Sunday, March 31, 2013
Manolo Blahniks and Why Humor Helps
Embarrassing situations in the classroom are just a fact of life for teachers. For those of you going into education, especially in sexuality, you better be prepared for the worst and get ready to feel successful every time you make it through class without falling on your face (figuratively and literally – funny stories). Let me explain . . .
Many of you know that I’ve been teaching sexuality as well as various other classes at the university level for quite some time. In that time, there have been quite a few situations that left me red in the face and sometimes bruised in other places. For example, in my first year of teaching general psychology I had a class of 150 students in a theater where I taught from a stage. Being my typically animated self, I was cruising across the stage. Unfortunately, I tripped on the trim, and went flying (literally) off the edge. I broke my ankle! More recently I was standing behind a podium in a particularly snazzy, yet ridiculously high-heeled, pair of shoes. I lost my balance and went down behind the podium. It was like a magic act. The students thought I had just disappeared. Of particular interest to sex educators occurred when I was teaching my first human sexuality course. I was explaining why anal sex causes feelings of pleasure and orgasm, particularly in men. That’s when it happened. A student who had said nothing all semester raised his hand. He asked “so how come I don’t have an orgasm when I take a shit?” It was the first time I ever blushed and had nothing to say (more funny stories).
What do you do in those situations, other than have someone dial 911? Well, I’ve learned a few things from these experiences: 1) a self-deprecating sense of humor helps a lot, 2) thinking quickly on my feet, when I’m on them and even when I’m not, is a must, 3) making mistakes makes you seem more accessible and connected to the students, and 4) shake it off and just keep going (helpful hints). When I broke my ankle, two students propped me up, another called 911, and I kept lecturing until the ambulance arrived. When I fell behind the podium, I popped right back up, showed off my shoes, and asked if anyone knew the purpose, according to Triver’s Theory of Sexual Selection, of Manolo Blahniks. And, when I was asked that question, after I stopped open-mouthed gaping, I quickly considered how good of a question it was and the biological reason you don’t orgasm at that time.
Using humor and having epic fails serves an educational purpose for the students and helps to develop a rapport with them. Sometimes college students think of professors as ultimate authority figures having gained a level of knowledge they never could. And, whereas some professors thrive on this reverence, it doesn’t help the students. Seeing a professor make a mistake and use humor teaches the students that you are like them and like you, they can achieve a high level of academic success. Research (develop rapport) also shows that when a good rapport is developed between the professor and the student, the students have a greater enjoyment of the topic and more motivation to learn.
So, while I’ll never forget those incidents, I try not to cringe when I think of them. Instead, I remind myself that those situations have prepared me to handle anything that may happen in the classroom. Every day I’ll put on my cloak of shamelessness and my high-heels and walk into that room. Some days I’ll feel like a success because the students learned something. Most days I’ll feel like a success because the students learned something AND I stayed upright (more helpful hints).