Teaching Tuesday: Using Humor in the Classroom

Dr. Paul L. Danuser, Faculty, College of Education

A smiling teacher using humor with students in a classroom

Hello once again, everyone. I hope you have all had a chance to read my first post. If you have, you may remember I am looking to write on a few different topics that I believe have contributed to a life of being a charismatic teacher (If I may say so myself!). Through these blogs, I want to share some tips and experiences I have had that have contributed to my love of being in the classroom for 40 years.

In this blog, I am writing about humor. In upcoming blogs, I will continue my focus on showing sympathy and empathy, being involved outside of the classroom, truly getting to know your students, knowing what it means to be qualified with content and the elements of the teaching profession, practicing the Professional Dispositions effectively, knowing how to plan, teach, and assess well, and an overall summary of the topic of being a charismatic teacher. I look forward to sharing these stories with you and would love to get your feedback as I continue to write.

Sense of Humor

Anyone who knows me, knows I love to laugh. I often tell people I was not blessed with an awful lot of gifts, but I truly do believe God did give me a sense of humor. I have lived through my share of struggles in life — divorce, death of both parents and other family members, death of students and colleagues, loss of a great job and my house, and other things — but through all of this, God has deemed to provide me with a sense of humor to counteract some of life’s great challenges. 

That doesn’t mean I don’t have bad days and want to throw something through the TV, but I have a disposition and personality that allow me to see a better way of reacting to the challenges. I also believe that has translated well into my teaching.

New Experiences in the Classroom

Students know I enjoy having fun in the classroom. I haven’t lasted this long only by writing lesson plans and grading 70,000 papers in my career! I have enjoyed incorporating humor into my lessons, when appropriate, and mostly in the relationships I have had with the students. 

They always knew, and I like to think still know, that when they are in my classes, they are not going to be overwhelmed with academia and an over-abundance of knowledge and information they don’t need. Instead, I have always chosen to engage the students in their learning in a way they would enjoy and want to be in the classroom.

The use of humor comes with a slippery slope, however. I have heard many people talk about how they like to use sarcasm when connecting with their students. I often cringe at that, as in its truest sense, sarcasm is intended to bring out flaws and even to hurt. We may think a “funny” comment about a new haircut or other imperfection is a way to lessen stress, but it can actually add to students’ insecurities and can often come with long-lasting negative feelings. 

I often use self-deprecating humor as a way to poke fun at myself, but that can also backfire as I struggle with my own insecurities and have often masked them (is that like being a sad clown?) by laughing at myself and saying something negative about myself before someone else can.

Humor within the lessons takes time to develop. While there is nothing funny about teaching the novel “Night” by Elie Wiesel, for instance, it is good to be able to find something the students can relate to in the material so they stay engaged and active in the lessons and their own learning processes. 

As a teacher trying to incorporate humor in the lessons, you also want to remember not to make humor the focal point so that it takes away from the content you are teaching. It is a fine line to use humor in the classroom, but haven’t we all walked past a classroom and heard 30-40 kids laughing at the same time? That’s a great feeling! 

Bringing Happiness to the Classroom

As someone who has experienced that happiness, it is heartwarming for myself to know I can bring a little joy into the classroom. You never know who might be having a rough day and needs a laugh. It may be a momentary distraction from what else is happening, but I have never had a student come up to me and complain that my approach to teaching took them away from their sadness for far too long. 

It is not about telling knock-knock jokes or trying to make everything a gag, but incorporating humor into your teaching is something that will allow you to ultimately love what you get to do, rather than struggle through something you feel you have to do.

I would love to hear what you think. Do you have what it takes to incorporate humor into your classroom? Maybe you have the perfect joke or story I can use in my own classroom. I am not too proud to take, I mean, borrow other people’s material! You can reach me at paul.danuser@gcu.edu. Thank you, and may God bless you and keep you!

Want more? Check out all the Teaching Tuesday articles, including ways to be a charismatic teacher. Learn more about Grand Canyon University’s College of Education and our degree programs and join in our efforts to elevate the education profession.

Approved by the Assistant Dean for the College of Education on Dec. 1, 2022.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.