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Sarcasm - is it bullying?

Discussion in 'Behaviour' started by Buntybird, Jun 5, 2013.

  1. I would like to ask whether when you saw the heading of this post you all thought this must be about pupils being sarcastic to teachers. Did any of you consider that I might have been referring to staff being sarcastic to pupils?? I have held high positions in education, including head teacher and inspector - national assessor and moderator for numerous national programmes some mandatory - and am more than disappointed by the way some teaching staff have spoken to children. I am a mother and have just been speaking to my 17 year old son who told me what a teacher in a secondary school said to him when passing in the corridor today. What may have seemed like innocent teasing on the part of a young though experienced, male teacher was in my view little more than bullying. As I see it, unless there is an equal relationship where one 'tease' / sarcastic remark can be responded to in the same way by the recipient - the act is bullying on the part of the teacher .What do you think? In my experience a good yardstick, by which to measure how any of you speak to children / pupils irrespective of their ages is to ask yourself this in your head before speaking - Would you say this to a pupil if their parents were standing by your side? - if the answer is no - then you are abusing your position of trust in my view .Comments please?
  2. bigkid

    bigkid New commenter

    Sarcasm can be used in a bullying way. I have seen it many times. It can also be used in a good humoured funny way.

    It's a strategy for dealing with poor behavior like any other. It can be used to bully but so can detentions, so can lines, so can any sanction or strategy that teachers apply when pupils are not behaving.

    I am just as sarcastic to pupils with parents present as I am in my classroom and rarely does this cause any problems at all. It's all about how it's done and in what context. It completely depends on the relationship between teacher and pupil and the dynamic within the classroom (How will the other pupils respond to the sarcastic comment).

    "As I see it, unless there is an equal relationship where one 'tease' / sarcastic remark can be responded to in the same way by the recipient - the act is bullying on the part of the teacher .What do you think?"

    This is true to a certain extent. I certainly believe that if you dish it out you have to take it. However I don't think that pupils should necessarily be able to respond to a sarcastic remark with another one IMMEDIATELY but generally. By that I mean that if, f the following were to happen:

    I ask the class for quiet.

    A student ignores that.

    I say "Thank you student x for listening so attentively and being quiet."

    It would not be appropriate for student x to respond sarcastically at that point because obviously they need to be quiet at that point but I would have no problem with it if they were sarcastic later in the lesson provided it was done appropriately and in good humor rather than rudely or maliciously.

    To make a blanket statement one way or the other is extremely silly in my opinion.
  3. pepper5

    pepper5 Star commenter

    Hi Buntybird

    You would think that teachers would receive some guidance in their training regarding the issues you raise. Usually it is expected for teachers to model the behaviour they wish to see in their students and if a teacher is seen to use sarcasm in the classroom, then that does not set a good role model for their students and ultimately will start to have a reputation for being mean and will lose the respect of their students. In addition, the student who receives sarcasm directed at them may not have the maturity to shrug it off and take the remarks very personally and be hurt by it although they may not show it. I have used one word of praise to particular students and know it has changed their lives for the better and would think that negative words have the same power to hurt and offend.

    I am not sure if the particular instance you raise with your son would be considered bullying if it was a one off remark as it seems in the way you describe it. However, saying that, if it continues then it may be considered bullying.
  4. bigkid

    bigkid New commenter

    Teachers do receive guidance in their training and that guidance usually is to avoid sarcasm.

    I do model the behaviour I want to see in my students and I think diffusing difficult situations with humour rather than less pleasant methods IS what I would like to see from my pupils.

    I don't agree that sarcasm is necessarily mean and I certainly do not have a reputation for being mean. I have no reason to believe I have lost the respect of my students either. Neither the behaviour in my lessons or pupil voice suggests that.

    The key point is that sarcasm, like anything else, can be used well or badly. It can be used effectively or ineffectively. I can be used in a good humoured, light hearted way or it can be used to bully.

    In my opinion inexperienced teachers and teachers who do not know their pupils well yet should probably avoid sarcasm because it is so eays to get it wrong.

    I don't see any reason why it should automatically be considered wrong, bullying or indeed negative. If pupils know that it is light hearted humour with no malice in it and recognise the sarcasm then it is completely harmless. Therein lies the difficulty with sarcasm...

    In fact the only problems sarcasm has ever caused me with pupils has occurred when pupils have not realised I was being sarcastic.

    Being sarcastic with other adults has caused far more problems in my teaching experience to be honest.
  5. Tom_Bennett

    Tom_Bennett Occasional commenter

    I am, I have to say, curious as to what was said. Sarcasm takes many forms, and to equate it with bullying simply doesn't follow, either intuitively or demonstrably. Can you provide the example?


    Read more from Tom here on his blog
  6. internationalschools

    internationalschools New commenter

    Sarcasm is belittling and inappropriate in all cases in my view. As pointed out by the OP, the student isn't allowed to give it back, so it's cowardly for a teacher to dish it out. How would we, as professionals, like it if our Headteachers made sarcastic comments to us in meetings? How would it make us feel?? I would feel totally humiliated and, because it is said by someone with authority, defenceless to answer back. I'm not sure that I'd call a one-off incident "bullying" though, as bullying to me is about more than one incident.
  7. 576

    576 Established commenter

    'I would like to ask whether when you saw the heading of this post you all thought this must be about pupils being sarcastic to teachers. Did any of you consider that I might have been referring to staff being sarcastic to pupils??'

    Nope - didn't think either, I suspected it was referring to one member of staff belittling the other with sarcasm (I guess I didn't realise which forum I was in).

    I think like internationalschools that bullying is generally an on-going issue.

    I know we shouldn't use sarcasm in the classroom but for those of us who are sarcastic anyway it can be hard not to.
  8. garyconyers

    garyconyers New commenter

    I agree fully with bigkid.

    Sarcasm can be used to bully and belittle, but that doesn't mean all sarcasm is bullying.

    If done humorously without malice it can be a good way to break barriers.

    Also, if I use sarcasm jokingly I wouldn't mind students being sarcastic to me in the same way. It depends on the relationship you have with the students.
  9. garyconyers

    garyconyers New commenter

    For example, I used football banter to break barriers with some difficult Y9 students in a school. When my team (Newcastle) lost to a lower team club in a FA cup tie I was greeted the next morning with, "good result for your team sir" (sarcasm).

    My reply, (very sarcastically) : "oh yes, they were so good, so proud of them, outplayed Wolves. World club champions next year I reckon....." They laughed.

    I'd like to ask internationalschools how my sarcasm belittled any student in any way, and if s/he really believes that I wouldn't allow students to give it back!

    Its all in the context IMO. If a student was unnecessarily rude I'd let them know.
  10. bigkid

    bigkid New commenter

    Then your view does not reflect reality.

    There is no reason why not. I am sarcastic all the time and my students often give it back.

    This has happened and it has never bothered me greatly. I am sarcastic to the Headteacher and SLT regularly. They don't mind.

    You see it's all about the intent. Anything that is said in good humor where everyone knows there is no malice intended will generally be taken in the spirit it is meant. If it isn't then you learn your lesson and never be sarcastic with that person again.

    This says more about you than it does about sarcasm I'm afraid. I don't think I have ever felt defenceless to answer back.

    Sarcasm, like anything, can be used to bully. It can be used inappropriately. It can be used to belittle.

    To suggest that sarcasm is AUTOMATICALLY belittling, inappropriate or bullying is nonsense of the highest order.

  11. Sarcasm is bullying in the most part; that is, after all, its definition. But most of this thread has given examples of using combinations of humour, irony, self-deprecation, etc - not sarcasm. Examples of sarcasm would be: "You have a face perfect for radio", "You remind me of my son - he's two and he couldn't answer the question either.", and most things Groucho Marx said (my favourite: "I've had a great night. It's just a shame this wasn't it!" :) ).

    I think we need to hear the OPs example to decide whether it IS sarcasm. Whether other forms of humour, irony, banter, is appropriate.... well as monkey would say "That's a whole other story."
  12. Hello?? Has the OP and anyone else given up? This was a very interesting discussion, intimating where sarcasm/humour is acceptable/beneficial and where not...
  13. garyconyers

    garyconyers New commenter

    Most people understand sarcasm to mean saying something you don't mean and putting on an exaggerated 'sarcastic' tone to emphasise this.

    Tom has already asked the OP for the example of sarcasm that was said to her 17-year-old son that caused so much offence. This would help us to better judge for ourselves. The OP hasn't clarified, nor defended her position when challenged with examples and differing views.

    This is surprising because inspectors are usually soooo keen to clarify their position and engage in discussions with teachers, and often open and flexible to new ideas they may not have thought of. ;o)

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