Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Isn't sarcasm one of the few remaining rights we have?

Two incidents I need to share.

First, I have just finished going through the syllabus for a module on trees with a class. I say, foolishly, "does anyone have any problems?". Sarky Snowflake says, deadpan, "Yes, I'm afraid of turkeys".

Second, I asked a class a question. Nigel Never-Shuts-Up has had several attempts at answering, each more silly than the one before, despite my efforts to get him to let someone else answer. Finally I say, "Nigel, it's OK to not know the answer, but you need to let the rest of the class have a go too". Nigel says, with a hurt look on his face "But I'm trying!" and, I confess, I did something one should never do in front of a class. I yielded to temptation. And said "Yes, you can be trying at times". The rest of the class, most of whom are nice kids who want to actually learn not listen to Nigel, applauded... and Nigel threatened to report THEM (not me!) to the Dean.


  1. children as young as 4 understand sarcasm. http://www.sciencedaily.com/ /releases/2010/09/100914143430

  2. I know they understand it, but some little part of me would prefer that they appreciate rather than joint in... after all there are so few other protection/response options in our arsenal.

    But I'm also kind of impressed when they DO get it, it suggests they're at least listening!

  3. I have to confess that unless I was in a truly horrid mood, I would have laughed at the turkey remark.

    I try very, very hard to not be sarcastic, mostly because I worry that if they don't get that I'm being sarcastic, they WILL do something like lick their roommates' faces to test social boundaries.

  4. Apparently the older generation of proffies before us have no such qualms about classroom behaviour. As Bill Cosby once said on The Cosby Show, "dogs get mad, people get angry." Well, I can have a bit of a temper and can show it when I'm pushed hard enough. I once got quite mad at several students in a lecture, and I didn't hold back. Later I talked about the incident with someone in the departmental office. Their response? "Don't worry about it, that's nothing, you didn't use any insults or name-calling. At least you didn't call them 'stupid', 'idiots' or 'morons' like the older tenured faculty." Aghast, I then asked, "what happens to a prof when they insult a student like that?" Response:"Nothing. We ask them to apologize, but they won't. They're tenured."

  5. The turkey comment was pretty funny. I'm not sure if you're complaining that they are sarcastic, or that you don't get to be. But both comments were funny. Too bad you can get in trouble for the latter.

    Someone asked me to write the date on the board before I start and I told her that Calendar Time was supposed to be covered by kindergarten and not to get sad when we I don't write "It is sunny outside" with a big smiling Sun.

  6. God, "trying." I try to be supportive of kids, but at some point, kids grow up. Then "trying" doesn't matter. Only results matter. And none of these barely-out-of-the-womb adults seem to focus on "results."

    Great stories though, grumps.

  7. When I've made remarks like that to my own Nigels, I've then stayed up half the night pondering what a terrible person I am. More often than not, I've found it hurts the class, too, though not nearly always.

    Sometimes it's helped, but at the expense of Nigel, who though dim and clumsy in the classroom, maybe even domineering, really is trying according to his own lights. I try to have a private chat after class in those cases.

  8. I've used sarcasm in the classroom without regrets. Sure, it puts a few students off, but what doesn't?

    Hell, I was recently at a conference where the presenter was asked a really stupid question. She responded with sarcasm, and like your class, the half of the room I was sitting in broke into sustained applause.

    As long as it is deserved, I figure it is appropriate, and Nigel sounds like he needed it something fierce.

  9. Turkeys do seem to be quite intimidating to students.
    Most of my students are very apprehensive about handling them.

    I've only had one or two get a black eye, though.


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