Adventures In Teaching: The Ruiner Of Fun
Andy isn’t a bad student. He’s friendly and funny, a happy-go-lucky ten year old who laughs a lot and answers questions in class with the desperation of a man proclaiming his innocence at his murder trial. The rest of the kids in the class like Andy. If he was a gladiator and his opponent had the chance to kill him, the other kids would likely give the ‘thumbs up,’ sparing him. I, on the other hand, would most certainly get the “thumbs down.” And, knowing how I’m typically the only one who cares about how clean the classroom is, I’m sure in this analogy I would somehow have to use my last moments to tidy the arena, making sure it would not be blighted by my soon-to-be carcass.
As nice as he is, there’s a dark side to Andy. This surfaced when we were doing a unit in the book about being polite. I had to teach terms like “don’t cut in line” and “don’t push.” This really excited me, as Koreans cut to the front all the time and shove people around like they’re offensive linemen. Maybe this lesson could initiate a change in culture. Anyways, to demonstrate, I had the kids stand in a line and then pretended to be a terrible rude person, cutting and behaving obnoxiously (which I’m rather excellent at). It was all in good fun. I playfully pushed a few students. “Don’t push!” they said, using the new vocabulary. ”What a smashing success!” I thought. It was a nice bit of educational enjoyment until I playfully pushed Andy who, laughing and smiling, swiftly delivered a karate kick straight into my knee cap that made me moan out loud in pain.
“Aaaarghhhh!” I went, hobbling away. A few classes later, we were playing a vocabulary game with a little bean bag. The students would catch the bean bag, say their English words and gently toss it to a classmate. Everything was going fine and dandy until Andy caught the bean bag and proceeded to gun it into the face of the kid sitting next to him. The poor boy held his mouth in agony, signaling the end of the bean bag game. All the while, Andy roared with laughter, as though he was in the audience of Def Comedy Jam or something.
Andy is The Ruiner of Fun. He doesn’t understand the boundaries of play. Try to give Andy a high five, he’ll stab your hand with a pencil. Have the kids get out of their seats for an activity, Andy will inevitably end up hitting someone. Don’t dare let Andy use scissors without having a first aid kit readily available. Like I said at the beginning, he’s not a mean kid…he’s just…I don’t know…goofy. Whatever there is that tells most kids that “this is funny, but that’s not funny” doesn’t exist in Andy’s brain. To him, it’s all fun and games even when someone loses an eye.
The Ruiner of Fun comes in other shapes and forms too. There’s the Dour Student, who won’t participate in class activities. Then there’s the Super Competitor, who wants to win the spelling game so badly, he will explode and turn on his teammates, blaming his defeat on their stupidity and then lashing out at the other teams. There’s also the Can’t Get Through the Rules Boy, who turns the part at the beginning of the class activity where the teacher explains what is going on into a three-hour epic affair, talking non-stop and then shouting about how he “doesn’t get it.” All of these incarnations are equally lethal to a less formal classroom environment, and each of them inspires a teacher to turn to good old-fashioned methods like worksheets or notes on the overhead.
As an educator, it’s difficult to know exactly what to do with The Ruiner of Fun. You want student engagement and, more importantly, student enjoyment. You don’t want to be the crusty old professor type who lectures and puts more kids to sleep than Children’s Nyquil. So what happens when a class has one or two Ruiners of Fun? What do you do? Exclude them? Give them the little talk yet again about what kind of behavior is expected and pray for the best?
Trying to make learning fun carries with it great risk. The next time you see a teacher on crutches or a child with the imprint of a small bean bag on his face, know that they aren’t victims of a lunchroom riot or a fight on the playground. They are, instead, victims of learning.