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No Place for Sarcasm in the Classroom

October 22, 2014

Sarcasm is defined by as:SARCASM

1. harsh or bitter derision or irony.

2. a sharply ironical taunt; sneering or cutting remark:

Origin: 1570-80; < Late Latin sarcasmus < Greek sarkasmós, derivative of sarkázein to rend (flesh), sneer

That’s scary. To “rend flesh.” Really? Do I want anything I say to my students to be categorized as harsh or bitter?

I always have the talk with my teachers about the danger of using sarcasm in the classroom. It is a deterrent to building relationships of respect with students and colleagues. Young students are literal and don’t get it at all, yet several middle school and high school bound teacher candidates have attempted to persuade me that they use it well and that older students “get it” and like the “humor.” Sarcasm and humor are very different.

My responses:

  1. I love a good laugh. I hate a sarcastic remark.
  2. If you are using sarcasm to act cool, forget it. Once you enter the classroom as the teacher, no matter how young you are in years or spirit, you can no longer be cool to a 16-year-old student. My example is that I became “Old Lady Carpenter” at the young age of 22. It was hard when my U.S. History students asked me how I survived the depression, and what dances I did in the 50’s. Deal with it.
  3. When you use sarcasm in the classroom, students may appear to laugh with you just because you’re the teacher. But when they leave the classroom, they aren’t laughing with you. They are laughing at you.
  4. Students may laugh to save face. I do it when confronted with sarcasm, but I am thinking to myself that there was some truth in what the person said sarcastically. They really did mean to put me down, and my reaction is not that the person is comical but that the person is a jerk. Is that what you want students to think of you?
  5. If you use sarcasm, you are saying that it is okay for your students to be sarcastic. (See responses #3 and #4.) Sarcasm becomes teasing and teasing becomes bullying. Is that what you want in your classroom?

As teachers it is our charge to treat all students with respect and to provide a safe learning environment in our classrooms. Sarcasm is not respectful discourse and is often used as a bullying tactic.

Melanie Glenwright is researching sarcasm…..

It works something like this: when we (adults) encounter sarcasm we first process the literal meaning of the words being spoken, then we suppress an urge to respond to that literal meaning, then we look for the true intent of the words based on facial expressions, intonation and familiarity with the person speaking the words. At that point, we’ve recognized sarcasm and can respond accordingly, often with laughter or an icy stare.

Kids, on the other hand, are left wondering what the joke is.

Glenwright says her research could be a boon to educators, as it helps shed light on the origins of teasing, which can turn into bullying at later stages of child development.

University of Manitoba. (2007, August 9). Getting Sarcastic With Kids. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 22, 2014 from

Students prefer teachers who create a positive environment, teachers who are patient, caring, kind, and respectful. … it helps if you can  tell a good joke:)

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