Humour in the classroom

File:The Ladies' home journal (1948) (14764633911).jpg
Courtesy: The Ladies’ home journal (1948)

You might all wonder who is this guy and what is he up to? Is he here to teach and preach on Humour in the Classroom or is he going to create some humour in this classroom too? Let me assure you that I shall keep my own teaching or even preaching to the minimum. As far as the humour in this classroom is concerned? No. That is not the aim of this post. 

My aim is to reveal how humour can be created in the classroom with the help of two videos: one from a movie and the other of a well-known teacher. I would also share the insights of some practising teachers in addition to my own. 

A classroom is a mini world where humour exists in the form of students’ smiles, giggles, laughter, pranks etc. A lot of these happen in the absence of the teacher. Rather the teacher may himself be the subject of such humour, without his being aware of that. But we are not going to discuss them here. We’ll reserve them for some other day. Our focus today is on the teacher driven humour in the classroom. The one that is in alignment with the objectives of learning. And for which the teacher determines the distance, volume and direction. 

Two classrooms: a virtual & a real

Let’s begin the discussion with a video from a popular Hindi movie by Amir Khan. Enjoy watching:

Courtesy: T-Series

This video has a classroom scene from the movie, Taare Zameen Par, in which the teacher, Amir Khan, makes a sudden appearance as a clown with all his costume and other props. The objectives of the teacher here are to introduce himself to the students (8-10 year old) of the class, engage with them and finally prepare them to learn his subject, that is Painting. He achieves these objectives successfully by his singing, dancing, acting, costume as well as by the timing and manner of his appearance. The key to this entire show, however, lies in the humor employed by the teacher in the classroom.

What is the source of humour in Amir’s classroom? How is he able to create humour? My immediate answer is: Incongruity, thou art the source of humour! Amir creates humour through various incongruous situations in the classroom.

A typical teacher is expected to dress formally in the classroom. Amir arrives here as a clown. A teacher is expected to be serious in the class like the Principal in his other movie, Three Idiots. But here he dances and romps around. His comparing a tree with a person, his descriptions of the sun, rain or the stars or even his tongue-twisters are the other examples of incongruities/oddities in the video. The students had not seen such a scene earlier in the class. They are amused to see a teacher in this new avatar. And the result is an immediate rapport between the teacher and the taught.

I agree that a classroom in a movie cannot be compared with that in real life. The primary aim of a movie is to entertain, and not to teach or educate. A real classroom, however, is meant for learning. The main aim of a teacher there is to help the students learn. Despite the differences humour may be common to both. In the former humour can add to the entertainment, while in the latter it can aid learning.

Let’s now enter a real classroom of a super teacher, Dr V S Ravindran, who by profession is a child psychologist. But I would like to cite him here as a teacher who is effective in reaching out to his students. And the key to his skill lies in humour. Dr Ravindran is a living example of humour in the classroom. He can make a boring topic like Discipline in today’s schools lively and enjoyable. Besides learning, the audience gets peals of laughter as a bonus. I am sharing a video below in which he is speaking to the educators about the attraction between boys and girls. Listen to him carefully and enjoy:

Courtesy: DR V S Ravindran, ICTRC

In the video Dr Ravindran begins with a typical query from a teacher, which is followed by his answer:

Teacher: Boys and girls having attraction towards each other. हमको क्या करना चाहिए? (What should we do?)

Dr Ravindran: हमको कुछ नहीं करना चाहिए। जो करना है, वो दोनों करेंगे। (We should not do anything. Whatever has to be done, will be done the boy and the girl.)

His answer to the query is the gem of a trigger for laughter with which he sets the tone for his presentation right in the beginning. Dr Ravindran uses such triggers one after the other in his presentations. And as soon as the educators open their mouths for laughter, he puts the chunks of learning for them to swallow and digest. A number of such videos by Dr Ravindran are available on YouTube. One may observe his techniques like wordplay, ambiguity, punchlines, playacting, variations of tone etc.

Personally I have had the privilege of attending some of Dr Ravindran’s lectures. I did try to integrate some of his techniques in my classroom. I learned to use humour also from another popular counselor based in Delhi named Mr Jitin Chawla. His presentations are again a big hit among the students in schools. In a recent conversation he shared with me that earlier he used to focus merely on delivering the contents in his lectures. But when he observed the speeches of Dr Ravindran he realised the need to infuse humour in them.

The two videos shared above are only the samples to reveal how humour can be created in the classroom. But they are not the final words on the topic. This is also not to suggest that a teacher should always generate laughter and mirth in the class. One may take some ideas from these and devise one’s own method and style to make the process of learning enjoyable for the students.

What do the teachers say?

I sent a questionnaire to a select group of teachers on this topic. One of them objected to the use of humour saying, “Humour in the classroom? O my God! How can you even think of that?”. According to him, a classroom is a solemn place, which should be miles away from humour. However the rest of them concurred that humour should be used as a tool in the process of teaching-learning.

I am sharing below some of the inputs/anecdotes that I received in response to my questions:

Dr Tarun Kumar, Prof & HOD of Hindi at Patna University says, 

“कक्षा में हास्य का होना जरूरी है पर ये विषय से सहज-स्वाभाविक रूप से जुड़ा हुआ हो, उसे सुबोध-सुगम बनाने वाला, अलग से comic relief के लिए नहीं। अनायास लगना चाहिए, सायास-आरोपित नहीं”

Mr Chetan Joshi, an acclaimed flautist and teacher of Hindustani classical music, says that when he introduces a Raga like गोरख कल्याण to his students he begins by saying,

“जिस तरह गुलाबजामुन में न तो गुलाब है ना जामुन, कश्मीरीमिर्च में भी न कश्मीर है न मिर्च उसी तरह राग गोरखकल्याण में न तो गोरख है न ही कल्याण”

Ms Gayatri Morris, Vice Principal, Global India International School Ahmedabad, insists that just playing with words is not enough. It should be used at the right moment and in the right manner. She shares an anecdote in this regard: 

“Once I happened to enter the classroom and found my students in a boisterous mood as they had been just told about the upcoming educational tour. I immediately wrote on the blackboard: Thank you for being quiet! I heard a few chuckles in response and I immediately had their attention.” 

Mr Nishesh Kumar Sinha, a well-known Educationist from Ahmedabad adds, “Humour eases the learning process and helps the students learn things in a better way”.

According to Mr Mrityunjay Kumar, a technocrat and educationist from Hyderabad, “One should understand the fine balance between being humourous and being insensitive/disrespectful. If the class hasn’t been groomed to use humour as a tool, it can backfire and reduce the dignity of the classroom, and sometimes the class teachers”

Ms Manju Arif, Principal, DPS North Bengaluru writes, “While using Humour the teacher has to be mindful of the language, context and sentiments of the stakeholders.”

Ms Meenakshi Choudhary, a seasoned Biology teacher, gives an example of how she tells the students that the heart has nothing to with feelings. It doesn’t fall or rise in love. Feelings are, in fact, associated with brain. And the poor organ, heart, is blamed for what the brain does.

To sum up

There is no denying the fact that humour is a useful tool in the classroom. If handled carefully it can do wonders!  Some teachers are gifted with this skill while others like me may take longer to cultivate it. But acquisition of the skill is not that difficult. One doesn’t have to become a stand up comedian for that. A bit of experience and planning should be enough. Seriously.

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