I've been teaching high school students for 15 years, and every year we get some sort of lecture from some poorly dressed "inspirational speaker" reminding us that there is no room for sarcasm in the classroom, and whether the speaker wags a finger or not... the "shame on you" is implied! One speaker actually sang (rather poorly I have to say) "Wind Beneath my Wings". At the end she cried a little tear as she reminded us that we should always dress in entertaining clothing, and her tapes were for sale at the back of the auditorium! Now, I must explain that these speakers are usually paid more than my monthly salary for one day's work, and they have usually come from an elementary school experience which lasted 3 or 4 years before they ran from the classroom and snotty-nosed children in search of something that made them feel self-important, but didn't require any further hard work or education. I may be a tad bitter!
Enter a rather cynical group of highly educated teachers, most of whom have been teaching ten or more years. Most of us have wonderful relationships with our students. We have teaching websites where students can contact us when they have questions about homework, and we genuinely care about the success and overall well-being of these kids. Few people make it as educators these days unless they really do care... though there are a few sadists left, I must admit! The poofy-haired lady with mascara running tells us we must never use sarcasm when dealing with students; she delivers the message in that voice that elementary school teachers use when speaking to the little children, We, on the other hand, are, in fact, adults! Yes, I am bitter!
Sarcasm... American Heritage Dictionary on-line defines it as a cutting, often ironic remark intended to wound, or
a form of wit that is marked by the use of sarcastic language and is intended to make its victim the butt of contempt or ridicule. I suppose that is where the opponents of sarcasm in the classroom leave the discussion and debate.
Sounds a little harsh when one puts it that way! Could I have been wrong all along? Nah.
I still stand by one of my favorite teaching tools. I have a brilliant female student who is a senior in high school and has already been accepted to a top university, but she makes the classic "dumb blond" comments so often I just can't help myself. My standard response is... "well, thank goodness she's pretty." (In my best Texas accent, as well!) She gets it. The students have a laugh, and we move on. I have a hardened criminal in another class who knows all too well that one more slip up lands him back in the Juvenile Justice Academy. He's trying, though most of life's cards are not leaning in his favor. He acts out, and I remind him that someday when I see him on the evening news, I'll remember this precious moment we shared! He gets it. The other kids don't laugh (he IS a hardened criminal... come on, would you laugh at him?)
Wit and humor are tools of my trade. Sometimes a little sarcasm is the healthiest thing to remind a teenager who runs the show. Hillary Swank can inspire them to journal, but in my world, I tease them, laugh with them, and occasionally display the contrasting behaviors of Mr. Hand in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (for you youngsters - it's a good one.... check it out!) I will go to the funerals of my students - usually one a year. But I refuse to give up a little witty jab every now and then. If that singing inspirational gal thinks I am causing irreparable damage, then I figure it's simple payback for making me listen to her sing and cry on my first day back to work after a great summer break!