Is it possible to have too much fun in or with a class? I found myself thinking a little about this question over the past year. I am extremely lucky to be in a department where they want me to teach courses I love to teach and it seems that lately I have had more and more students with similar interests as mine–all of which has really lead to a fun and thriving work environment. I do feel I am being productive as are the students, however, I cant help but to occasionally wonder are we having too much fun? Of course, everyone enjoys occasional laughter in class but could there be too much? The idea of laughter seems to in many ways juxtapose the ideas of professionalism and seriousness associated with a stereotypically conducive learning environment. As a professor who looks young and wants to be taken seriously, I often worry about what laughter in class means, especially at the end of the day. However, laughter can also be extremely useful.
As a student, laughter (or should I say jokes and fun stories that led to laughter) always helped me to remember lectures and concepts, and remain engaged throughout the duration of the class and the semester. In fact, my favorite courses, and often the courses I got the most from generally also included a quick-witted professor or a hillarious study group where we all had the same end goal of doing well in the class. I have not doubts that overall laughter largely contributed to my learning.
In my classroom it seems that laughter largely derives from a number of different places. One place is a place of nervousness. Sometimes, I or the students will share humorous examples or stories to break tension. These moments are generally very short lived and can be quite awkward but they can really open the door to a greater discussion on the particular topic at hand. Even the idea that we are nervous about publicly discussing said topic can lay a foundation for the discussion or future discussions. This is especially the case in my more controversial courses of methods, social statistics, and sexuality studies. However, I also see a great deal of laughter from academic jokes and comments where students are relating or apply material in clever ways. I greatly enjoy these moments when you can see the synthesis of material and the personality of the student. I also really appreciate the bad jokes…the ones that don’t quite make it but were a valiant effort. These moments say to me the students are engaged, trying, and comfortable in the environment. I have done my job to set up the parameters of a safe and practical learning space.
Laughter effects my research too. Over the course of this summer I have spent a number of Wednesday nights at a colleague’s house taking part in a reading group on female masculinity. This past Wednesday was especially filled with laughter. I almost want to say we were down right giggly, however, that feels like a word that shouldn’t be positively associated with academic pedagogy. But why is that? I am certain that this group has contributed to a continued education for me, in addition to boosting my summer work morale and bonds with my colleague and student. The group has contributed to me reading and re-reading pages and articles I would probably in all honesty put-off until “I needed to.” I have thought about various passages and readings in ways that would apply to the group’s interests rather than just to my own. Further, it has been an amazing amount of fun having a free space in which to just think and talk about issues from the readings (and our lives–work and otherwise) at our leisure. While I do have some direction with regards to what I want to get from the overall experience of a reading group, it is also nice to just read and allow your mind to be free from that tight task-orientated focus that it often acquires when you are working specifically to address a single question or issue. On the whole, I think the group has spurred more questions, inspiration, and motivation for everyone involved. I also think the laughter has largely contributed to the continuation of the group and its productivity. So, in the words of a Daryle Singletary song:
“Too much fun? whats that mean?
Its like too much money theres no such thing
Its like [too much coffee] or too much class
Being too lucky or a car too fast
No matter what they say I’ve done
I aint never had to much fun”