Q&A: Mr. Hicks on his unique teaching style

Students who have had Mr. Matthew Hicks as a teacher know his teaching style isn’t necessarily the most orthodox. Mr. Hicks often tells stories from his life in class, and his jokes are always popular among both his freshmen and seniors. Although “I digress…” has practically become his catch phrase, Mr. Hicks understands that his stories and jokes do have a purpose in the classroom. We interviewed Mr. Hicks to learn what purpose they serve.


Why do you use humor and tell funny stories in your class?
When I was a student, I always really related to those people who I thought were human. I wanted to know a bit about them, and the more I understood about them, the more I wanted to learn from them. I understood that it was a kind of rapport that we needed to have. I had a teacher that would always say that school was a game and that you had to beat the teacher at that game. I never really liked that, and I didn’t think that it worked well. I like to implement the saying of cura personalis (“care for the entire person”). I want to get to know the students for who they are and teach to them. I think the better relationships we have with each other, the more symbiotic our relationships are going to be.

For my class, it is all about choosing your own topics, and I hope I can develop who you are by showing you who I am. I am out there on a limb telling stories so that I can help bring you into the tree, and we can have fun up there and see many cool things. I have really tried over the years to do different things and I have found that humor works the best.

When did you start employing humor in class?
When I started teaching in Denver, it was difficult for me to be dry all the time because that is not who I am as a person. If you know me, you know that I like to be funny and joke around. I know when to be serious, and I know when to be funny. If I can mix those two things together, I think there is a really great outcome from that.

When I was in Jeff City teaching, I had a 30 person regular sophomore English class with many students who had behavioral problems, and the only thing that got them to work was telling my own personal stories and being funny while trying my best to integrate it into what we were doing. And it worked. I found when I came here, at a place where kids really want to thrive and work, it works very well. I normally try to connect my stories to something related to the material that we are covering.

What are some of your funniest stories that you enjoy telling in class?
I really enjoy telling stories about my friend, Kevin. I came into the house one day when Kevin and I were living in downtown Milwaukee, and I went into the living room and Kevin had an inflatable 8 X 10 baby pool filled up with water. He proceeded to put a card table and chairs in the pool and made dinner and he said to me, “I always really wanted a pool table.” I usually bring in something like that to show, for example, how puns work.

There are times when we are talking about literature that Kevin stories work well. For instance, I was borrowing Kevin’s car one time, and I parked it in the parking lot at his apartment complex. As I was unloading my stuff, since I was going to move in with Kevin for the summer, a car swerved after running a red light and beached itself on Kevin’s 1988 Oldsmobile. Kevin stuck his head out the window and saw the car of his dreams demolished, and he walked outside just crying. Then, he looked at me and I said, “Hey Kevin I’m really sorry,” and he said, “That’s ok. That’s not the worst thing that has happened today. We just got evicted for the pool table.”

I really thrive during the narrative essay time when I can bring out all of these stories from Kevin and try to tell the students how things work. Another story I often tell is one in which Kevin started fighting one of our friends, who was a manager at a bar. Kevin just started making cat noises, hissing at her, and since he didn’t want to fight the girl, he just started hissing while she was punching him in the face. This story I often tell when showing my students what onomatopoeia is. If I am passionate in my story telling, especially when I talk about literature, then I hope that that makes that passion grow inside of them.

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