Find the funny | Education Support
Finding the funny - teachers and education staff

Find the funny

One of the first signs that I’m struggling with stress or anxiety or general overload of everything is that I lose my sense of humour. 

Every term in teaching has its unique demands. This one has the advantage of being shorter than the apparently endless Autumn term, but for its brevity, is extremely intense. The horror of having to wake up and leave the house in the dark is still very much a reality, the weather is unpredictable and the marking load is intense. As well as bearing in mind that the days are gradually getting longer and that, as my PGCE tutor wisely told me, things usually get much easier after the end of February, the key is to keep a sense of humour. 

Whilst the most challenging thing about teaching is the people, the people are also the best thing for their unpredictability, their fallibility, their quirks and their foibles. And the research shows that laughter increases endorphin levels to improve mood and reduces stress hormones such as cortisol, so seeking out your cackle-buddies, your laugh-or-cry dark-humour friends, those who make you giggle or chortle or bark, is guaranteed to make you feel better.

I asked some teachers to give me examples of things that have happened in their classrooms to make them laugh. The sheer diversity of examples, from the vulgar to the surprising to the frankly unimaginable in any other context make for excellent reading to brighten any grey winter day…

Unexpected compassion

My favourite moments with students are the ones the combine humour with genuine kindness and empathy. For all the challenges of the classroom, the compassion of young people is something that has never ceased to amaze and restore me. I remember becoming exasperated with my Year 11s to the point of raising my voice (pretty rare, and best avoided!). ‘Oh, what IS wrong with you all?’ I asked. No-nonsense Carmen took me on directly: ‘What’s wrong with YOU, Miss?’ She was bang on. I was stressed out and had lost all sense of perspective and had to stop to collect myself (before deciding that ejecting her from the lesson for impertinence probably wasn’t the way forward!).

Another teacher shared this moment of sudden empathy from a GCSE student:

He was trying to explain a straightforward maths concept to a friend, who was just not engaging their brain. After 5 minutes he loudly announced: "Oh my god Miss, I now understand how you feel. How do you cope?"

Very young children can also be remarkably perceptive when it comes to picking up on dynamics and relationships:

A child said to my TA "Mrs Y, it's a good job you're friends with Mr B because he must wear you out!" 5 years old and he's sussed that I'm difficult to work with...

The words that come out of our mouths

The lines you would never utter elsewhere. I have a memory that will never leave me of having to ask a young lad, repeatedly, to ‘keep your hands on the table’ (don’t even ask). One teacher found herself asking a child to please stop hiding pens in his hair. A teacher reports having to chastise a student: ‘Please stop licking his face. He doesn’t like it’ and having to maintain a straight face when his friend pled his defence: ‘But there’s jam on it!’

The stifled giggles

I will never forget my colleague’s story about national symbols and his inability to say the word ‘muff’ (Russia) out loud in the classroom lest he lose control completely. The children were utterly bemused when he finally gave away the reason for his giggling. They had no idea…

Similarly, the collector of microbe toys was none the wiser as to why his teacher couldn’t stop laughing when he declared he would like ‘crabs’ for his birthday.

And the ones that never get tired…

Child staring out of window.
Teacher: Will, what do you think?
Will: sorry miss, it’s just.....
Teacher: what are you staring at Will?
Will: errrr.... there’s someone crawling around in Mrs Stevens’ bush!

Y5 Spanish are writing descriptive sentences about 6 planets of their choice. 1 boy comes to show me his. "Pretty good," says I, "some great descriptions. I'd just like you to check Uranus."

How old are you, Miss?

During my 21 year classroom career, I have had my age estimated at everywhere between 21 and 85. Young people’s perceptions of adult’s ages can be the source of much amusement…

A 28-year-old teacher is asked by a Year 7 student if a 6th former is her daughter…

Apparently, endless hours of fun can be had for any brave teacher willing to challenge students to arrange other teachers in order of age.

A friend of 45 is asked by a group of concerned students whether she’s dreading turning 30.

One group of students turned what could have been offence into genuine sympathy…

Child: how long have you been teaching?
Teacher: you guys are my 9th class
Child (eyes wide with shock): 9 years?!
Teacher: yeah, why so shocked?
Child (very sincere, almost apologetic): you’ve had some hard classes, haven’t you Sir?

Cultural capital

There’s a lot of talk about cultural capital at the moment. Young people’s views of the world can be very different to our own, and nothing can be taken for granted in terms of ‘prior knowledge’. Before I risk in any way sounding like a smug parent, I’m going to admit that it has become clear in recent weeks that my own children think potatoes grow on trees and my youngest (aged 10) was unable to identify an ironing board when it was removed (covered in dust) from a cupboard.

I’ve come across a Year 11 student convinced to the point of refusal to believe otherwise that unicorns do in fact exist, a Year 10 devastated to discover that the tooth fairy wasn’t real, and students studying a Christmas Carol who wondered aloud whether oysters existed in Dickens’ time. The travel cards, that is.

One teacher struggled to explain veganism to her class:

Explaining to my form what vegan means. 'Miss, if you're against the milk, how can you eat the meat with a clear mind?' 'I don't eat meat' 'Not even maccies? What do you have for tea?!'

In fact, vegans don’t come out well in these accounts, apparently escalating to the point of flagrant insult:

Two kids fell out. One started insulting the other... Child 1: Idiot! Child 2: Stares Child 1: Idiooootttttt Child 2: Yeah... Well you're a vegan.

Cultural capital works both ways, and it’s at our peril that we fail to understand some of the priorities and values of our young people.

Held a witch trial where the pupil who portrayed the best "witch" got tested with water... if it ran down her face she was guilty... before I threw the water pupil shouted "MISS! What about my eyebrows?!" Ended up with paper towels covering her drawn on eyebrows

Gullibility

I’ve worked with students convinced for years that two colleagues were happily married (they were, but to other people), that one was a member of the SAS and that a recently departed teacher had gone to live as a recluse in a forest. Where these conceptions come from is beyond me, but (using sparingly) exploitation of children’s gullibility can be quite amusing…

Convincing a Y10 that my new pin badge on my lanyard was a bodycam issued by school. His classmates were in stitches as they immediately saw through the story whereas he took nearly 5 mins to cotton on.

Saying it as it is

My favourite thing of all is young people’s ability to cut through the nonsense and say it as it is. From, ‘Miss, that colour just doesn’t suit you’ to heartless criticisms of my attempts to draw animals, it happens all the time. These are two of my favourites from other teachers:

Sir, you can’t bollock me wearing Pudsey ears...

After an intense game of musical chairs in Y1, the child that came second pointed his finger at me and declared “I hate you and I hate this game!”

The heavy weight of responsibility in teaching can sometimes stifle us and risks squeezing out moments like these – the moments that surprise us into remembering the most important and joyful thing about our jobs: the people. 

Dr Emma Kell is a teacher, researcher, speaker and author of How to Survive in Teaching 

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