Next week marks the beginning of my sixth semester as a professor. Below are some funny things that have happened in my classroom over the years both at my current university and as a TA in grad school.
1) Student spelling errors are always a treat, especially when MS Word either doesn't catch the mistake or corrects inappropriately. I often have students analyze examples from the media and their real lives to be sure they connect course material with their lived experiences. Once, a young lady was applying a friendship theory to Lucy and Ethel from I Love Lucy. She meant to say that Lucy would always have her Ethel to rely on, but what she wrote was, "Of course, Lucy would always have her ether." A very different kind of dependence.
2) I assigned people into pairs to work on a small in-class discussion. That day there was an odd number of students present, so I looked at the pair the last extra person was sitting nearest and said, "Why don't you all just have a three-way?" The whole room looked at me with wide eyes until it sank in what I said. As it dawned on me, I added, "Well. That didn't come out well, did it?" They all laughed, we moved on, and I learned to be more careful in how I speak. I also learned early on it's better to be laughed with than at. They respect you more if you can laugh at yourself.
3) A student was presenting on the issue of gay and lesbian teachers and parental fears of their children being "indoctrinated." Only she said, "Parents are afraid gay and lesbian teachers will rub off on their children." I am not a mature person, but it didn't help that a few of the other students giggled, too. The student who said it was very smart and kind, and she took it in stride. But I had a hard time controlling myself for awhile.
4) I was teaching a freshman public speaking class early on in my time at my current school. I had a little metal tin that I passed around with numbers so that they were randomly assigned a date and order for giving their speeches. The first time I did this during the semester, I explained the process and then started walking around for them to draw their number. I got to one girl, who apparently hadn't been paying attention to my instructions. I put the metal tin in front of her, and she got a very sheepish look on her face as she reached into her mouth for her gum. She thought I was busting her for gum in the classroom. So cute. I said, "No. You can have gum. That's okay. I just need you to draw a number for your speech." Then she turned from sheepish to embarrassed.
5) In another speech class, a student was clearly wildly under-prepared for his speech on soccer. He was nervous and fidgety the whole time. He got to the part on the importance of proper handling of balls, which would be hard to say under the best of circumstances when you're an 18-year-old boy (or an immature teacher). Under these less ideal circumstances, even harder. He paused. Everyone looked up. He smirked. Then he snickered. Then he desperately fought to regain his composure. Then I had to look down and shake quietly with laughter while he continued on.
I sometimes feel overwhelmed by my job, and the responsibility, and the students who just don't care. But really. How amazing is it all, really? There are lots of funny, fascinating, and educational opportunities even for teachers. So, I will go on, head into this semester hoping for more funny than frustrating.