Between us Schools

Have the last laugh

As a teacher, it’s sometimes nice to step back and see the lighter side of stressful situations.

Exams are no laughing matter, and for teacher trainees, it is a double-edged sword since they have to prove to themselves and their students that they are qualified to imbibe and impart concepts and inculcate a sense of order in a class in a space of 45 minutes. If most students believe that their teachers have been immune to the phenomenon of ‘butterflies in the stomach’, here is a story that might dispel the myth!

Teacher trouble

As a teacher trainee with Vidya Sagar (formerly known as Spastics Society of India), my first practical teaching exam session was a lesson to remember. Besides burning the midnight oil, struggling to create teaching aids, I could not sleep, imagining the worst case scenarios with the student who would be my subject! The student turned out to be a wheelchair-bound, pig-tailed adolescent who, the minute she encountered this trainee teacher, greeted her with a mischievous grin. One could sense that she could see through my apparent demeanour of confidence!

My trembling hands, as I laid out the material, did not escape her attention. As I was presenting the concept, she dropped the models that I had laid out on her tray. Conscious of the examiner watching me, I picked it up and placed it back on the tray. She dropped it again and picked it up . This game continued a few more times, each time my flow of thought getting interrupted and my voice grew shrill with a struggle to maintain heartbeat and decorum!

Smiling, the examiner, called me aside and reminded me that my student was able enough to pick up the pieces herself, and I heard what sounded suspiciously like a giggle. At that point, the teacher inside me took charge and needless to say, the rest of the session went smoothly. Once I saw the funny side of the situation, I was able to respond appropriately. At the end of the session, she grudgingly acknowledged that I was a “ nalla teacher.” A student taught me the value of seeing the funny side of things in what was perceived as a stressful situation!

Beyond boundaries

Humour transcends boundaries such as class, race, gender and ability. Often, it is the best weapon to diffuse a potentially volatile situation. Other times, it expands the mind, offering a new of way of seeing the same situation.

Calvin and Hobbes, a brilliant comic strip by Bill Watterson, looks at the world through a child’s eyes. It is a gentle way of pointing out our own idiosyncrasies and our ability to function with a sense of self-importance. P.G. Wodehouse’s creations, Wooster and his butler Jeeves, are an absolute delight as they navigate through life. Of course, not to be forgotten is the bard himself, Shakespeare, whose plays like A Mid-summer Night’s Dream speak deep philosophical truths through the comic and absurd. Closer home, the Jataka tales were a way of weaving humour into stories created to discipline wayward sons of a king.

Humour heals

Humour allows us to celebrate the imperfections in all of us and remind us of the vulnerabilities of being human.

A friend taught me this through a very difficult situation. Diagnosed with cancer, she found herself in a situation where she had to drive herself to the hospital, late at night. However, the manner in which she handled it was akin to going on an exciting adventure. She put on a touch of a makeup, and we bundled a million things into her small automobile. The radio played her favorite tunes, and, halfway, we found out that the car had no petrol. We ended up singing all the way to the bunk, much to the amusement of the attendant, and she then raced on the roads to reach the destination. While we all felt the underlying fear, her innate ability to see the lighter side of the situation was her greatest strength. Perhaps it was this quality that helped her survive the painful process that followed, and, today, she continues to spread sunshine wherever she goes. Her home is always a hub for people to visit and vent their problems over coffee and advice, doled out with a generous helping of humour!

A family member who had been diagnosed with cancer, was taken out by cousins for ice-cream, She ordered, giggling, a generous helping of “death by chocolate,” which she claimed was the best way to go! Again, throughout the process, her innate sense of humour and love for people, brought so many prayers and good wishes and contributed much to the success of her treatment.

The dark side

However, humour can turn caustic when it is a product of malice and fear. When we use humour as a weapon to make people feel less than themselves, then the only people we are hurting really are ourselves. It might be a sign that we do not know how to deal with people. In classrooms, often this comes across as bullying.

A student of mine was being bullied by her peers because she got exempted from her exams due to difficulties with reading. The other kids constantly teased her — instead of lecturing them, my colleague had a brilliant idea. We staged a play reflecting the situation and at the end of the play, the students saw through their own actions. It also brought out a truth that none of us saw-The students were resentful of the attention their classmate received. Humour managed to gently lead us, as teachers, into a process of true understanding. Often, the bullies are the real victims.

There is so much to laugh about in the world outside and within ourselves. Expand your creative selves, and the darkest hour can become the lightest. Perhaps when we really allow life to manifest, we can see the hand of humour in every single moment. It might seem impossible but it is worth a try!

So go ahead and have the last laugh.

If this story speaks to you, do drop a line at lifeplus590@gmail.com

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Printable version | Apr 5, 2020 7:37:58 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/education/school/have-the-last-laugh/article6429657.ece

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