Catch their attention, before your students catch their ZZs!

I am confident that we have all been told and even reprimanded or reminded that “this is no laughing matter.” Actually, this essay is a laughing matter. My wife thinks I am the funniest person she knows. However, sometimes in class, I have to catch my students’ attention before they catch their ZZs. One student wrote on a course/instructor evaluation: You made this class fun, funny, and interesting. Your classes were by no means ever ‘boring’. Thanks for the great job, the laughter, and the understanding.”

One my favorite TV programs is Sunday Morning hosted by Charles Osgood. On Sunday, November 16, 2014, one of the segments was motivational speakers and their secrets to success. Most of these speakers are passionate about their messages, and interestingly, humor factors into their presentations. In fact, most of the speakers believe that about every two to three minutes the goal is to engage the audience in laughter to sustain their attention, and to help the audience to focus more intently on the topic. In addition, on November 17, 2014 on Wisconsin Public Radio on “All Things Considered,” the topic of discussion will be “Teaching as Performance.” I have often maintained that teaching is an art; and when we are teaching , we are on stage and performing/acting out our art and our craft. I like to keep the ebb and flow of the class light and lively, yet substantial. I may say, by the way, why did the turtle cross the street? I am bombarded by blank stares, and I say, “to go to the shell station.” There are a few scattered chuckles and some don’t even recognize that there is a joke for they are already catching their ZZs.

From various studies (Dr. James A. Thorson – Multi-dimensional Sense of Humor Scale – check it out ) humor is an indicator of intelligence, life purpose, and longevity. In some instances humor facilitates healing and coping with pain. Laughter is a gift one can give oneself and to others. Generally, while all knowledge comes through the senses, we may have heard of the sixth sense, that is, the sense of humor. Children are not yet jaded by the eventualities of life. They laugh naturally and whole heartedly. Children can laugh more than hundreds of times each day compared to adults who might max out at 30 times per day. Laughter can be a half smile, a little snicker, a good laugh or a snort, becoming teary-eyed or even wetting one’s pants. Your child comes home from school and asks, “What do math teachers eat with their coffee?” With a glee in her eye, she exclaims, “a slice of pi.”

Of course, when we laugh chemicals happily spill over into our blood, and we experience a feeling of transcendence for nothing else matters at that moment. Some of these happy chemicals are: endorphins ( natural opiates), Dopamine ( mood elevates ); Serotonin ( relaxed feeling ), and Norepinephrene ( energy ). Dr. William Fry Jr. offers 5 dimensions of laughter and humor: 1. They heal the body giving the lungs a hardy workout akin to 6 minutes of jogging. They lower muscle tension and blood pressure while boosting the immune system; 2. They improve intelligence and creative thinking because it stimulates the imagination. They improve the world around you; 3. Humor and laughter bond relationships and help us cope with tragedy and loss. They improve morale and team building while making conversation interesting and fun while keeping life in perspective; 4. They enhance one’s self-esteem that enables you to laugh at your goofs and mistakes. They enable you to see life’s absurdities and increase your level of confidence. The author offers a caution that we should laugh with others and not at others, thus we are avoiding sarcasm, ridicule, ethnic remarks, put-downs, hostility, cynicism, contempt, and insensitivity ; 5. Laughter and humor enhance learning, that is they improve student attention rate and interest in the class. They decrease test anxiety levels, avoid behavioral problems, improve retention of learning materials, and enhance student-teacher rapport. It appears that the shortest distance between two persons is a sense of humor and laughter.

There are creative ways to introduce or incorporate humor into your place of learning whatever form or shape it takes: begin class with a funny story (clean and appropriate ) and invite others to follow suit in subsequent classes; create your own cartoons; display humorous quotes, best joke contest, a funny rap song, or checking out humor resources – For example in math: what kind of food do math teachers eat? ( square meals ); science – why did the atom cross the street? ( it was time to split); health fields – what happens if you are not true to your teeth? (they will be false to you); social science – where was the Declaration of Independence signed? ( at the bottom). One has to get in touch with one’s inner child. What if Patch Adams thought he was too adult for humor and laughter, as he said – “One clown arriving to town is more beneficial than 15 mules laden with drugs.”

I offer you a challenge, that is, develop your own creed on humor, laughter, and life. Here are a few for a starter as a “hamburger helper” (chuckle) – I will use humor for positive, uplifting, and loving purposes; I will take myself lightly, and my work lightly serious; I will learn to laugh at myself and my mistakes in life; I will laugh with others and not at others; and ??? “If there is no laughter in heaven, I do not want to go there.” Martin Luther – the reformer.

Roger J. Vanden Busch

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