Comedy in the field of Tutoring part 1


There are a few weeks left of school and Alex gave me the idea to put a post about humor in tutoring writing students. This is mainly a mixture of thoughts that caused me to chuckle, smile, or consider how helpful it can be to laugh in our field. Comedy can be an incredible tool when working with students of all types (except stuck up). I use small jokes all the time in my work and there are so many hidden benefits to it.

Have you ever had an instructor, teacher, or even parent that appear intimidating? Students that require help may feel humbled or below the tutor since they require their assistance. To many students it is embarrassing or incredibly difficult to ask for assistance from another, especially a stranger. A small joke with a smile can make a significant difference. It can help calm the student, reassure them that you're not a, "Judging know it all whose goal is to further their feeling of inferiority." Yes that may be a bit extreme, more realistically they're probably afraid of a lecture pointed at them or that you can't help. Of course this has an incredibly low chance of happening.

Hard to imagine? Well what if one freezing night you walk out to your car. You force open your frozen door and are excited to get the heater running. You slide the keys into the ignition and twist.....Nothing. Your battery is dead. You look across the icy parking lot to see a bundled up stranger walking to one of the few cars left. How quick would you be to run and ask for help? Would you rather call a family member for help? Rely on the stranger? Or wait to build your confidence, warm yourself up a little, and reassure yourself that another person will come? Now imagine the scenario where you actually go for it and dash to them. Their headlights illuminate your snowy body as you wave for their assistance. Would you feel better about yourself if the first thing they did was: blare their horn, lecture you about how this is your fault, saying nothing, or give a calming smile and ask, "I don't suppose you're going to ask for my autograph? ".

It isn't the best example but I hope it helps. I also believe it helps give a commonality between the tutor and the student. It reassures the student that you're there to help, not to grade. 

I tend to use jokes in spelling errors, introductions, and a lot in explaining things. A great example is when I'm asked, "What's the point of an intro and conclusion?" One of my explanations is my younger brother when he was a kid. "We tend to use introductions and conclusions without even noticing it. Like this one time when my brother was younger he decided it would be a great idea to flush one end of the toilet paper roll that way he could watch the roll itself spin round and round. He would laugh and laugh constantly until his parents found out. Of course it sounded similar to, 'AARRRGGHH What are you doing?! You can't do that!'  then would come the explanations as to why.  He would sob some and listen to why. Then at the end she would hug him and calmly say, ' I'm sorry but you can't do that, its wasteful, unsanitary, ect..' "  Its a very simple story but it helps explain why an introduction and conclusion helps while relating it with humor.

Using comedy does require some practice because the last thing we as tutors wish to do is to offend or increase the tension between us. Used correctly the mood can be relaxed thus increasing the chance that something could be learned instead of rejected. Clean, fun, and constant observations can clue you in if you're being successful or not. If there is no effect then you're always able to switch back to your normal style with ease. I enjoy using this approach because it extremely flexible, it makes my sessions more enjoyable for the student/s and myself, and it makes the day go by faster.

What do you think about using humor in tutoring?


  1. Anonymous7:11 PM


    I think humor can be a great asset in the work we do as tutors. Were I in the position of a student sharing my work, I think I would greatly appreciate a humorous interlude, as it would ease my nerves and make the tutor seem more personable, more human.

    That said, I have largely evaded humor thus far into my tutoring endeavors, and here's why: The tutoring contexts I've worked in have been fairly serious (for lack of a better word), often containing personal or significant subject matter or having an imminent deadline, to give a few examples. In these contexts, I feel obligated to maintain a high degree of "professionalism," as I feel the student may grow irritated or become offended if they do not feel that I respect their time, or their urgency, or their ideas.

    Have you ever had any such problems? Do you have any specific methods of gauging whether or not it is appropriate to use humor?


  2. Anonymous6:35 PM


    Yes I have encountered such problems. I use humor like a tool and like all tools there is a time and place for its use. We defiantly do not want the student to think it's all fun and games or that we're not serious, but at the same time we don't want to appear as a strict teacher. In Clint's lecture about "Us verses Them" he mentioned that they believe us to be on "their" side, so this defiantly helps show that we defiantly want to be there for the them. I like to use it for those who appear to be miserable as well. (This sounds like its inappropriate but some people have to laugh if they don't wish to cry). I would advise against this until you have had practice.

    It takes practice but there are methods to gauge whether or not it is appropriate. Body language is a big one. Your ice breaker is also a flag to show whether the student will want to be strictly professional or be willing to relax. If they smile, chuckle, or even make a crack themselves this is a good sign. Crossed arms, sternness, or they dont understand are bad signs. If you'd like to use this tool I recommend starting small and poke fun at yourself, not them. eg: "Oh I've made a mistakes with commas as well. Like I said, 'Lets eat brother' instead of 'lets eat, Brother' I didnt hear the end of how I'd make a perfect zombie." Its not the best and its not true, but its believable, and mostly innofensive.

    My last tip though: Always be ready to apologize. We can't know who everyone is so if they don't like it a quick apology then defaulting to a normal teaching style works as well. It all ties to audience in the end =)

  3. Kenyon,
    I too use humor in my sessions! I think humor helps the session flow better and the student feels more comfortable with working with me one-on-one. I am not one to just use humor at the wrong time or make awkward situations but I often use it to settle the mood of a session. I work as an embedded tutor so I have the same students for 14 weeks. I know their personalities and work ethic and it nice to be able to crack a joke every once in awhile.


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