Relationship Building

Using Humor in the Art Room (Ep. 109)

Humor is a very interesting tool to use in the classroom, and it can be used for good. But sometimes, it can bring about some not-so-good consequences as well. In today’s episode, Nic talks about how humor can be fun, but we still need to be careful with what we say to our kids. Listen for her advice on cutting out sarcasm, getting people to laugh, and the best ways to relate to the students in your classroom. Full Episode Transcript Below.

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Nic: When I was in first grade, my teacher sang me this song in class. Let’s listen a little closely. (singing). It’s a great song. Jeepers creepers, where’d you get those peepers? It’s got a fun beat to it, it got the kids engaged. However, I heard a little different message in this song. See, my mother decided that she wasn’t going to use the correct terms for body anatomy. So therefore, she changed our private areas to the word peeper. So as this first-grade teacher comes, bopping along relating to us having a good time singing about our peepers, which most people know as eyes, I took this story a little differently. I took the song a little bit differently and was a little uncomfortable in the situation. Today we’re going to talk about humor in the classroom and perception, and this is Nic Hahn with Everyday Art Room.

I was having a conversation with one of the kindergarten teachers that kind of provoked this exact podcast here. And the kindergarten teacher was telling me about early childhood screening, bringing the kids in, doing some assessment, and she had asked this one little guy to please read these numbers out loud. So, this little, tiny peanut stood up straight and started saying “One, two, three” in his loudest booming voice. She did say, “Read this out loud.” It made me laugh and actually think of a couple of stories that I have on my own.

Anytime that I have taught early childhood, so we’re talking preschool, kindergarten, first grade, even, and I say, “Okay, once you have that colored up, then go ahead and draw some shapes and lines in the background.” Nine times out of 10, these kids will take their piece of paper and flip it over to the background. They just have the context of what background is yet, they don’t understand that. And so it makes sense when they do it. They’re so literal. Children are so literal, but here’s the deal guys; humans can be literal too.

Humor is a very interesting tool to use in the classroom, and it can be used for good and it can be used for bad. And when I say use for bad, none of us are using humor to hurt anyone, to make someone feel uncomfortable. Like my sweet first grade teacher, that was not her intent in any way, shape or form. No. What she was trying to do is relate to us. And I think often, that’s what we’re trying to do with our students too when we’re using humor. We’re trying to show we’re fun and we can relate to you. But we have to consider the relationship between you and the student, as well as their perception. And we are talking about teaching, whatever, 25, 30 kids in your classroom and trying to figure out what their perception is going to be about your words. It can be a daunting task.

There are a couple of things that I’ve changed in my own practice, and a couple of, well, learning lessons I’ve had in the past that have led me to use less humor. No, let me change that. Have led me to use different humor in my classroom. I’m still fairly relatable to the majority of my students, and I feel like I am more successful in making sure that students feel welcomed and safe in my classroom. So let’s get right into that. With humor, often, we use sarcasm, right? And I am an extremely sarcastic person, or I have been in the past.

My practice has changed quite a bit, and it has been a progression, I will say. I started out by hearing some different speakers or reading in books about sarcasm in the classroom, and I kind of was like, “Yeah, but you know what? This is how I do me; I am sarcastic, I am hilarious, and you better believe that I make everybody laugh.” And I really did think that for a long time in my life. There was a couple of situations that really brought it to a head where I decided to change my practice a little bit as far as sarcasm goes.

Now, sarcasm to me is kind of saying a real phrase, a real situation in a tone of voice that is different. However, when that is said back to you, it can really change things. So I said, I’ve had speakers and I’ve had books tell me about this, but until I had my own personal children in my house, I didn’t make the big changes that I have now. So, my kids are… Mattise is 11 years old and Sawyer is 13. And when I… As I have been raising them, and my husband too, we have a lot of humor in our house. We laugh, we are a sarcastic family, we have a lot of fun.

And what has made me change things is the fact that kids, your own personal kids or kids in your classroom, are the best mirror that you will ever see. Looking at yourself in the mirror, you are also perceiving yourself the way that you intend. When your kids repeat the exact same things back to you, in the exact same mannerisms and tones, and you think, “Listen here missy, you don’t talk to me like…” Wait a minute, did I just talk to you like that? Yep.

That’s what happened in our household; our kids started using sarcasm back at us. And we were highly offended because they were being disrespectful. Well, that was our perception. They were mimicking what we were doing. They are quite skilled at this gift, and it’s offensive. Because a lot of times when they were using it, it was in the midst of an argument. They didn’t have comedic timing, which again, I like to think that I have, but maybe I don’t either.

So, sarcasm, I asked my husband like, “Where can sarcasm live?” Tim thought about it for a little bit and he said, “You know what? Sarcasm can live in cutting down yourself and being sarcastic about yourself.” And he said, “I think that’s a really good way to work with our older kids.” And in some ways I totally agree. But then I started thinking about it a little harder. Again, if children or people are mirrors of you and they start doing the same thing, being sarcastic about themselves, is that a positive thing? No.

I don’t want my students starting to cut down themselves or their actions or their art in any way, shape or form. That’s not creating a safe environment, not having a positive growth mindset. It’s cutting yourself down, it’s being negative. And if students are mimicking you, who is making fun of yourself, well, you can’t tell them not to do it. You’re doing it, right? So, overall, I’m really feeling like sarcasm for me, even though it is in my heart and in my soul, I try really, really hard not to use it in the classroom. And boy, has it been a process.

Trying to cut out sarcasm has been challenging for me, but I have not cut out humor in any way, shape or form. When I start using humor in the classroom, this is what I think about, what am I trying to teach my students? How am I going to teach them that? And a lot of times, it’s through a joke or through humor or through something that’s going to make us laugh. So, let me give you this example, weaving. When I teach my early elementary students weaving, I will make intentional mistakes.

So I have a big weaving piece of paper, it’s very large. It’s on my board. I put it up there with some magnets and then I have large strips of paper that I weave in and out of the loom, the paper loom. And as I do it, I talk about going over, under, over, under, over, under, and I get one strip through. Then, I give them the correct way to put in the next weft. So I go over, under, over, under, over, under, the opposite. Once I have two correct, we talk about what makes those correct. “It’s a checkerboard pattern and it makes the weaving nice and strong. We press it down, they touch each other. This is what makes it correct.”

All right. Well, I’m getting really good at this, so I’m going to go ahead and keep going. Over, under, over, under, over, under. Okay. I am doing a great job. However, I intentionally make the weft the exact same pattern as the last one. So we don’t have that checkerboard pattern look anymore. And I look at the kids, so proud of myself. And always, one little sweet pea in the audience… Ha, audience, because I am a stand-up comedian in the classroom. They raise their hand nice and slow and they say, “Miss Hahn, actually, that’s not right because it doesn’t make a checkerboard.” And I turn around and I go, “Oh my goodness, I can’t believe that.” I pull it out dramatically and put it under, over, under, over correctly.

I say, “Well, not a big deal. I made a mistake.” I pulled out that weft and I put it back the correct way. Okay. Now I’m going to do another one. This is looking really good. Over, under, over, under, over, under. And I leave it. This time, I had skipped over two of the spaces. Instead of keeping this even pattern, I skip over two, I put it down nice and tight, I turn around, proud of myself, and by this time, there’s more people kind of snickering and laughing. Miss Hahn, that’s not right,” they always say.

I go, “What do you mean? Tell me… What? I’m trying… Oh, what did I do wrong?” Now, instead of one little kid being brave, it’s the whole class. They’re giggling. They’re telling me, “No, you went over two instead of under.” Okay. So I reverse, I make a big point to say, “Ah, sometimes I make mistakes, but you know what? I’m going to persevere. I’m going to give this a try again.” Over, under, over, under, over, under. And then I make it nice and tight again. I might do one more where I forget to tighten it down, and then of course the entire class is trying to catch my mistake. They’re laughing, they can’t wait for me to make another mistake, and then I correct it.

Okay. What was the goal in this? It is to relate to the students, it is to have some fun, it is to have humor in my classroom. But more so, I’m teaching perseverance. I’m teaching that it’s okay to make mistakes. We can learn from them. And, in this case, we can fix it. No big deal. I know what you’re thinking; Okay Nick. So you’re just saying I can go ahead use humor in the classroom and just be intentional about it. And to a certain degree, yes, that is exactly what I’m saying. However, I’d like to point out that you have no control over the perception of others. So this is one more aspect to think about.

And this goes back to my initial story about, well, the song. You recall? So in my current life, my husband is the cook; he makes most of our meals. He is very gifted at it. He is very confident at cooking, and he will make a meal and about every, oh I don’t know, 30th meal, he ends up burning it or maybe gets the wrong flavors in there and we can kind of tease him and say, “Oh, nice one dad.” We can tease him until the cows come home because it doesn’t affect him in any way, shape or form. He is extremely confident in his skills of cooking.

If any of my children or family members were to make fun of my cooking, it would be a different story, because you know what, I am not confident in making food. I try and try. I have growth. Let’s say I’m not confident yet. Because I am a growth mindset person. But at this point in time in my cooking abilities, I would get a P; I’m participating and practicing. I’m not quite there yet. I’m not exceeding in any way, shape or form. I have some growth to do. So I’m very sensitive to anyone making any comment… well, anyone from my family making a comment about my food because I try really hard and I just… I’ve failed quite often. Still learning through failure, let’s say.

So, you can’t predict what another person is going to think about your words. With sarcasm, humor or straight-faced, you can’t perceive what the other person is thinking about you. So using conversation is one way to do that, using verbal or straight up… Well, verbal or nonverbal cues to explain what you mean by that is always best practiced. So, if I am presenting to my class and I’m kind of joking around, I have a universal sign for my students, a nonverbal sign, and I just wink. So I give them a little wink, and they know, Oh, Miss Hahn’s joking. Got it.

But there are still some times that students do not see that or get it. So I might go through my little jokey joke and then at the end I might say, “But of course I’m just joking,” and I use the words, I’m just joking. I don’t know if this is 100% foolproof. Well, I know it isn’t, but it’s probably the best I’ve come up with to find a balance of humor in my classroom and making sure that I’m trying to really relate to my students in a way that’s safe for them. I can honestly say that The Art of Education University has a lot of humor. Being part of this team for so long, I get to see kind of the background of the conversations that happen between our staff, and it is sometimes absolutely hilarious. Other times, we’re just getting the business. But, most of the time, there is some humor in it.

In fact, I think of Mr. Tim Bogatz who wrote an article several years ago explaining that Pinterest was actually failing. It was blowing up, it went over capacity, and so the whole entire site just is seizing and it was never going to work again. And at this time, that was one of the main ways that people were communicating and sharing ideas with one another. I think that has shifted to Instagram as of now, but Pinterest was… And Pinterest is still very hot right now. So I was devastated. Like I had a lot of things pinned and organized and my whole year planned out with inspiration from other teachers on Pinterest, and I was devastated until I realized it was April 1st. Good one, Tim Bogatz, you got me.

And at first I was sad, but once I realized it was a joke, then absolutely, I thought it was hilarious. He got me good. When I was doing research for this podcast, I did what I often do, and I jumped onto The Art of Education University’s website and I typed into the search bar, humor. An article that was actually written four years ago by Jennifer Carlisle, she wrote Five Ways to Incorporate Humor in Your Classroom. And she has a lot of really good ideas, ways to embed some humor or some fun into your classroom and might be worth looking out. We’ll include that in the links with this podcast.

So am I, overall, telling you to take all joy out of your classroom so that you never laugh again? Not in any way, shape or form. What I’m asking you to do, or my challenge for you is to really analyze your humor, analyze your words, analyze the intent of what you’re doing in your classroom and what you’re saying. So, think about these following things. You need to think about the intention of your humor; what are you trying to do with it? Are you trying to relate to your students? Are you trying to teach a lesson to your students? Or how are you using humor as a tool?

Then, start thinking about that perception. What are the different ways that students might perceive what I’m saying? Is it going to be scary for them? Is it going to be absolutely hilarious? Are they all going to understand it even though they come from all different areas of life and cultures and backgrounds? So think about the perception of other people in your world. And then, of course, ask yourself what kind of cues you’re giving your students to make sure that they truly understand you. This works for me. I explained, I give that little wink, and that seems to work for me most of the time in the classroom.

However, when I’m playing volleyball at my local bar with friends and I go to tell a joke and I give that little wink to a gentleman next to me, it actually has a different effect there. So also know your audience. Know who you’re talking to, make sure that your cues are correct for the students that you’re talking to in your classroom. Guys, go ahead, keep using that humor in your classroom. Just be intentional with it. This is Nic Hahn, and I will chat with you next week.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.