PHYSICAL SCIENCE / LESSONS IN HUMOR

Yesterday, I had a chance to go back to the middle school that was the location of this blog’s first entry. I got this sub job by networking – which seems to be the most efficient way to get sub jobs. This 8th grade Physical Science teacher definitely had one of the most organized classrooms I’ve worked in.

For starters, her lesson plans were three pages long and extremely detailed. She listed names of students that she appointed to take attendance and carry out certain tasks in the classroom. Since this teacher set up her classes to operate in her absence, there wasn’t much for me to do except keep order. It seemed like I was going to have a pretty easy day, but her lesson plan ended with this warning to me about 3rd hour:

“This class may be a challenge. Some students have a problem exercising self-control and following directions. The last time there was a sub in the classroom, an incident occurred which resulted in 3rd hour getting a seating chart. If any student becomes a problem, send them to the office.”

Since I used to work in a high school in the Detroit area, I wasn’t really fazed by this warning. In fact, I was actually kind of eager to see 3rd hour because I wanted to see how these students compared to some of my former students (or if there even was a comparison).

The first two hours of the day were fine. Then it was time to do battle with 3rd hour.

However, instead of the battle in 3rd hour being “me vs. them” it was “me vs. all the awful, unfunny, attention-seeking jokes I had to sit through.” Here’s the best way to explain it: Have you ever had the experience of being in close proximity for an extended period with someone who tries too hard to be funny? That’s what this class was like. There were 27 students in the room and 18 of them wanted to be the class clown. For 61 minutes, I was subjected to this weird brand of 8th grade humor, which seemed to consist of unfunny jokes and bizarre anti-jokes.

It started, ironically enough, with the girl who called me “Chester.” (Sidenote: For the backstory on this girl, read “Day 1 – Back in the Saddle Again”). As the students were entering the classroom, I was straightening some chairs in the back of the class and I heard, “Hi Chester! Hey everybody, look! Chester is our sub!”

I looked at her and said, “Are we really starting this nonsense again? My name is written on the board.”

“Okay, Chester.” She responds.

“Wow, excellent listening skills,” I deadpan.

This girl continues to call me Chester throughout the hour, even though nobody in the class is laughing. In fact, one of her friends finally gets fed up with the unfunny routine and nearly shouts, “Listen, his name is on the board. Learn to read!” to which Chester Girl just laughs.

This was not the only lame stab at humor that I witnessed in 3rd hour. I was also subjected to a girl who attempted get some cheap laughs by feigning a cognitive disability. She came up to my desk, and said, in a normal voice, “Mr. Shuptar, I have a question.” She then started to fake a facial twitch, grunt, and slur her words. After finishing this routine, she abruptly turned and walked back to her desk where her friends are all laughing. Judging by the way this girl and her friends dressed and carried themselves, I could tell that they were part of the “cool” group in school.

I generally like to think I have a pretty good sense of humor, but I can’t stand it when kids make fun of people with disabilities. For some reason, that level of insult really burns me. I felt like I had to address this girl’s poor attempt at comedy, but how? I had three options:

1. Use a really serious comment to correct the behavior (ex. “Hey, that’s not funny.”)

2. Ask for an explanation to the behavior (ex. “Why do you think that’s funny?”)

3. Be extreme (ex. “You think that’s funny? Go to the office and explain that joke to the principal and see if he laughs.”)

I decide to go with Option 1 and I also decide to add a bit of guilt into the equation. I get up, walk over to the group and say, “Excuse me, was that some kind of joke?” The group of girls sort of half-chuckle and exchange guilty glances at each other. I put on a solemn expression and say in a low voice, “Well, I suppose that faking a disability is funny if didn’t grow up in a family where your brother has Tourette’s.” I watch as this girl’s face just crumples into an expression of shame and her cheeks become flushed. Without waiting for a response from her, I simply walk away. I can hear one of her friends say, “Nice going, Julie” as I walk back to the desk. For the rest of the hour, “Julie” (not her real name) was completely silent.

At this point in the story, I should also note that I didn’t grow up in a family where my brother had Tourette’s either. I was simply stating a fact to “Julie,” that jokes made at the expense of the disabled aren’t funny; especially if you know someone with a disability. Hopefully, “Julie” learned a lesson in good taste.

The rest of the day was fine. 5th hour featured more weird attempts at humor that were prime examples of 8th grade humor. During 5th hour, there was this kid named “Mark” kept a group of boys entertained by inflating a pink balloon and pretending it was a boob, which he then stuffed under his shirt.

Hmmmm, I wonder what Freud would have said about that one.

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