Class Clowns: Discover What’s Behind the Behavior

Part of our Cash in on Learning Series by Richard M. Cash, Ed.D. Click to read other Cash in on Learning posts.

Class Clowns: Discover What's Behind the BehaviorJust about every classroom has one: the class clown. During middle school and high school, I was that dreaded jokester. In one of my classes, I convinced my classmates to follow my actions during instruction. At 10 a.m. I dropped my pencil—so did everyone else. At 10:05 a.m. I “sneezed”—so did everyone else. At 10:10 a.m. I yawned—so did everyone else. You get the picture. Every five minutes I performed some sort of “stunt,” and my classmates followed along. It didn’t take long for the teacher to catch on and remove me from class. I got what I wanted—a pass out of class!

Class clowns can be acting out for several different reasons. It’s important to learn where the behavior is coming from and try to negotiate with the student to either allow time for or eliminate the behavior. In my case, I didn’t want to be in class. The biggest reason was I didn’t like the subject and felt the teacher wasn’t making it engaging. Below, I’ve defined four types of class clowns with ideas for dealing with the behavior.

Class Clown as Avoider
Sometimes kids will act out because they want to divert the teacher’s attention so they can avoid doing the work. In my experience above, I was doing everything in my power to avoid doing any work. I was seeking approval from my classmates to support my avoidance.

To help with the avoider, find out how the student feels about the class, the content, or the activity. How a person feels about a situation will determine the focus of his or her attention. Avoiders are usually feeling stressed, anxious, or intimidated or are lacking confidence. Once you know this, you can then address the base need and change the overt behaviors.

Class Clown as Budding Comedian
Have you ever wondered what kind of student Robin Williams must have been? Can you imagine having an Amy Poehler in your classroom? Some kids have natural talents for finding humor in situations. Being able to see the fun side to life, connect ideas to humor, or come up with funny situations or jokes is an advanced form of thinking. Don’t discourage these kinds of learners; encourage them.

Budding comedians need an audience. Give them time and space to tell jokes, make others laugh, connect content to relevant situations, and come up with kooky ways to do things. Divergent thinking is critical in the complex world they are entering. It’s okay to laugh at their foolishness because if you don’t, you may stifle their creativity. However, they do need to know when it’s appropriate to be funny and when it is time to get serious. Give them parameters for when we will need their strengths.

Class Clown as Defiant
I do not believe that any child is born naughty. Kids become naughty when they are trying to send us a message. In the case of class clowns who are defiant, they are sending you a message very similar to the one sent by avoiders: lack of confidence, ability, or sense of security. What sets the defiant class clowns apart is their harshness or how they target others as the butt of jokes to gain a sense of power. Basically, bullying behavior!

Bullying behaviors are never acceptable in any situation. You need to step in quickly, adjust the situation, and inform the child and his or her family of the consequences of future inappropriate behaviors. Additionally, inform your administration of the behaviors, who you have communicated with about the behaviors, and what steps you have taken to change the child’s behaviors. Don’t let this child’s actions get out of control.

Class Clown as Attention Seeker/Actor
Some clowns just want to be seen! As a middle child myself, I was always doing things just to be seen and/or heard. That is one of the biggest reasons I went into theater: I wanted to be on stage. The attention seeker will do funny things to get recognition or stand out from the crowd. There is nothing wrong with being different, but the difference should not be a distraction from the important things happening in the classroom.

Attention seekers need time to be special, to be heard and/or seen. Provide time for them to shine by giving them opportunities to present to the class, do jobs within the classroom, or do projects in ways that use their talents for the stage. Actors (those who seek the limelight) need focus to be good at what they do. Teach your attention seekers how to harness their energies for productivity.

Each year, we see new students with all kinds of talents and abilities. Clowning can either be a mask (avoider, defiant) or a representation of a skill (budding comedian, attention seeker/actor). Your job is to find out which types of clowns you are working with and then use the appropriate strategies to help them become successful.

Please share your ideas for how you work with your class clowns. It would be great to hear what the clown does (to help others recognize their shenanigans) and how you deal with the behaviors. Additionally, we can all use a good laugh about what fun our students can be!

Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., writes the monthly Cash in on Learning blog posts for Free Spirit. He has given hundreds of workshops, presentations, and staff development sessions throughout the United States and internationally.

Free Spirit books by Richard Cash:

Advancing DifferentiationDifferentiation For Gifted Learners

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About Richard M. Cash, Ed.D.

Writes the "Cash in on Learning" post series for Free Spirit Publishing.
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3 Responses to Class Clowns: Discover What’s Behind the Behavior

  1. Elisabeth Paul says:

    Thanks for this😀I was a class clown. Looking back (I’m now 40), I believe it was a combination of defiance and attention seeker. I came to this conclusion, as I was defiant due to a stressed home life, but had a very cheerful personality and was more of an attention seeker. The defiant part was, I believe, my subconscious way of sending out an alert that something was wrong in my environment. I was unnkowingly seeking help.

    I remember an interview Jim Carey gave, whereby he mentioned that one of his teachers (I believe this was elementary years) advised him that if he was good, he would be given a few minutes at the end of each day to perform…. I remember thinking “I wish”!
    My teacher sent me to the counselor (which was good) and put my desk next to her desk and tried to reward me with a sticker chart! I remember at one point even having to sit in a large cardboard type divider excluding me from the classroom.

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