Monday, October 13, 2014

Joking at Tunbridge

Rooted in the belief that active students are engaged students, Tunbridge Private Charter School places a strong emphasis on mixing work with play. The resulting environment is unlike any other I’ve encountered (granted, I don’t pretend to have spent a lot of time in schools). On my first day, students in the third grade class I’d been placed in opened their morning by thoughtfully contemplating a question of actionable intent (how do actions speak louder than words?) before immediately moving into a rousing variation of rock, paper, scissors that involved a great deal of squatting, standing, sitting, squatting, and standing again. After they had been given the opportunity to move around a bit, the students then sat down to begin their vocabulary lesson with increased focus.

Humor certainly has its role within this hyper energized curriculum. On the day I started my service, the entire school was participating in an “orange out,” celebrating the excitement of the Oriole’s launch into the postseason by wearing -- wait for it -- all orange (not a difficult task, given that the school t-shirts are actually orange).  The motivating punchline: if every student participated, the principal would take a pie to the face at the end of the day. As you can imagine, this generated a fair bit of excitement amongst the student body. A principal taking a pie to the face follows the joke pattern outlined by Douglas in this week’s readings, with a chaotic source disrupting a formal establishment of power. Simply put, you can bet the whole school will be laughing at the image of a pie-covered principal.

 Laughter plays an important role within individual classroom lessons as well. On my second day of service, I was placed in a lively fourth grade classroom in which the teacher lightened the mood by infusing frequent jokes into her vocabulary lesson. For every piece of vocab she asked the students to come up with a corresponding sentence that displayed their understanding of word at hand, at which point she would often playfully challenge their statements. For example, when a student called rapper Eminem “illustrious,” she went on to voice her preference for rapper Jay Z instead. This served to relieve the tension built by the students’ challenge to understand advanced vocabulary words. Additionally, it appeared to increase student engagement. Everyone listens so as not to miss out on the joke and students are eager to participate in the hope of sharing a comic interaction with their beloved teacher.

Though my activity at Tunbridge has been limited to grading papers thus far, I have thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to see humor at play within the teacher-student dynamic and larger school community. I look forward to gathering a better understanding of how humor can be used as a teaching tool and how joking can affect energy levels and morale in an educational institution.​

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