Curbing the ‘class clowns’

Manaswini Sridhar

I have been a teacher for two years now and have been able to deal with different kinds of students – the shy, the diffident, the chatterbox, and the tattler. I now have a different kind of student in my class. I understand that such students are called the class clown. I teach mathematics for class 3 and my class clown is forever interrupting with comments, jokes, and remarks that tend to draw the attention of the students away from the work at hand. Am I wrong in getting irritated? Am I a teacher with no sense of humour?

If you are teaching the typical class of 40 or more heterogeneous group of students, you are bound to lose your temper at the end of the day because what you thought might be fun sessions of mathematics, turn out to be funny sessions and this is not what you or the school has in mind. An occasional joke in the class is appreciated by everyone, including the teacher, but constant repartees and jokes that sometimes turn out to be wisecracks can not only be challenging for the teacher, but can also make the other students lose focus.

The class clown has undoubtedly good spoken skills which is the reason he or she is neither shy nor nervous to speak even when not called upon to say anything. Cracking a joke in any language is difficult because it requires the correct choice of words, timing, and the right tone. The class can start with a joke and end with a joke, but the class certainly cannot be interspersed with jokes and wisecracks.

Analyze your class clown and ask yourself what could be triggering the disruptions: Is the child bored because he is smarter? Is he intimidated by the work at hand and therefore tries to shrug off the studies with jokes in the hope that his fellow students will not notice his struggle? Does he think that he has to be in the limelight all the time because that is the only way of getting noticed by the others because he feels that somewhere he does not measure up to them academically? Or is it that the child is a natural clown who does not have the least idea of how to keep it on a leash?

During class, make eye contact with the student when he/she becomes too distracting. Pause until the student breaks off. If that doesn’t work, move closer to the student and stand next to him/her. A young student is likely to feel insecure and stop the behaviour. If the student continues to stay defocussed, move him/her to the back of the class so that he/she does not have the opportunity to make eye contact with his/her peers and shift their focus.

At the same time, call aside the student during a break or after school, and spend time with the student to ask why he/she is doing it and then discuss what the impact is on you as a teacher and on the rest of the class. A child in class 3 will normally not be able to tell you why he/she feels compelled to make his/her presence felt throughout the day, so you will have to ask probing questions that will initially lead to an affirmative or negative answer and then to more detailed questions, once the student is comfortable with this kind of talk.

Here are some questions that you could ask: Do you like to crack jokes? Do you do this at home too? Do you do it on the playground? Do people laugh when they hear these jokes? Do you feel proud when you hear them laugh? Are you disappointed when they don’t laugh sometimes? Do you feel that sometimes I become irritated when you talk in class? Is it difficult for you to keep quiet like the other students? Do you think it is easy for the other students to keep quiet?

These are the general questions that you could start with and it is certainly not necessary to pose all these questions at once.

Explain to the child that as the teacher, although you enjoy the occasional prank and joke, it is difficult to deal with the daily antics because you do have a responsibility towards all the students and the school. If he/she cannot curb their behaviour in spite of all the warnings and the reprimands, it means that the student has little or no respect for the teacher and the other classmates. It is also important to point out here that there is a place and time for jokes and a place and time for serious work. The other students may be laughing at him rather than with him. Tell the student that being funny on the playground, after school, and during lunch is absolutely fine, but it is a sign of disrespect towards his classmates and the teacher when it finds a permanent place in the classroom. There may be students who love the subject and would resent the mistiming of the jokes because it means loss of instruction time. Putting things in another perspective occasionally helps the student realize that the clowning around may not always be appreciated. It also helps them become aware that in all this fooling around, they may be becoming friendless.

Talking to the parent is also in many ways helpful. Suggest to the parents to control this kind of behaviour even at home. If the child is making wisecracks throughout the day, have the parents tell the child that certain situations need to be treated seriously and it would be unbecoming to have all situations treated in the same light-hearted manner. Suggest that the parent enroll the child in a club or an activity where the child’s sense of humour will be appreciated. Inform the parent that the child could put his energy into the task at hand rather than create situations for his classmates to enjoy, which is an equally exhausting task.

Remember that although the class clown seems in charge of the situation, it is you who actually are. Make the child understand that this is your stage where he can play a role but not the lead role.

The author is a teacher educator and language trainer based in Chennai. She can be reached at manaswinisridhar@gmail.com.