A Laughing Matter?

Yesterday, I wrote about my math class in seventh grade, which inspired me to write several posts on my opinions about bullying, quiet kids, and standing up for oneself. I’m in the process of formulating those. Let me clarify something about my math teacher: he was a good person. He instructed professionally, taught the material well, and graded fairly. He could be very nice. But his sense of humor and my idea of an acceptable joke did not overlap at all, and in those few minutes of free-for-all before instruction, or when he made a joke during class, I was not exactly content.

For example, there was a girl who sat near me, who I will call Jenna (not her real name, protection of the innocent, et cetera). She was very smart (it was an advanced math class, so technically, everyone there was) and had frequent questions. Not she was smart but she had questions; she was smart and asked to have a problem worked out on the board, which also makes her very brave, because there’s a common and false belief that needing to ask a question means you’re stupid. Struggling to grasp a concept the first few times and stupidity are extremely different things.

So eventually in the year, it was somewhat common in the class for Jenna to be slightly confused and ask to have a problem worked out. She made good grades and often had the correct answer, or understood what she had done wrong and reworked it correctly.

Often, though, when she’d raise her hand, Mr. Math Teacher would say, “What is it, Jenna?” seemingly irritated. After seeing her shocked and wounded expression, he would say, “I’m kidding.” Sometimes, there were a few jokes later in class about her inquisitive nature, e.g. “No one has any questions? Not even Jenna?” Joking about a person has always bothered me, and I was very uncomfortable. I didn’t find them funny, and she didn’t either.

It was different when, say, there was a comment about one of the somewhat obnoxious boys who were always speaking up. They’d take it in stride and sometimes even add a jokingly self-deprecating comment.

This begs the question: where is the line drawn for jokes, especially those made in a classroom? I am aware that I am hyper-sensitive to things like others’ ideas of humor, so it might only bother me. When should you laugh it off, when should you fight it with another joke or comment, and when do you keep quiet and take it?

For the last option, my answer is never. If you act the way I usually do and sit silently, face red, then suddenly it seems like the world is laughing at you. You can’t stop them from making a joke, but the one thing they can’t control is your reaction. If you throw your head back and guffaw, then suddenly they aren’t laughing at you, but with you, and there’s nothing they can do about it.

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