An alternative-certification program that recruits math teachers believes educators could learn a thing or two about classroom management from stand-up comics.
Comedians, the program’s leaders reason, struggle in front of tough crowds just like teachers, and their bad jokes can flop just like a lesson plan. But a good stand-up knows how to connect with an audience.
To help its teachers develop that knack, Math for America is offering its New York City fellows after-school improv comedy classes taught by Rachel Hamilton, an alum of Second City, the Chicago-based troupe that launched the careers of Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Amy Poehler, among others.
“When you think of math, it’s so dry, so black and white,” said Lee Umphrey, the organization’s public affairs director."We find our best fellows are those who have a sense of humor. Whether they use improv or writing or games, we want them to make math real-world friendly to students.”
The fellows often need all the help they can get. Math for America brings non-educators with math backgrounds into urban classrooms, offering participants a stipend and a scholarship for graduate school. The program has been in New York for five years, and recently opened offices in San Diego, Los Angeles, and Washington.
Umphrey said the biggest challenge new teachers face in urban school districts is the range of student-learning levels. The program tries to bring participants up to speed with professional development.
“The drive behind all of our PD, whether it’s the driest high-level math presentation or improv comedy, is to emphasize how this is going to be applied in the classroom so that your students are successful in the classroom and in the workforce,’ Umphrey said.
A version of this article appeared in the March 16, 2009 edition of Teacher PD Sourcebook