Plenty of giggling at the back

20th December 2013 at 00:00
In 2013, budgets were slashed, curricula were rewritten and ministers rode roughshod over teachers. But it was also a vintage year for rib-tickling moments, finds Helen Ward, from fried chicken love letters to ninja flapjacks

Why did you become a teacher? You may claim that it was because of the sweet high of seeing a child grasp the 19th-century Corn Laws. Or that you were inspired by a maverick teacher who recited poetry while standing on a desk. Or even because it's a fairly well-paid job that fits in with your own children's holidays. But we know the real reason: it's a brilliant laugh.

In recent years, too many comedians to count have tried to cash in on school-related antics, but none of their efforts are a patch on the reality. So here we give you, in no particular order, 10 hilarious highlights from the world of education in 2013.

1 Educating Yorkshire

"Like my eyebrows?" says Bailey, one of the student stars of fly-on-the-wall television series Educating Yorkshire. She pauses for effect, looking at her classmates. "Shaved them off. Shaved all my eyebrows off."

Bailey (pictured, inset) captured the hearts of British viewers when she appeared in the show's trailer. And this was also the first time we saw Jonny Mitchell, headteacher of Thornhill Community Academy in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire. The all-important first impression of Mitchell was of a physically imposing bald man in a pink shirt, doing a ballet-style dance. The voice-over? "I'm a new headteacher; my values are very traditional."

The music swelled as we watched children dancing Gangnam-style into the dinner hall and assistant headteacher Matthew Burton announcing to his class, "As we know, people, Northerners, we're proper right clever. Aren't we, Jade?"

The trailer glittered with emotion: teachers punched the air in triumph, tears were wiped away, kids were perplexed by maths. Viewers of the first episode discovered that Bailey's heavy make-up was not down to teenage vanity but to self-consciousness after a traumatic dog bite to her face.

Many adoring words have been written about Mitchell and his staff. And, proving that nowt impresses like trying your damnedest to get kids through their exams, the school has reported a spike in interest from parents, Mitchell has been rugby-tackled to the floor and had beer poured on him during a night out in Leeds (this is a good thing), and the show is returning for a Christmas special on Channel 4.

Read a profile of Jonny Mitchell at bit.lyMitchellProfile and find out more about the show at www.channel4.comprogrammeseducating-yorkshire

2 Harlem Shake

Assembly. Rows of students sit quietly in neat red jumpers, seemingly oblivious to one girl, who stands in the aisle, flapping around in a wetsuit, flippers and snorkel. Then, suddenly, everyone joins in with the energetic dancing. They are dressed in skin-tight morphsuits and animal-print onesies or encased in sleeping bags, with props ranging from traffic cones to an inflatable horse's head. Welcome to the Harlem Shake, one of the fastest viral crazes ever recorded on YouTube - and not just among teenagers.

Harlem Shake by DJ Baauer was first uploaded to YouTube on 23 August 2012, according to the Know Your Meme website. But it was a silly dance to the tune by video blogger Filthy Frank on 30 January this year that kickstarted a craze. The standard Harlem Shake is one person dancing alone for about 15 seconds, then others joining in. On 13 February, the YouTube Trends blog declared that "the Harlem Shake has exploded". At the end of that month, the BBC reported that the Harlem Shake had had 100,000 imitations and a billion views.

Watch school versions at bit.lyHSAssembly, bit.lyHSMalaysia and bit.lyHSCarter

3 Overheard in the classroom

The Overheard column runs in TESS each week, offering slices of classroom life. Here are some of our favourites from this year.

A retirement message from a student "Sorry you're living, but have a nice time."

During a safety talk from local firemen

Student: "Are any of you single? Miss quite likes firemen."

A child reads a science revision guide

Student (loudly): "I don't believe this! It says silk comes out of a woman's bottom." (Cue uproar.)

Student (more quietly): "Oh ... a worm's bottom."

In a class of four- and five-year-olds

Teacher: "I live in a flat, which means I don't have any stairs."

Child: "Oh, do you have a slide, then?"

During a discussion with 14- and 15-year-olds about the way Jesus treated non-Jews

Student: "Jesus was kind to genitals, Miss."

4 Name the shapes

In October, Twitter user @Pandamoanimum, who describes herself as a "mum of 2, wife of 1, lover of wine", tweeted her favourite example of a child taking something literally. The student had been asked to "name the shapes" at school. The resulting picture (bit.lyNameTheShapes) showed a square called Bob, a parallelogram called Sam, rectangles named Hary and Tedison, and a rhombus labelled Cate. The message was retweeted 2,277 times, with many commenting on the brilliance of the name Tedison.

5 The teacher who wore the same shirt for 40 years

When Dale Irby, 64, retired from teaching at Prestonwood Elementary School in Dallas, US, this summer, he marked the end of a long career by revealing a joke that he had kept running throughout his 40 years of teaching. It was a quiet joke, but a brilliant one.

Every year, he had worn exactly the same large-collared shirt and tan tank top for the official school photo.

So how did his caper come to light? "I was cleaning out my office and saw this article stuck up on the wall about soccer by this reporter Steve Blow," the former physical education teacher tells TESS.

Irby had used the article as a teaching resource for so many years that he decided to contact Blow at The Dallas Morning News to say how useful it had been. They talked, and during the conversation came Irby's fateful comment: he mentioned his shirt and tank top.

Irby had worn the same outfit for his first and second official school photos in 1973 and 1974, by accident. His wife Cathy suggested a third year, then it became 10 years, and eventually, Irby says, he thought: "Why stop? I thought 10 years would be enough - little holes started to creep into the vest - but there was no reason to stop."

As the outfit aged, Irby would take it into work on the designated day, change "like Superman" for the photo and then take it off again. "The last year, the shirt got a bit tight, but I could still button most of the buttons."

Irby showed Blow the pictures. His newspaper printed them. And the story was picked up around the world.

"It was like wildfire," Irby says. "I spent a whole day on the telephone. I took calls from the Daily Mail in Great Britain, Washington State Radio, Chicago Radio. Time Warner called, a lady from Chile, The Huffington Post, ABC, CNN, Der Spiegel, Good Morning America. One of the photographers who came and took photos of me said: 'It's like a wave coming into the beach - it's a good wave. Ride it, because it will disappear when it reaches the beach.'" So that's what Irby did.

Read the original article at bit.lyDaleIrby

6 The fried chicken love letter

Young love in all its beauty - and pragmatism - was revealed by a written exchange that swept the internet in January:

"But r u ready to be there when I'm mad, or need to cry and I can do things that I can't do with anyone else but you wit"

"Yes I am ready unless Im eating fried chicken"

"So chicken is more important than me"

"Only fried chicken and only when Im hungry. But if not then you are the only thing I care about."

The note was posted to Reddit with the caption "My friend found this on the floor of her 8th grade classroom". It quickly went viral. Comments included: "As an 8th grade teacher, I find this to be 100 per cent accurate."

See the note at bit.lyFriedChickenLove

7 #Maths and #science jokes

To prove that maths and science are hilarious, we carried out a Twitter-based research project. Here are the results.

#mathsjokes from @tes followers:

Talking sheepdog gets all the sheep in the pen for his farmer. He comes back and says, "All 40 accounted for." Farmer says, "I've only got 36." Sheepdog replies, "I know, but I rounded them up."


Two cats called 1, 2, 3 and Un, Deux, Trois had to swim in a race across the English Channel. 1, 2, 3 cat won because Un, Deux, Trois cat sank.


Hired an odd-job man to do 8 jobs. When I got back, he'd only done jobs 1, 3, 5 and 7.



A photon checks in to a hotel. The receptionist asks if he has any luggage to take up. He replies, "No, I'm travelling light."


An atom bumps into another atom. "Oh no", she says, "I've dropped an electron!" "Are you sure?" "Yes, I'm positive!"


Wonder if @tes heard about the scientist who was frozen to absolute zero? He's 0K now.


8 The real thing?

One difficulty with the internet is assessing how truthful information and images are. Julie Ann Culp, a US school counsellor, posted a picture on Facebook. In it she held up a note that read: "I'm talking to my 5th grade students about internet safety and how quickly a photo can be seen by lots of people. If you are reading this, please click 'like'. Thanks!"

The internet obliged, with Culp's picture being Photoshopped to make her look like a pirate holding a map and Beyonce, among others. She certainly got her point across and the photo has now been "liked" by more than 4.2 million people.

See examples at bit.lyInternetSafetyViral

9 Thank you for believing in us, Mr Boddie

Immense organisation went into this practical joke: the funniest flash mob of the year and the most touching.

Roger Boddie, principal of Hingham Middle School in Massachusetts, US, who retired this summer, is presenting a film about building work at the school. He stands before the camera with a hard hat on.

"Well, welcome to the new Hingham Middle School construction site," he begins.

He shows us the auditorium, then it's up on to the sun-drenched roof.

"Roger," a member of staff says, calling him to the edge of the roof.

"Yes?" Boddie walks over to join him.

The entire school has gathered on the playground below.

"What the heck is this?" Boddie asks. "What's going on down there? I'm such a naive fool. I thought you guys really wanted to film the building."

"We do."

"Oh, yeah? Isn't that something? This can't be. This cannot be."

As students hold up placards spelling out "Thank you for believing in us", the Journey song Don't Stop Believin' rings out. And then the entire school delivers a coordinated dance routine.

Boddie is stunned. He laughs, then takes his glasses off and wipes his eyes. "Well, when people ask me what I'm going to miss", he says, "I think I know what it is. I always knew I was going to miss the kids."

He waves his hard hat at the crowd below and a huge roar goes up.

Mr Boddie. A teacher. An inspiration. And now a rock star.

Watch the video at bit.lyThankYouBoddie

10 Ninja flapjacks. Or, as The Sun put it, 'Flapjack whack rap claptrap'

Once an unassuming oat-based bake, the flapjack took off - quite literally - in the world of education when a school in the South East of England banned triangular versions after an "isolated accident".

The decision by Castle View School in Essex prompted a pun-tastic response from the Health and Safety Executive's press office, which told the BBC: "We often come across half-baked decisions taken in the name of health and safety but this one takes the biscuit."

A faux-serious report from the BBC included several movie-star-style close-ups of the condemned snacks (bit.lyBBCFlapjack), while The Huffington Post's comedy channel created a spoof, calling for all teachers to be armed with flapjacks (bit.lyHPFlapjacks).

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