Teachers, Let the Sarcasm Stay in Vegas

After three days and nights in Las Vegas to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary, my wife and I found ourselves at the airport this morning for an early flight home.

I’m not a guy who criticizes TSA agents. Their work is important and they do a good job. But as we were going through security, we came to the end of the queue where an agent was waiting, and one line separated into two, which led to the body scan machines. We stood waiting to be directed to a line when the agent said, “It’s not a hard choice guys…there’s only two lines.”

Sarcasm. Ugh.

We selected a line and proceeded to the scanner. Ahead of us, somebody had a bottle of water. The agent shouted to the rest of us in line: “No liquids, people. It’s been banned for nine years; you think you’d know that by now.”

More sarcasm. Double ugh.

And then somebody entered the scan machine with his belt on. The agent again shouted to the line, “take your belts off. I’ve already told you five times, but I’m sure I’ll have to tell you again.”

And at this point my wife begged me not to say anything to him. After all, we were tired and wanted to get home on time, and the last thing I was hoping for was a body-cavity search.

I was tired and broke, so admittedly I may have been easily irritable. But a fabulous three day trip with my wife turned sour in two minutes’ time. How so? Sarcasm, hatred’s ugly cousin, reared his head. And a gentleman who could have used a pleasant tone and a smile to help weary travelers make their way through security instead decided to insult them and embarrass them.


I’m 43 years old. Educated. Successful. Confident. And the way the TSA agent was treating his customers made me furious.

So imagine how students feel in a classroom when they are subject to a teacher’s sarcasm.

“You forgot your pencil? What grade are you in?”

“You missed that problem on the test? I guess playing video games instead of studying wasn’t a great choice!”

“Jimmy! You’re here today! What do I owe that honor to??”

Sarcasm isn’t funny, guys. It isn’t clever. It isn’t good natured. It isn’t motivational.

I know there are sarcasm proponents out there. I agree it’s ok to teach sarcasm in a language arts class, and maybe even when talking about my beloved Cleveland Browns when building conversational rapport with students. But using sarcasm as a form of motivation or discipline is never acceptable. The only thing it teaches kids is to hate school. And it not only offends and embarrasses the student who is the subject of the sarcasm, but it also causes those who witness it to be less likely to participate in class so they can avoid the sting as well.

I would like to thank the Las Vegas TSA agents for giving me that reminder this morning. (Sarcasm. Ugh.)

And one other reminder from the TSA guys’ behavior this morning. TSA guys work at the airport every day; they know the rules and procedures and routines. Some of us only fly every several years; we likely forget some of the rules and procedures and routines.

Likewise, in a classroom, teachers know what’s going on. It’s your class. In many cases you’ve been there longer than the students have been alive, and you don’t need to memorize six or seven different routines like your students do. So have patience with those who forget stuff that you think is important. Like putting their name in the wrong place. Or completing an assignment in the wrong font. Or forgetting to mark their lunch choice on the daily calendar.

When a student forgets a routine, he should be gently and pleasantly reminded. Not reprimanded. Not disciplined. Not subjected to sarcasm. And definitely not have his grade reduced.

In other words, follow the golden rule: treat others as you’d like to be treated.

No, better yet, follow the platinum rule: treat others as THEY would like to be treated.

And I’m getting ready to land in Denver. Not a bad flight considering the start.