Back at work after my stress free Summer adventures, I noticed the need for stress management in my students, many of whom take learning so seriously. I have attempted to tackle the issue with humor.
Humor is a serious business. It’s no joke! Those of us responsible for providing the most effective educational experience to our young people understand its power. Laughter is known to have many health benefits including relieving stress, raising endorphins and increasing oxygen levels. All things that assist learning and more importantly extend life. So it makes sense to chuckle, chortle, giggle, smile, and snort our way to academic success.
I hear from my students more and more how overwhelmed and stressed they feel with all they are expected to accomplish in any given day. It is not only the pressure of doing well in school, but also the expectations that they manage all their extracurricular activities, part time jobs, club responsibilities and volunteer commitments. Oh, and let’s not neglect the need (if there is time), for a restorative night’s sleep!
It is with this in mind that I choose to ease their stress by employing laughter in the classroom. It is critical that one not confuse sarcasm, or being entertained by someone’s embarrassment with real honest to goodness humor; one that unites us, rather than separates us. It must come from a sincere desire to include all while teaching important lessons.
In the English classroom, we tackle the stuff of life through our close reading of some very serious literature. Universal themes of loss, regret, corruption, cruelty, forgiveness, jealousy, love, sacrifice and others are delved into, drawing on personal connections to the stories we read, to gain a better understanding of our place in the world. Texts, with a few exceptions, that lack a comedic thread. But laughter, too, is the stuff of life, and has a significant role to play in our well being, which is why it is so needed to redress the balance.
In the past, I have employed the help of disco music to energize my sleepy students who asked for something to wake them up before the first class of the day. We all learned the steps and wiggled, jiggled and giggled for two minutes to remove the cranial cobwebs. Yes, we looked silly, but two minutes of activity that starts the day smiling is worth the investment. Another lesson was in writing clearly. So, I followed the student written directions for making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, faithfully. Well, she didn’t say I was to use a knife to remove the peanut butter from the jar. Nor did she mention that the slice of bread should be removed from the wrapped loaf! They chuckled their way through that messy lesson.
Students are drawn to people who make them laugh, who are genuinely concerned for them; people who show them respect and pay them attention. They respond to enthusiasm and kindness and to the setting of clear boundaries. I want the young people with whom I come in regular contact to see a role model of strength and kindness. To be inspired by someone who values hard work and determination, goal setting and achieving. I want them to know that there is real satisfaction in reaching our full potential and that the quest for excellence can be enhanced by peppering our path with laughter.