The Universal Strategy of Silliness

Words by Pete Heck / Photography by Dalene Heck

After my first two weeks of in-classroom TESOL training, I was eagerly awaiting the next two weeks of practical teaching in the classroom. I felt adequately prepared having aced my two written tests, but also a bit nervous as I had also found myself pretty far outside of my comfort zone.

Where The Magic Happens

Over my accounting career I had to make countless presentations in front of people on financial budgets, proposing management strategies, and so on. So when I learned that we’d be presenting to our classmates, I thought it would be a breeze.

Wrong.

Being able to teach, especially to younger students, would mean that I would need to be creative, quick on feet, and even sometimes resort to pure silliness. Put me in front of my friends (with a few drinks for liquid courage), and that would be no problem. But stand me in front a class of people I’ve just recently met and ask me to sing, dance, talk with an accent, or do charades? I could think of more uncomfortable things I would rather be doing.

pushing-comfort-small

Running off a mountain seems like a good idea.

I was no longer presenting fiscal year budgets or [insert other bland accounting talk] – this would be much more difficult. Any confidence in public speaking I once had seemed lost. I would also be teaching something that I used to take for granted every day – speaking English. I’d be striving to get a student to properly pronounce the letter P, or singing a song that also secretly teaches them tidiness, or even explaining the meaning of the word ‘opportunity’ through drawings and actions (I still don’t know how to do that).

Not only was I learning about what I would be teaching students, I felt like I was learning the English language for the first time. Phonemics? I previously had no clue what that was but now I can write sentences in the phonemic alphabet.

English-is-Hard

(^ That says ‘English is hard’ in case you were wondering.)

Conjunctions, determiners, prepositions?! Would I ever be able to look at a sentence the same again? No wonder we were being instructed on how to teach creatively.

My classmates told me I didn’t look nervous, but I think I just I masked it quite well. In the end we all jumped in. We sang, we acted, and we all talked in a funny accents. Once we transferred it to our practical teaching assignments, it all began to make sense.

Silly-in-Ecuador

It also worked with these kids in Ecuador. Silliness is a universal strategy.

A little bit of silliness can go a long way. And not only just for teaching young ones but even applying it to everything I do.

Eventually I would love to give presentations and do more public speaking. Definitely not about fiscal or strategic planning, but maybe by teaching a class, or even to an audience about our lives, travel, and what inspires us.

I’m pretty sure I can come up with a song and dance for that.

*****

My participation in the TESOL program was courtesy of LanguageCorps. All opinions (and patent-pending dance moves), are my own. Click through for a full review of the LanguageCorps program.

25 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • December 2 2013

    I’ve also found that being silly is one of the best strategies you can have for teaching English!

    It seems to work like a charm regardless of where I’m teaching in the world.
    Beth recently posted..50 Things We Love About the Maldives

    • Pete
      December 17 2013

      Oh yay, i’m glad it works because I do like acting silly. Thanks Beth!

  • Jan
    December 2 2013

    Sometimes the simplest things are the most difficult to teach! I agree that technical presentations are a breeze compared to explaining English. I’m sure with practice you’ll do great!
    Jan recently posted..Scuba Diving in the Gili Islands of Indonesia

    • Pete
      December 17 2013

      Thanks Jan, I hope so!

  • December 3 2013

    Silliness is awesome, use it all the time =)
    Gabriel recently posted..30 Days – 30 Sunrises – 30 Pictures

    • Pete
      December 17 2013

      Seems to be an essential ingredient for a fun class, for both teacher and student 🙂

  • December 3 2013

    Being silly is soooo important for keeping children’s attention! 🙂

    • Pete
      December 17 2013

      Thanks Andi, I think back to most of the teacher’s to got along with, and they were the ones who acted silly and made the class a pleasure to be in. Makes sense…

  • December 3 2013

    Love, Love, Love this post! Thanks for sharing and reminding us of what is important.

  • December 3 2013

    As a devout fan of silliness in general, I applaud your embrace of the silly side of life. I have also found it to be most helpful in situations of stress (driving in Italy) and/or acute danger (teaching kids). Also, congrats on the phonemes. They look neat.
    Lunaguava recently posted..Home by Lake Atitlán

    • Pete
      December 17 2013

      Haha, I should have tried it after driving in Italy. Thanks for the comment 🙂

  • Sam
    December 3 2013

    I completely relate to this, Pete! Learning to teach English is essentially becoming a dancing monkey for your students. Good luck!
    Sam recently posted..Best Reads: November 2013

  • December 5 2013

    Hey Pete, thanks for this article. Giselle and I are both exploring the idea of getting our TESOL certificates to continue travelling. It’s good to know that being silly will go a long way. We can both handle being fools in order to teach kids 🙂
    GiselleandCody recently posted..Vegetarian Festival in Thailand

    • Pete
      December 17 2013

      Hey guys, I just posted our review of the program I took in PP.

      I’ve loved what you guys are doing in Bhutan, such an incredible experience.

  • December 5 2013

    Kids will love a silly attitude! I think I could even learn to be a little less serious

    • Pete
      December 17 2013

      I know for sure that I could be be a little less serious most times. Thanks Rachel!

  • December 9 2013

    Great point! I think the silliness itself can be actually speed learning because you’re more likely to remember something that made you laugh. My friend and student recently learned the difference between the word “fun” and the word “funny” (he had been using “funny” to qualify something that was “a lot of fun” or “very fun.”) We certainly had a good laugh when I corrected his assessment that “beach volleyball is so funny” and he hasn’t made the mistake since.
    Rashad Pharaon recently posted..6 Cities Where Digital Nomads Live On The Cheap

    • Pete
      December 17 2013

      Oh yes, definitely. I think to classes I took for foreign language (Spanish/Turkish) and the mistakes I made which were funny definitely stuck with me easier than those that didn’t. Like you said if you make it memorable the more retention there is. Thanks Rashad!

  • December 10 2013

    I think this is why Shawn was so good at teaching English – he has an ability to be silly and fun with no qualms about it. He’s also smart and patient, so that helps. I does break down a barrier, though.

    • Pete
      December 17 2013

      Funny, smart and patient. That’s a wonderful combination for a successful teacher!

  • December 10 2013

    Kudos for trying and the more you do it, the more comfortable you’ll get with your inner child.
    Maria recently posted..God Does Not Live Here

    • Pete
      December 17 2013

      Thanks Maria, it’s certainly makes class interesting!

  • December 15 2013

    This sounds like a great approach to life as well as teaching 🙂 No doubt, your students will greatly appreciate your antics.

  • December 16 2013

    Absolutely love this post! Silliness is one of the greatest forms of expression and one that we can all understand and relate to. Having fun while teaching is what it’s all about and being silly is great fun!
    Barbara recently posted..Casa Monica St Augustine FL Historic Hotels of America

    • Pete
      December 17 2013

      Thanks Barbara, it sure makes the class more interesting and the kids sure love it!

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