The Funny Bone Effect

Elsa Woodaman

Elsa Woodaman

Friends often ask me how I can stand teaching high school boys.  I have only one answer: I love them.  How can we not?  They are stuck between childhood and maturity, beginning their journey toward adulthood in lurches and lulls.  Boys can be fearless- yet they need to know with certainty that you have their back.  They hit upon profound truths, right after misplacing their backpacks.  They wrestle each other to the ground, and then declare their love for each other in a sweaty heap of boy.  They can have their hearts broken by a girl they were too afraid to ever speak to- and then share their pain with a courage and honesty that, in turn, breaks your heart.  Oh- and did I mention they insult you the more they love you?  Perhaps it is Stockholm Syndrome, but I adore every minute with these guys.

It’s not all a bed of roses, though, and I have found that when confronted with a tough situation, humor is a powerful tool.  In fact, it is a teacher’s most versatile one, particularly when educating boys.  Humor has allowed me to diffuse anger, find the silver lining when all seems lost, and it has helped spark interest in an otherwise dull topic (trust me, the subjunctive can be hilarious!).  Like all things, though, humor has to be real and true to who you are, or it will fall flat.  Humor can be self-deprecating but never cruel about others.  Most importantly, humor must be founded on love.  As Paul’s most famous letter to the Corinthians tells us, without love, all is emptiness!

If a young man is overwhelmed by emotion, it’s sometimes impossible for him to logically work his way through a situation.  When feelings are involved, almighty Reason has no place at the table!  I have found that the easiest way to lure boys back from the ledge is laughter.   Perhaps “John” is furious with a teacher over a bad grade, even though he knows he has earned it.  I can easily use some light sarcasm to discuss the weird, unpredictable correlation between studying and grades.  Maybe John is hurt because a good friend suddenly prefers to spend most of his time with a girl.  I will point out that his friend’s girl has way better legs than John!  This sort of camaraderie allows us to laugh in a healthful way and blow off some steam together.

Humor is a perfect “language” for boys because it allows love and concern to be expressed without necessarily admitting to the vulnerability that lies beneath.   I have shared many painful moments with boys over the years and we have laughed our way through most of those.  It’s the jarring “funny bone” effect- and an important lesson for all ages.  Life can be funny, even when it hurts.  And our boys will not go it alone- we have their backs.

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  • Harriett Palmer says:

    Wise,insightful observations from an obviously experienced ,wise educator. One of the things I love most about my boys(2 sons and 2 grandsons) and most men in general is their guileless nature.