RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Almost everyone loves a class clown. That perfectly timed joke about the ancient Greek poet looking nothing at all like Homer Simpson is good clean fun - unless you're the teacher trying to explain the "Odyssey." Still, a change in perspective can make all the difference for some class clowns and their teachers. Lee Hale from the NPR Ed team reports.
LEE HALE, BYLINE: Lawrence Davis is a senior at Dover High School in Delaware. And according to him, every teacher loves him.
Do most teachers think you're pretty funny?
LAWRENCE DAVIS: Yes, they do. They enjoy me. Teachers enjoy having me in their class.
HALE: He's obviously not shy about it.
DAVIS: I'm not going to say I'm the life of the class, but I bring the class to life.
LEANN FERGUSON: He was incorrigible as a freshman.
HALE: That's Leann Ferguson. She taught Lawrence the freshman in her world history class. And back then, enjoy isn't the word she would've used.
FERGUSON: He acted out inappropriately all the time. He had impulse control issues, couldn't stay in his seat, paced the room.
HALE: He drove her crazy. But she also saw something more.
FERGUSON: He has the most amazing sense of humor.
HALE: To her, Lawrence wasn't just another class clown. He was gifted. And his gift was his dynamic personality. She has him in her class again this year. I sat down with both of them to talk about their journey together. Side note, when Lawrence says F, that's his nickname for Mrs. Ferguson. She's cool with it.
DAVIS: I feel like if F wasn't there, none of the teachers would like me. (Laughter) You know, I think that's what it is.
FERGUSON: From the minute I met you, Lawrence, I knew you weren't a bad kid. Yeah, you push it. Yeah, that's just what you do.
DAVIS: (Laughter) I remember one day - can I tell my story real quick?
HALE: Lawrence really wanted to tell me this story. It involved the classroom door. I'll just let him tell it.
DAVIS: Where you going? To the door. What are you doing? Well, I have to fart. (Laughter) You know, I didn't want to stink up the class, so I had to put my butt out the door.
FERGUSON: See what I mean? You've got to love this guy. He's hilarious.
HALE: To be honest, I'm not sure if I see what she means. It sounds like dumb, teenage humor, right? But as I was talking with both of them, I realized that's the point. During moments that most of us would have just felt annoyed, Ferguson saw potential. Ross Greene sees this all the time.
ROSS GREENE: Skills have to be molded so that they are being used in the best interest of the group.
HALE: Greene is a psychologist who studies disruptive students and trains teachers all over the country. He agrees that students like Lawrence are gifted, in a sense. He uses the phrase, raw skills. How do you mold these skills? It starts with a change in perspective.
GREENE: So instead of looking at the kid as a pain in the butt, we say, you know what? I've got a live one this year.
HALE: That's exactly how Mrs. Ferguson saw Lawrence. And she wanted to channel that energy. For instance, she knew that he could get a reaction out of the class. So she would ask for his help when the class would get out of hand.
FERGUSON: And you'll get them back on track when they're off-track for me.
HALE: He loved talking in class and making people laugh. So Mrs. Ferguson would enlist him to help other students finish their work. And he was good at it. He started looking for ways to help.
DAVIS: What do you need done? Oh, I need these papers collected and such and such. All right, give me your papers. I'll get it done.
HALE: With time, Lawrence went from antagonist to ally, a relationship that's proved to be crucial, especially last year, his junior year, when he nearly dropped out.
DAVIS: I'm thankful F was there on the good days, the bad days, the ugly days - all that - the why-are-you-here days.
HALE: And now this class clown is on track to graduate. He has a job. He's applying to colleges. He's using his gift for good. Lee Hale, NPR News, Dover, Del.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CLASS CLOWN")
THE WASCALS: (Singing) Your lectures bore me. I interrupt you when you tell a story. I raise my hand, to make you stand up and you ignore me. Open up your eyes and please realize your lesson's phony.
My parents always said, don't let the teachers put you down or walk around school grounds labeled as a class clown. Class clown, class clown. Come ditch if you're down, through the halls run around. Throw your books to the ground if you are a class clown. Come ditch if you're down, through the halls run around. Throw your books to the ground if you are a class clown. Class clown, class clown.
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