Tag Archives: laughter in the classroom

Ten Reasons Why I Hate Numbered Lists (An English Teacher Can Count)

25 Sep

I admit, the title is not an accurate reflection of content, but it made you click on the article, right? Everybody loves these articles, except me. I am not a big fan of the excessive amount of articles in the world that are titled X number Things You Must Know! and the like. They make life sound so quantifiable. Ordered. Simple, if you will. Easy, even. And it’s not, dammit!

They’re so catchy, all these Cosmo-style relationship ones- 5 ways to tell he’s crazy about you;  the travel expert ones- 8 places you MUST visit in Mexico City ; the pseudo-health/science ones- The 3 worst things that age you faster ; the good little capitalist ones- These 4 essentials to buy cheaper online ; and my least favorite, those self-help “just do this and everything will be perfect” type ones-  6 tips to reduce stress  (And you know with a title like that they’re going to tell you some lame crap like “Eliminate stressors.” Well tell me when you’re coming to collect my children then, buster. Call me up when you’ve got my winning lottery ticket, thanks.) There was even that movie called 10 Things I Hate about You, which I refused to see on principle. The worst part is when I find myself clicking on these kinds of articles sometimes because, shit, they make life sound so simple and ordered!

My life here is anything but ordered. I do love my personal lists, however- so I can prioritize my classroom tasks, so I remember to buy actual food and not just several different chocolate products and imported beer at the grocery store, so I can remember what the hell I’m supposed to be doing when I get up at 5 in the morning (get dressed- pack child’s lunch- pump milk- drink 2nd cup of coffee- and no my lists are not in order, thank you). But I don’t try to force my lists upon others (okay, maybe Conan has to suffer through my lists on occasion). For me, lists are a personal, intimate thing, not a way to prescribe your ideas to the public.

This week, however, I was reflecting upon my year in the university (yes, it’s been over a year!), and I ended up with a jumble of seemingly-random things to share. Thus I decided, hey, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. So here you are, folks- my cheesy numbered lists.

Three Preposterous Things Students Say During Tests

 1.    Student: “Teacher, what does this word (insert target vocabulary word here) mean?”

         Me: “That’s a vocabulary word that you were supposed to study.”

        Student (possible response 1): “So, what does it mean?”

        Student (possible response 2): “Yes but I forgot.” Bats eyelashes innocently and/or smiles.

        Student (possible response 3): Blank look. “Vocabulary?”


       (variation 1)

        Student : “Teacher, I don’t understand this question. What do I write here?”

         Me: “You write the answer, based on this question (signaling where).”

        Student: “So it’s letter B, right?”

         Me: “I can’t tell you.”

         (variation 2)

         Student : “Teacher, I don’t understand this question.”

         Me: “Well, it’s asking you to answer like in this example above.”

         Student: Points to their answer. “Is this correct?”

         Me: “I can’t tell you.”

        (variation 3)

        Student : “Teacher, how am I doing?” Points to their answers.

         Me: Shoulder shrug. “I can’t tell you.”

        Student: “Why not?”

         Me: Facepalm self.

Me, at some point every quiz and exam

3.      Student 1: Waves and says something inaudible to Student 2.

         Student 2: Replies in a whisper which I can’t quite make out.

         Me: Clear throat and raise eyebrows while approaching chatty students. “There’s no talking during exams. See you                      guys tomorrow.” Take exams from Students 1 and 2.

        Student 1: Puts on shocked, sad face, despite the whole class having multiple warnings that this precise thing would                            happen since day 1 of class. “But teacher! I was just asking for an eraser!” (Which is possible, except I’ve                              explicitly told them before every single exam to ask ME if they need something so that I don’t suspect them                          of cheating, which definitely happens.) My all-time favorite response was: “But teacher! I was just saying hi!”

        Me: “Say hi before or after the exam next time. Bye.” (Yep, I’m the meanest teacher on Earth.)

Me, according to some students

The Three Most Inspiring Classes and Quirks from the Past Year

  1. The wooooo class

I often ask the student who’s talking (practicing or reading aloud or whatever) pick the next student to talk. In this especially hormonal class of 18 year old Animal Husbandry majors, any time a boy picked a girl, it elicited a “woooo” from the class. Every time a girl picked a boy, there was a woooo. Sometimes even when a girl picked another girl, or a boy picked another boy, they still got a giggly little woooo. I thought it was adorable and started harassing them to do it some more when they forgot about it for at one point in the semester. Now they are officially “the woooo class” (at least among us English profs).

Beyond their already fabulous woo, this class loved my enthusiasm- one girl always imitated my “I’ve seen the light” arm gesture with my “aaaaaaah” sound I make to signal that they should be excited about whatever I’m about to teach them. (Was she making fun of me? Of course, but very affectionately!) This class inspired me to create extra class interaction activities, thanks to making me laugh all the time. They always tried to distract me from the task at hand by asking personal questions (in Spanish, which I told them I would answer if they could ask in English, and then the whole class was capable of working together to string a real question together- amazing work, level 1!) They also complained constantly about having to come to English class and were always trying to make up reasons to not come, but they complained with a smile, and they had the best attendance of all my classes that semester. These guys secretly love English, and I loved them for it.

2.  The Physics professor who had class the slot before me at 12pm

He absolutely couldn’t manage to end class on time. Every day, I stood outside the classroom door, waiting for him to quit babbling, mentally adjusting my lesson plan based on how many minutes he was taking from my class. Then I’d go in and he’d have left his intricate drawings and accompanying mathematics all over the board for me to erase. “He’s trying to help build up my arm muscles,” I assured my students as I erased every day. “How is this great?” you might be wondering. Because karma is real, and the students despised his class! Which means they were thrilled to see me, and to have English class every day! Thank you, boring, long-winded professor, for inspiring my students to love English (even if I did have to mentally shake them awake)!

3.  Constant classroom entertainment- IN ENGLISH- provided by Miguel Angel, Abel and               Charlie

Think Ninja Turtle’s Michaelangelo- this Migue is a party dude, too, complete with badass motorcycle. Abel (pronounced like ah-bell) had a girlfriend in the class, but they never sat together. Instead, Abel sat with his bromance partner-in-crime Miguel. They were my class clowns, with constant banter about each other and everything else. They also provided commentary about what we were learning (“I think it was Mexican immigrants who built the Egyptian pyramids, too”), fun errors (“Did I approve my exam?”), making up Spanglish words (“I’m very tired; I need a siestation”). They contributed a steady, comical participation, and they did it mostly in English! If you’ve ever learned a language, you know how hard it can be to be funny in your foreign tongue. And these guys always had something to say. I like to think that these two inspired other students to learn more, thanks to using their wit and charm in English.

Okay, Miguel and Abel don’t look exactly like Matt and Mike above. Abel would totally be the guy on the left, though, if you added glasses. You get the idea.

Theirs was my favorite class that semester because the whole (level 3) class, compared to many others, was so responsive and participatory. Their class also included Charlie (not Carlos, thank you, but Charlie), my super adorable, fast-talking, pretty boy, English genius with the worst attendance ever (“I’m sorry, I fell asleep during lunch!… Listen, teacher, I have this opportunity to do modeling, but it’s justamente during class hour.” Convincing excuses when you can say it in English, let me tell you.) Charlie was one of the only students who ever used my actual name instead of “Teacher” sometimes, and he went on to tell me I was adorable (in a puppy-dog, head-patting kind of way) on more than one occasion. If I hadn’t been so amused by it I might have had to smack him. But instead I looked forward to Charlie and his thinly veiled false modesty. The lesson here is that you can get away with just about anything in my class when you do so in English.

See, English Teachers Can Count!

There you have it, folks. I used numbered lists to organize my thoughts and shared it with the public. Was it effective? It wasn’t so bad for me after all. Maybe I’ll convert and start communicating everything in numbered list. Titles to be used include: 5 Reasons Why Dora the Explorer is Taking Up Too Much Space in my Brain, 18 Things The Supermarket Had Last Week that No Longer Exist, and finally, 2 Small Children and the Infinite Ways in Which they Refuse to Sleep. Because some things just can’t be quantified.

Laughter is my Number One Classroom Tool

17 Nov

My level one English students had an open-book quiz the other day, where they were supposed to write 5 things they had learned that week from the article we’d read (and thoroughly dissected) in class. This is more difficult than it might sound for first-level students of a foreign language. I believed my students were capable of it, to greater and lesser degrees, depending on the student, but writing assignments for this level never come out quite like I had imagined, and grading them is always a bigger chore than I’d remembered.

The title of the quiz, written at the top of the page, was “What I Learned”- a fitting title considering they only had to convince me that they’d learned something that week. As I was doing a first glance-through of their answers, I looked at the bottom of the page of one student’s paper. In all caps, this student had written:


which translates to: I can’t learn this week sorry! because I missed class for two days I know I’m going to fail this quiz!

I exploded in laughter and went to go show the other teachers. I appreciated his honesty and forthrightness, and his expression of it got points for cuteness, too. It’s these little things that are so important to my day, to my teaching, to my psychic survival in general. A silly note to break up the monotony in trying to assign fair values to someone’s writing made a difference, made me laugh. These past couple of weeks I’ve been focusing on remembering to lighten up and laugh, even when (especially when) I’ve been thinking about running out of the room screaming in frustration because five students didn’t bring their book, two students don’t even have their notebook, and at least 75% of them are asking me what a word means that was vocabulary I “taught” them the day before.

But there’s still plenty to enjoy, and things to laugh about. If you don’t find those moments of laughter you risk converting yourself into one of those grumpy, bitter teachers that nobody likes  and who are not effective teachers because students avoid their classes and have their guard up the whole time, which is not conducive to learning. NOT who I want to be.

And I’ve never been at risk for this before because when I was teaching in the U.S., most of the immigrants and refugees in our adult education classes were trying their damnedest all the time. You expected problems and setbacks and slow progress. You expected someone to show up 30 minutes late, probably because of some problem with their kid or their job, which you can’t really be upset about. There were lots of limitations and problematic aspects, and accomplishments usually happened very slowly (particularly with my beginning level students), but for the most part people were there because they wanted to be there and truly wanted to learn English. That, in turn, helped motivate me more to want to be there and give it my all every day. Plus, my grown-up immigrant students almost never tried to cheat on tests. Totally different universe from now.

With my university students we’ve just implemented a new curriculum, which is focused on reading comprehension and the necessary vocabulary that goes with that, skills they need to be able to read scientific articles related to their majors in English. There’s less time and space for games and speaking practice and the like, and so my teaching style is adapting and changing.

I’m not sure if it’s just the change in curriculum, or personal problems, or what exactly, but suddenly I found myself fighting with students on a daily basis over something or the other. For talking while others are talking, not being prepared for class- all the normal stuff, even if some of it is stuff I think university students should be above and beyond. The problem is that I don’t want to be fighting with them over these things, because it puts me in a bad mood. I want my class to be fun and interesting and comfortable (for them and for me), and I was failing at creating that atmosphere for a good couple of weeks there.

So I had to start letting go of some things, and bringing other things back into my classroom. I had to bring back games, at least occasionally. I had to find a way to show them that I care beyond just scolding them all the time. I had to just tell myself that the next class would be better when I had a horrible hour full of blank stares and mounting confusion despite all my attempts at detailed explanation and modeling.

So sometimes we play jeopardy-style games with comprehension questions, even though most of them are too excited to listen to the reasoning behind the answer when we do it as a game. At least they’re participating. I started being more exaggerated in my scolding, wagging my finger, or feigning shock so intense I could faint at any moment, which at least made whatever I was reminding them about lighter and funnier. I brought back my sunshine and lollipops I’m-so-happy-to-be-here-and-I-know-you-all-are-too attitude when I come into class. When I told them they’d have to miss English class for a couple of days (because I had to go to Oaxaca), I told them, “Now try not to cry. I know everybody’s upset about missing class, but that’s why I came up with some practice for you, so you don’t spend all that extra time moping about English class.” The ones who understand sarcasm are always highly amused by these kinds of statements. It helps.

I started being “meaner” and stricter about some things, kicking people out of class when they’re totally out of line. Like those three girls that insisted their private conversation was more important than the student explaining her answer, despite a couple warnings. Or the students who still didn’t bring their book after days of warnings (and really, guys, you have English every day; just leave your book in your backpack). Or for talking during a test (yeah, yeah, you were talking about lunch, that’s great, bye.) Some of my students have started imitating me when someone comes without their book, telling them “See you tomorrow!” and waving good-bye like I do, which I think is pretty hysterical. This more focused strictness, in turn, lets me have a better attitude with my remaining students, and the next day the student can return to class and I, at least, don’t hold a grudge.   

And I’m reevaluating how I measure success. For example, if a third of my class is missing all week long (a different set of students every day, to boot) because they all have to go renew their health insurance plan this week and they’re waiting in line all day, well, so be it. They know it’s their job to catch up, and they either will or they won’t. Unless they come to my office with questions about what they missed, it is all on them. When they ask me in class the next day something we saw in class the day before, I smile while I tell them to ask their classmates. I cannot be angry or upset about it. I know English is not their top priority, to say the least. I know many of them won’t learn even half of what I’m trying to teach. Thus, the measure of my personal success can’t be all 120ish students getting every point I teach. Can I continue to care about each and every student and their learning? To a greater or lesser degree, yes. But how I feel about my teaching has to be based on how well I think I’ve done my part, keeping in mind that they’ve got a part to fill, too, and some of them won’t fill it for reasons that are not my fault or my problem.   

Really my top two priorities in my classroom are respect and laughter. Yes, critical thinking is high on my list of important things for them to practice in their reading comprehension. I did a big dance of joy when some of my level one students starting arguing the correct answer and asking “Why? Por qué?” just like I do. Of course I have to give them the right tools to accomplish what they are supposed to accomplish. But I think mutual respect and a sense of humor are completely necessary parts of my other goals, because I think they help create a positive learning environment, and effectively prevent me from killing students.

So I take a moment and argue with my level 3 students who are trying to convince me to have the quiz tomorrow instead of today. “That’s what my two year old says every day when it’s time to wash her hair, too. ‘No, tomorrow’- just like you guys.”

I can laugh when one of my male nursing students ignores my question about the reading to tell me earnestly, “Teacher, let me know when your baby’s kicking so I can feel it,” despite the fact that men here normally don’t go near anything related to pregnancy. “Have you ever felt a baby kick before?” I asked him, instead of being offended. “No,” he explained, “that’s why I need to feel it!” I laughed and told him I’d see.

I corrected a student who was talking (in English) about going to buy a “box” of beer (what we would call a case of beer) and somehow got into a conversation about learning obscenities in English (no, sorry guys, I cannot teach this during class time. Just go to the beach and talk to tourists.)

I’m remembering to have fun and enjoy my job. While I don’t have any proof that it’s getting me better results in terms of student learning, it’s sure not hurting them, and it’s doing wonders for me. You can’t underestimate the importance of a little laughter in the classroom, or a personalized note on why you’re failing the quiz. It’s these things that make all the difference in the world.