A prerequisite for any aspiring teacher should be a course in stand-up comedy. Imagine Bill Cosby or Mark Twain as a teacher to aspiring teachers. Better yet, find a teacher-comic to teach the class. Aspiring teachers would be lined up to register for such a course.
The most effective teachers I encountered as an underachieving student were either great storytellers or great humorists. (A few could have left the teaching profession to become stand-up comics). More importantly, they also had expert knowledge in the subject matter they were teaching.
Whenever I left the classroom, I always felt invigorated and more aware, responsive. Better yet, the lesson’s information stimulated my long-term memory, an essential ingredient for school success.
In short, I almost always achieved better grades on quizzes and tests with such instructors.
One little secret that brain scientists have known for some time is that humor is the brain’s natural stimulant because it has shown to increase greater learning and intelligence.
For example, connecting humor to a school lesson provides the student’s brain with more oxygen and glucose (sugar), which are both essential brain fuel ingredients. In addition to increased oxygen and glucose, humor secretes natural painkillers called endorphins into the blood steam, which then stimulates serotonin, a feel-good drug, (Markway, G. 2005). Ask any long distant runner what he feels like after a run and he will usually talk about a runner’s high, when in reality he really should be thanking the chemical serotonin for the change in body state. The euphoria a runner experiences could be what humor can do with classroom learning in the hands of the right teacher.
Moreover, humor unifies the body and mind, a learning experience that stimulates the cerebellum, seat of sensory/gross motor skills. Furthermore, endorphins stimulate the brain’s frontal lobes, which supports greater memory consolidation and focusing (Sousa, 2006).
Another important fact about humor is that it reduces stress as well as lowers one’s blood pressure, which can change the entire energy of the class environment to one of a relaxed alertness. In other words, rather than a student mistrusting the learning experience, which only fuels the fight or flight mode of learning and intelligence, you could see a more trustful learner. This trust feeds into the brain’s hippocampus, a major component of greater memory consolidation and long term memory.
Finally, students are constantly being challenged with rules and laws, particularly during adolescence. Humor could make school rules more palatable because school would now energize even the most complacent and cynical learner.
Bottom line: Humor is a great learning tool that every college or university needs to incorporate into their education curricula.
Just ask Mark Twain who connected humor to learning when he said I never let my schoolin’ interfere with my education!
*Dr. David Sortino is a psychologist and currently Director of Educational Strategies, a private consulting company catering to teachers, parents, students. Dr. Sortino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at his blog: Awakening Every Child’s Genius – Dr. David Sortino