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).

9 comments:

  1. I fully agree that humor helps a great deal. I think it also sends a positive message to the students. "Look I'm not afraid to acknowledge when I mess up and have a good laugh about it".

    In the 625 evaluation form, I was noticing that there is a place to rate the teacher's ability to balance control of information/teaching and use of spontaneity and humor. I really loved that this was a line to rate a teacher. I think it is balance. You have material that you need to get through in limited time, but you also need to know when to set it aside and go spontaneously where the class needs to go.

    I stumbled upon this organization this semester and thought I'd share it. It's the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor http://www.aath.org/. They are focused on the use of humor in therapeutic interventions, but I think a lot of what they talk about could be applied to the classroom.
    Kim

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  2. In all the years I have been teaching and doing theater, I can't honestly say I have actually fallen down unless it was staged. However, I do agree that humor is a great way to engage students.
    Falling flat on your face, however, I don't think is exactly necessary to create a rapport. Just showing that you are human and do not know everything will work just as well. A simple, I don't know usually works, or let's look that up, and my favorite, I'm not sure, but I would love to know what you can find out about it. Being able to admit you don't know everything or can make mistakes shows to the students that the teacher is human too. Everyone makes mistakes. Many of my students, ranging all ages, have said that they see me as a big sister, but always treated me with respect and authority in the classroom. Even the students I had been warned about were great with me! So I think a good balance of humor and humility would be a great combination for a teacher to have in the classroom.

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  3. "So how come I don't have an orgasm when I take a shit?" HaHa. I feel we need to talk more about this one, so if I am caught in the same situation I will know what to say!

    I absolutely love your blog post and as a new nervous professional just beginning to enter the field, I feel a little better about messing up in front of people.

    When I look back now during my undergraduate years, I felt similarly about teachers who seemed to know everything, who were serious, monotoned, and boring as all get out- I saw them as the knowers of the universe and never thought for a moment that I would ever be in their shoes.

    Using humor keeps students engaged and awake! I even will go as far to say that it deepens the level of respect they have for a professor.

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  4. There is definitely a place for humor during instruction. I think that the way you handle mishaps might make or break your relationship with your students. If you come off as a person who can bounce back and laugh at themselves you are more appear more approachable and might be one step closer to developing the rapport you need to convince them that you might actually know what you are talking about.

    Now, I don't know if I would have been able to bounce back up after falling but I definitely would have laughed at myself.

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  5. Involving humor with sex education is pretty effective. I teach classes with regards to sex education and I also run a website Get Sex Gyan

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