Yes, teaching is sick. Yes, teaching is broken. Yes, teaching is toxic. There is bitter truth in all of these statements. I’ve written about them, painfully and in depth. But while we’re bemoaning the mess that our profession finds itself in, it’s also worth reminding ourselves that teaching is joyful. Teaching is humbling. And teaching is also absolutely flipping hilarious for a lot of the time.
I asked a few teachers to share their funniest classroom moments. Several hundred responses later, and I have snorted my tea and hiccoughed with laughter (much to my non-teacher husband’s bemusement). With credit to all who shared, enjoy. Sorry, not sorry, to those who are a little sensitive to childish humour – there are certain themes that dominate.
Let’s start with a word from the (occasionally less-than) wise. The experiences of many teachers, suggest that you should never:
- Ask young people to do internet searches for German sausages, "beautiful jugs", or common varieties of British bird (‘nobody saw “thrush” coming’), skid marks (in the context of motor racing), Brazil or molerats (?!)
- Ask pupils to draw a visual representation of "tension", mainland Britain, a test tube, or Christingle.
- Try to use the plural "pens" as an example of where the (exaggerated) apostrophe SHOULDN’T go.
- Ask children for words to rhyme with "duck".
- Ask children to hold their balls in PE.
Now let’s move on to the toe-curling experiences. If any of the following has happened to you, you’re not alone.
- Ripped your trousers mid-lesson.
- In a lesson on dominant and recessive genes, struggled to explain why a child with brown eyes has two parents with blue eyes…
- Tried to explain why a child might have webbed toes.
- Set yourself on fire.
- Broken wind while trying to suppress a sneeze in the classroom.
- Arrived at school wearing odd shoes (of different heights, colours, makes or materials) or your pyjamas under your skirt or two bras.
- Been defecated on by a seagull in the playground.
- Gone through an entire day with your clothes on back-to-front, inside-out or indeed had stray underwear emerge from the bottom of your trousers.
- Found a glue pot stuck to your bottom.
- Written all of the names for genitals on the board with permanent marker.
- Got yourself sent to A&E as the results of: a "safety demonstration" with Bunsen burners for Year 11, a misguided attempt to model skateboarding or my weekly special, falling over children’s bags…
- Left a sanitary towel in the pile of exercise books to be discovered by the classroom helper when handing them out the next day.
- Accidentally locked a student or students in rooms for entire lessons.
- "Crucified" a child on the wall bars to make a point during Easter assembly or been flattened by a replica of Jesus on the cross.
- You’ve repeatedly rehearsed the word "organisms", then your brain does a double-bluff on you.
- Mistyped or mispronounced "wellies" (as in "splashing in the puddles with our…").
- Brought home an entire class from a school trip covered in anti-graffiti paint.
- Mishandled a condom in a classroom demonstration with disastrous consequences for unexpected classroom guests.
And here are some of my absolute favourites, just because:
"Covering a science lesson years ago. Ofsted inspector walks in to see lad taking off socks/shoes to reveal webbed toes. 'MISS! Is that why I’m like this?' Me (frantically): 'Who can tell me what J’s feet tell us about genetics?' S: 'That his mum shagged her brother?' Time stood still!"
"So. In a previous school. Outside learning in the garden area. Deputy headteacher tells Year 2 children: ‘Mrs Smith is going to shake her bush and see what falls out.’"
"Back in the days when I used an interactive whiteboard, I would frequently draw and move things by accident. Took me months to realise I was doing it with my (unfortunately massive) boobs."
"Asked in interview: ‘Where will you go from here?’ I answered: "Home for a G&T.' They said, ‘We meant with your career!’ (Got the job)"
"Had Ofsted lady in my English lesson. She tripped and fell, flat on her face, on a pen on the floor. I ran over to help but she got straight up and without acknowledging the fall, asked me what the class’ levels were. Everyone knew about it by break time."
"Once interviewed a candidate who sat for hours with their head seemingly cocked to the side (cheek leaned on her shoulder). In the feedback to offer the job, we asked tentatively if there was a disability of which we should know; she said no, my earring was stuck to my cardigan."
"So I was telling a class about my father’s narrow escape in the war, a historically documented moment of kill or be killed, and I thought they were captivated. Then one kid sighed, looked out of the window, and said: ‘So, if he hadn’t fired first, we could be doing PE right now’."
"On a particularly bad morning, in the staffroom, a visiting supply teacher said: ‘What do you teach?’ My reply: ‘Wankers.’ Her reply: ‘I think you teach my son.’"
"First year teaching, and naturally exhausted. Shut my eyes for five minutes in the department office, only to be woken up by two Year 8s. 'Oi, sir – are you dead?'"
"I once sent a student out for drawing a massive penis in his book, I then forgot about him and he was out there for probably half an hour. Turned out, he did not draw a penis. He drew a labelled diagram of a tong in a science lesson."
"In an exam, a student once wrote ‘Drake circumcised the globe’."
"I once had a wee girl bring her mum’s “curling tongs” into school. Similar shape but these were no curling tongs. Now THAT was an uncomfortable conversation!"
"Getting Year 8 students to chant French phonemes and inadvertently pointed at the following three in this order: oi in que. Didn't think how it would sound until after they'd all chanted it."
Let’s take that very first statement and flip it on its head. Teaching is indeed ‘sick’, in the sense that Year 10 might say it, aka bloody brilliant. And a good laugh is often the best tonic for a stressful week and a brilliant bonding experience.
Dr Emma Kell is a secondary teacher in north-east London and author of How to Survive in Teaching