Teaching trick: the emotional sanity break

This is among my stupidest, but perhaps most spiritually effective teaching tricks. I teach these huge intro ethics classes. Many of the students find the process really really emotionally intense, and some report getting deeply freaked out by certain questions. (Context: I teach deep in conservative Utah.) Also sometimes they just get tired.

I started offering the class a right to call an “emotional sanity break” once a week. Somebody can propose, and if the class mostly nods, we take a 3-5 minute break to look at stupid Internet memes, or cat videos, or a clip from Adventure Time, or I play them some classic hip hop that none of them know about or something like that. Then we go back.

First, they only use it like 2-3 times a term. (Sometimes I have to remind them it’s an option). And every time it happens, it was obviously necessary. The class goes better afterwards every time. Students know when they’re freaking out. And sometimes, they’re just TIRED – they often call a break in the middle of my (admittedly packed) Kant lectures just to have a moment to breathe. And I don’t notice their exhaustion because I’m in the throes of philosophy teaching ecstasy or something.

And I think the whole thing gives them some sense of control and freedom and not being just trapped there being steamrollered by a lecture, which I think they like.

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