“Dr Padilla, are you selling hotdogs?”


Have you ever met a person who can dish it out but can’t take it? Most of us know someone who is a jokester to some degree. But don’t you hate the jokesters who have a grand time dishing it out, but then they come unglued when the joke is on them? If you’re going to dish it out, you should also be able to take it. One-sided joking is plain bad manners, and is exceptionally irritating.

Normally on the first day of class, I play a trick on my students. It’s designed to make my students feel somewhat off-balance (by making them feel self-conscious when they can’t hide in a huge sea of anonymity). Instead of being able to hide, they start to pay attention in their anticipation of what I’m going to do to them next. For the rest of the semester, I constantly toy with the students by making them think; again only in an effort to facilitate their learning. But the tone has been set; it’s okay to respectfully joke during class. After all who doesn’t want to have a little fun learning?

This classroom joking isn’t crude, vulgar or off color. But nonetheless, the stage is set. The idea is to create a fun and enjoyable learning environment, not necessarily to get attention. However, creating a joking environment has the potential to backfire at any moment if one is not careful.

The way I set the stage for the semester is by making the jokes safe. I do not personally attack any student. I keep the language clean, and I encourage friendly banter. Under these conditions, the students learn to have their own voice. Together, these techniques help make for an exciting learning environment.

During a semester at ASU, I was teaching a large introductory course with 500+ students. But because I was using a corded microphone, I was limited to engaging with only the first two rows.

Seated in the front row was a shy, unassuming woman. It was obvious that she was painfully shy. For these very reasons, I was determined to break her out of her shell.

Every time I walked back and forth in front of the huge auditorium, I would suddenly stop in front of her, and would quickly thrust the microphone in front of her face. I would wait a second to see if a miracle might happen. Normally shy girl would politely push the microphone aside and would politely decline to speak.

This happened randomly every so often throughout the semester. Shy girl never spoke until the very end of the semester. And then when she did, oh what came out of her mouth!

One day, as class was ending, students from the next class started to walk in the classroom. This was obviously a clue that we needed to end class immediately. I stopped what we were doing, and asked the class if there were any questions. As I scanned the classroom, I spotted shy girl’s hand raised straight into the air! WTH???

I had no clue why shy girl suddenly became interested in talking. I remember hurrying to where she was seated. I quickly poked the microphone in her face and waited for the words to begin. Would the shy girl talk or not

Shyly rubbing her hands together, she mustered the courage to ask, “Dr. Padilla, are you selling hotdogs?”

“ Huh?”

I was very perplexed by such a question.

“ Are you selling hotdogs?” (some students began to chuckle, but me, I didn’t get it)

“ No, why?”

“ Because your stand is open.”

It took me a second or six to get a clue. The entire auditorium was laughing as it dawned on me: my zipper was down.

Now keep in mind, I had always been thrusting the microphone in her face, and this time was no exception. That meant that the entire class of 500 students was able to overhear our banter on the overhead classroom speakers. The class laughed hysterically! I could actually feel my face get warm as it flushed with embarrassment. Shy girl never talked again.


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