lllHumor in Action!
Using Humor in
Developing the
Entrepreneurial Spirit
Learning in Action!
A Cross-disciplinary Problem-Based
Learning Environment for Entrepreneurship
The Case of The up-Tight Teacher
Test Version 1.0
(A Work in Progress)
R. Wilburn Clouse, PhD
Vanderbilt University
The Case of The up-Tight Teacher
Storyline by Jeremy Payne
Sometimes we take teaching for granted. However, teaching can be an incredibly
daunting task if done correctly. It is no surprise, then, that a large percentage of first year
teachers do not return for a second school year. Such absences leave vacancies that must
be filled, hopefully allowing a seamless transition from year to year despite annual
changes in staff and students.
One major indicator of teacher retention is the speedy integration of new teachers into
their new environment. Some schools provide orientations, others create teaching teams
for support, and there are still several schools who do nothing at all to help welcome their
new employees.
A new teacher has just arrived at Cawtinda Middle School. She is talented and well
trained, and the administration would love to keep her at Cawtinda for many years to
come. This new teacher, however, is having a hard time adjusting to her new job. Your
mission is to review the following scenario and determine, using the resources below, if
the actions of the teaching team will be effective in helping smooth the transition for this
first year teacher. Remember to use the guiding questions to help you with your task.
Good luck!!
Learning vignette -- The Up-tight Teacher
“Wellll-come students to another year of hard work, friendships, and fun at Cawtinda
Middle School,” boomed Principal Jung in his twangy, distinctively southern voice. “We
would like to welcome a new teacher, Miss Spencer, straight in from that great state of
Illinois. Let’s all make an effort to help Miss Spencer feel right at home.”
A new school year had begun. Returning students walked triumphantly down the halls,
giving hi-fives and chatting about summer trips while new students cowered near their
lockers and glanced at their watches in hopes time would miraculously speed up and
spare them from the next two years of social torture. As if rehearsed, the teachers of the
school exit their classroom doors and herd the students – new and old – out of the halls
for first period instruction. The teachers at Cawtinda are very good at what they do.
They have, after all, been working together for many years.
Cawtinda operates under a team-teaching model. The eighth grade is divided into four
teams: the Hobbies, the Aristoties, the Batesies, and the Groties. This year seemed to
begin just as years past for all of the teams – all of the teams except for the Hobbies.
Over the summer, the Hobbies’ math teacher – Mr. Thomas – decided to retire from
teaching and seek shelter in the welcoming arms the Florida Keys. Though the team was
congratulatory and understanding about Mr. Thomas’s decision, there was some concern
about the replacement - Miss Spencer.
For a first year teacher, there were few flaws in Miss Spencer’s teaching abilities. She
was well prepared, she kept perfect records, and she always arrived early and stayed late.
There was one problem, though. Miss Spencer could not muster the courage to break
into the circle of friendship shared by the rest of the Hobbies teaching team. Her
nervousness and insecurity carried over into her teaching, and soon both the Hobbies
students and team teachers began to wonder if they had made the right choice.
The Hobbies teaching team was known for their joking and strong bonds. This sentiment
merely perpetuated Miss Spencer’s hesitation to break into such an intimidating group of
seasoned teachers. In order to “help her along,” Mr. Bergson – the Biology teacher –
decided to try and loosen Miss Spencer up by playing a small joke. All Hobbies students
followed identical schedules. If you had first hour biology, you walked right across the
hall to second hour math with Miss Spencer. With this in mind, Mr. Bergson posed a
question to his first hour class. “What is one thing that Miss Spencer does everyday to
begin second period??” queried Mr. Bergson. The students collaborated and agreed that
Miss Spencer always turns on the overhead projector at the beginning of class. With this
jewel of information, Mr. Bergson instructed those students who had Miss Spencer’s
class the next hour to wait until she turned on the overhead. Using the overhead as a
signal, the students were to grab their desks and shake them yelling “Earthquake,
Earthquake!!” Mr. Bergson thought this would be a great tension breaker and the perfect
way to help initiate Miss Spencer into the teaching team.
Second period rolled around and Mr. Bergson began taking attendance. Just as he opened
the door to place the attendance slip in the hall, he was greeted with a choir of highpitched adolescent voices screaming “Earthqauke!!”.
Guiding Questions
1. Was this an appropriate use of humor in the work place?
2. Would the reaction of the teacher be positive or negative?
3. What are the consequences of Mr. Bergson’s actions? Are they positive or
negative? Explain.
4. How did this example contribute to/take away from the learning community and
teaching team established in this school?
5. How did the teacher’s position (i.e., first year teacher) contribute to the
consequences you described in question three (3)?
Online Resources
http://www.apa.org/monitor/mar99/humor.html (humor in healing)
http://cc.ysu.edu/~sattardo/tv/nardella.htm (alternative humor theories)
http://www.uwf.edu/coehelp/teachingapproaches/team/definiti.htm (team teaching)
http://www.ucalgary.ca/~egallery/goetz.html (team teaching)
http://www.mfa.gov.il/mfa/go.asp?MFAH0igr0 (humor in education)
Other Resources
Anon. (Oct. 31, 2001). “Guide Envisions Principals as ‘Chief Learning
Officers’.” What works in Teaching and Learning. Alexandria.
Chatterjee, C. (Jan/Feb 2000). “Laughing to Succeed.” Psychology Today. NewYork.
Clouse, R. and Spurgeon, K. (1995) “Corporate Analysis of Humor.” Psychology: A
Journal of Human Behavior. Vol 32, No.3/4, 1-24.
Keller, J. (Dec 14, 2001). “Workplace Horseplay Stumbles; In post-anthrax,
politically correct times, office high jinks are a dying art.” The Los Angeles
Kennedy, M. (Sep 2001). “Thinking Small.” American School and University.
Overland Park.
Leo, J. (Apr 26, 1999). “Chortle Why you Work.” U.S. News and World Report.
McGhee, P. (Sep 2000). “The Key to Stress Management, Retention, and
Profitability? More Workplace Fun.” HR Focus, New York.
.Morreall, J. (1997). Humor Works. HRD Press. Amherst. MA,.
Oxley, D. (May 2001). “Organizing Schools into Small Learning Communities.”
National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) Bulletin. Reston.
Rasmusson, E. (Mar 1999). “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Work.”
Sales and Marketing Management. New York
Part One
Discuss the appropriateness of the actions of Mr. Bergson, identifying the major theory(s)
of humor in play.
Part Two
Based on your findings, create a conclusion to the above scenario using what you have
found in your readings to support your views.
Group initiation is a tactic that can be found in settings ranging from the first-year teacher
scenario discussed above to social clubs and athletic teams. One mechanism to help aid
these transitions is the use of humor. Mr. Bergson used an experience that could be
framed under the incongruent theory of humor. Under this theory, humor is “expressed
when an incongruity exists between what an individual expects and what one gets”
(Clouse, 1995)*. Miss Spencer was expecting a routine day – a flick of a button, the
overhead comes on, and the lesson continues. Miss Spencer experienced chaos,
screaming, intimidation, and confusion – quite the opposite than her expectations.
I believe the rest of that second period was also unexpected, only this time from the
frame of mind of Mr. Bergson. Five minutes into the second period of the school day
(only a few seconds after the students pulled the stunt orchestrated by Mr. Bergson), Miss
Spencer came running into Mr. Bergson’s room with her head in her hands. The
student’s practical joke was not the only surprise of the day. At the same moment she
turned on the overhead projector, the bulb blew. The combination of screaming students,
shaking desks, and a surprising bulb explosion sent Miss Spencer straight into a feeling
of overwhelming helplessness. The students found the entire situation hilarious and the
teaching team worked hard to hide their giggles, but Miss Spencer could only cry.
At the moment, it appeared that Mr. Bergson’s plan had failed miserably. That, however,
was only the immediate perspective. Though at Miss Spencer’s expense, the students and
teaching team were greeted with a few moments of laughter for their day. Whatever
topic was being discussed will probably always be connected in memory to the prank.
Miss Spencer, however, did not immediately benefit from this action. No one could have
foreseen the bulb blowing or the coordination of the students to act in exact
synchronization. However, once Miss Spencer had enough time and distance from the
event, she could see the larger benefits of the prank. She now had a common experience
to share with the students and her teaching team. She had experienced a moment of
complete chaos and had survived, no doubt uplifting her self-esteem to a new level.
In conclusion, the practical joke initiated by Mr. Bergson was overall successful and I
feel it was an appropriate use of humor. The long-term gains for the students, the
teaching team, and Miss Spencer far outweigh the few minutes of frenzy that
accompanied the initial prank. Sometimes it takes a rocket to get to the moon.
Sometimes it only takes a telescope. Miss Spencer needed the rocket, and in the future I
am sure she will ease up, become more confident, and always have a moment of humor
on which to reflect to get her through the majority of situations she will come across
during her professional teaching career.