun—and teach students some valuable life lessons—by making humor a part of your daily classroom life.
Catholic schools are faith communities that strive to develop an understanding of the Catholic faith, a commitment to the practice of their religion, and a set of values that will influence students’ present and future lives.

The teaching of values is an explicit objective of the Catholic school. The curriculum and environment of the Catholic school are designed to help students to internalize values. We provide students with the opportunity to examine values and reflect on their meaning in their daily lives. The teacher also provides opportunities for students to act in ways consistent with the values of their families, Catholic Church, heritage, and community.

The classroom teacher is the key to a quality education-building community where the student can develop academically, morally, and spiritually. The teacher also plays a role in allowing students to develop their senses of humor. Students enter our classrooms with a variety of personal conflicts, doubts, and family issues. If we can create an approving, protective, and warm environment in which the student can develop a sense of humor, humor can encourage students and foster confidence which may help them cope with future situations.

Laughter is God’s gift to us, and it starts as early as a baby’s first smile. Middle-school students are inventive and creative in their humor. As educators we model behavior for our students each day. A fellow teacher recently walked into my room and looked at the students working diligently. She said, “You think today she gave a lot of work—wait until you see what she has planned for tomorrow.”
I looked at the students. They stared back with faces made of stone. I was certain a few were holding their breath. The teacher smiled at me and the students let out a collective sigh. Together we all shared a moment of humor.

The combination of work and humor is the everyday stuff of the classroom. Without the humor built into our day we would be like learning machines. When learning about Noah and the ark, and wondering how that man ever kept at the building of the ark with all the criticism he faced, we decided he had to have had a sense of humor.

Students were asked what was the most important thing they learned from their Bible study of the Old Testament. A girl remarked that she felt that the trials of our ancestors, their time waiting and wandering, are a lot like our spiritual journey. The way to heaven should be a road traveled with light hearts, a skip in our steps, and a smile on our faces. A journey with laughter along the way is a freeway through the tough times.

Humor is one of life’s values. It must be encouraged and developed in children in a learning environment. When teasing and bullying have been discouraged within the school community, students by this age do not find it as funny when one of their peers makes a mistake or gets in trouble. They have developed a sensitivity and empathy for one another. What children find funny changes over time. I find that middle-school humor is very close to adult humor without any of the negativity that is forbidden in the classroom setting. As educators we are given a great responsibility in the development of our students’ senses of humor. If we learn how to understand what works within our own classroom and within the relationships we develop with our students, it only makes the learning process that much more rewarding.

I have developed a unit on humor for my classroom. Students develop a definition of humor in small groups and discuss people’s responses to humor. We come together as a class and look for commonalities and differences in their findings. Next, I give a lesson on the development of humor from birth with a baby’s first smile to second graders and their silliness. We go through all the developmental stages to where they are today. We discuss the importance of humor for good health and good friendships.

The students then give oral presentations on the variety of humor they find within their lives. Some bring in a clip from a movie, or a comic strip, or a funny comment from Mom or Dad. One student told about the time he was getting sarcastic with his mom. She told him today was not a good day for his sarcasm, so he proceeded to ask her, “Then when would be a good day?”

Humor is a great alternative to scolding. It keeps the students’ attention and they remember the next time they almost do the same thing it is something you do not allow in your classroom. School humor is walking down the hall and being able to give a look or make a comment and see a child’s smile. Humor allows the child who never fits in to fit. The best thing about middle-school humor is that they “get” it.
 Each day humor is found in the classroom. In my classroom students were told to bring in an object to talk about for one minute. One boy forgot his object, so preceded to bring his friend to the front of the room and ad-libbed his way through the speech.

In another assignment I give students a 2 ft. by 2 ft. piece of aluminum foil and tell them they can use it to create anything they want. This is an assignment to show their uniqueness. Two boys got together in the short time allowed. One made a magic wand and the other made a box, and with the magic wand a pen was produced from the box. The magic to me was the laughter.

Students love recess even at this age. So, instead of begging for the recess, one girl was chosen by the group to come to me and present the importance of good health and the fight against obesity that recess allows. Yes, they did get a recess.

Parents may become concerned that their children are on the brink of being disrespectful. And at times that can very well be, but it is our place as educators not only to educate academically but also to nurture the fun side of students. This allows them the ability to laugh at themselves and with others. Students may have a tendency to make fun of others. They don’t always intend this to be hurtful. They lose control of the situation, and others may not see their behavior as funny. One student can think a comment was funny while others are running to the teacher’s desk telling what was said. This is a great opportunity to explain boundaries to the class. Sometime it is difficult to control humor, such as at lunch or at recess. During these less-structured activities is the time when life’s greatest lessons are learned. We need only to guide students on their way.

As a teacher it is important to be careful to not get too involved in kidding around about a student with other classmates because they see such comments differently coming from the teacher. Students tend to believe what the teacher is joking about and feel he/she does not like the student. It is a fine line, and as teachers we too must have boundaries. How a teacher treats a child has a profound influence on an entire class, so it is safer and wiser to use humor with the whole group.

Students may tend to handle even discipline with humor. They respect that there are consequences for their actions, but they can bring humor to the activity requested of them. For example, one boy who was crossing boundaries in the classroom was asked to leave the room. The teacher recommended while he was out there to count the bricks on the wall. Well, the child was brilliant in math and by the time he was called back into the room he knew how many bricks were in the entire hallway due to his calculations. He had a time out, filled his time wisely, and gave his teacher a good laugh.

I allow students to write notes to one another within reason. They are to be passed only in between classes and never when I am teaching. If I ever need to confiscate a note it sometimes gives me an “in” on what is actually going on in my own classroom. Now my only problem is students are using text messaging code which I am not always familiar with, and I practically have to read the note out loud to know what it says. One Monday our pastor was in our room teaching and when he was done, a note flew across the room. I don’t allow throwing notes either. He looked at me and I gave the student a look. I told her we don’t throw notes, and we don’t pass them when Father is in the room. It became a humorous moment and a lesson learned.

Another time I was very busy and I didn’t have time to deal with the talking and the note passing. The students were being very obvious about passing notes and laughing, and I knew something was up. I took the note and stuck it in my pocket. That one little gesture usually leaves them speechless, but this time they said, “Read it.” Instead of the usual, the note read, “Mrs. Columbus, we really need a recess—please. Thank you.” I had to laugh out loud. It was the first time I had ever confiscated a note directed to me.

At the end of my unit on humor, the students were asked to write a short description of humor. Here are some samples of what they had to say: Humor helps bring friendships together. It helps people get to know each other and what they have in common. Humor is an important “skill” to have. Just one giggle can change your day to a good one. Life without humor is like life without friends. Humor is a blessing, so use it well. God created humor for a good reason!

In all our interactions with our students it is important to remember that laughter is a child’s faith in God and good. It is important that we as educators provide opportunities within our classroom to reinforce the value of humor.

Patricia Anne Columbus teaches the sixth grade at St. Vincent de Paul School in Brooklyn Park, NY.

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