English in Aotearoa Issue 86 July 2015
Humour & Enjoyment
Enjoyment in your classroom, with your students, with the work you are doing together – what could be better than that? It is not only what we would all love to achieve, what our classes would love and what their parents would want for them.
And, it is what the curriculum expects of us, in fact requires of us:
English is the study, use, and enjoyment of the English language and its literature, communicated orally, visually, and in writing, for a range of purposes and audiences and in a variety of text forms.
For students the enjoyment can come in many forms: the sense of achievement from interpreting a complex poem; the pride in delivering a speech in front of a group of peers; the feeling of connection with a character, and this can give enjoyment in even the grimmest dystopian novel.
For teachers the enjoyment can come from sensing the engagement of students with texts; from feeling the energy build in a good discussion; from seeing the slow or the steady or the dramatic development of skills; or from looking around occasionally and noticing that everyone is engaged in what may actually be the task at hand.
Enjoyment can also come from humour, whether it’s a grin, a chuckle or a burst of laughter, but why is it hard to find a humorous novel in the English bookroom, or to find any talk of one in the buzz on englishonline? They say laughter is the best medicine …
As I write this my inbox pings and there’s an update from englishonline, and it’s David Schaumann:
I’ve decided that none of the texts I’ve taught before are quite going to work for the level one class I have this year. Long story short, I’m going to go dystopian…
David isn’t alone in making this choice: look at the huge instant response in englishonline if anyone asks for a dystopian text. But ask for a humorous text and listen to the deafening silence.
This was the awareness that led to the NZATE Council agreeing to “Humour & Enjoyment” as the theme for this issue, and I was very happy with that. But this has been the hardest of my 37 issues to find articles for. For this more than any other issue people have declined the invitation to contribute, or have shown interest and then been unable to complete an article. I am worrying that I won’t have enough material to publish Issue 86.
Could this be a comment on the current state of mind in teaching, on the pressure the job is imposing on teachers, or on the stress of house prices, flooding and earthquakes in the wider community? Or is it simply that the pressure of NCEA, National Standards, moderation, ERO etc is all so serious that we don’t have the courage/time/inclination to sit back and laugh. I have felt more in need of humour when times have been tougher, and have certainly experienced that in different teaching environments.
I taught in a London school where the brilliantly planned layout had the pre-fab classrooms in rows about two metres apart, so that we could see straight into the neighbouring rooms, thus providing endless distraction to a student group who were not especially keen on A-Levels. I remember one day there was more than normal pointing into the neighbouring class, who had apparently all suddenly disappeared. While we were peering into the empty room, a row of heads (including that of the teacher, a Ziggy Stardust lookalike with an Irish accent) all slowly rose above the windowsill, eyes wide, and with a two-finger salute, and then just as slowly sank down out of sight. Even my lot were impressed by the humour of that.
I remember teaching in a school not 10 kms from here, where the Principal was short-back-and-sides grim and serious, especially in the morning briefings. One staff member, legendary for arriving late and used to being publicly chastised, then devoted a week to dramatic late entrances: one morning in his dressing gown, one a breathless entrance from the Women’s Workroom – and each time with a cheery “Sorry I’m late, Sir!”
He appeared one bright sunny morning in his full wet-weather cycling gear, dripping wet from the staff shower, and the classic double-take around the staffroom was a joy to behold – especially because it took some of my slower colleagues quite a long time to realise.
His finale was to appear atop a ladder, tapping at the upstairs staffroom window, calling out, “Sorry I’m late, Sir!” Of course that was a contributor to a happier week at school for the teachers and so inevitably for many classes of students.
I still remember, sometime last century, running the morning assembly at Kingslea Residential School when Mr Bradley came in to talk about a particularly nasty piece of bullying that had taken place in the unit overnight. This could lead to a pretty fractious day in the school, but he handled it well and laid down the law without mentioning names. As he left, in that heavy silence, there came the snarled comment, just loud enough to be heard: “Bradley, ya wanker.”
Bradley swung around with a shocked grin and said, “Louisa! You’ve been peeping again!”
The burst of laughter eased the tension, the blame was neatly sheeted home and we had a good day.
Humour can be a release because it is looking at things differently. I know I thought about war differently after reading Catch-22, and I still need to read it regularly to cope with American politics. Look at theguardian.com/environment/climate change and then search humour for Jon Stewart or for Will Farrell (as George Bush) on climate change.
What makes it funny? I’m not sure why I laugh so much with Douglas Adams, or every time I look at the Punch cartoon on the wall at work, with two hippos, only their eyes and nostrils visible, and one of them is saying “I keep thinking it’s Tuesday” – but I enjoy the laugh.
My thanks to Jeremy Alwood, for his thoughts on humour from the professional’s perspective, to Iain McGilchrist, Nigel Mitchell, Jan Clothier, Andrea Stringer and my old friend Keith Lees for their observations on humour in the classroom, and to Cynthia Orr, Jo Morris, Jan Clothier and Jo Mullenger for their thoughts on texts. Thanks to Jackie Tagg for a timely research piece on our support of students from a Confuscian background, and to the reviewers Alison Clearly, Cynthia Orr.
My thanks to Ramon Narayan’s winning student poets Roimata Pendergast and Annonica Mavaega, and to my student cover designer, Alice Livingston.
The next issue, October, will feature the keynote addresses from the Capital Letters Conference – and don’t forget to plan for Christchurch July 2016.
Steve Langley 6 editorial
Jeremy Elwood 9 here’s to the humourists
Iain McGilchrist 12 are you having a bubble?
Nigel Mitchell 17 did you hear the one about …
Jan Clothier 20 re-capturing boy readers – returning the enjoyment
Cynthia Orr 23 listicle – 10 texts that made us laugh
Jo Morris 25 using interweb to trick students into enjoying work
Andrea Stringer 29 that joke in class…
Jackie Tagg 30 Confuscian heritage postgraduate students
Jo Mullenger 40 three texts that changed my life
Ramon Narayan 42 spoken word poetry winners from South Auckland
Jo Morris 48 President’s annual report
NZATE 53 re-generate – 2016 national conference Ch-Ch
IBBY 54 IntNat Board on Books for Young people – Akl 2016
Reviews 55 Alison Cleary, Cynthia Orr, Steve Langley
Keith Lees 59 the poetry teaching I enjoyed the most