“Great” Moments in Teaching, Part 8

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Early on in my teaching career, I was taught that sarcasm was not an effective method of teaching.

Yeah, right.

Fortunately, I’ve usually taught older students who understand my humor, and maybe a few appreciated it.

But would it translate when moving to a different country? 

In the winter of 1995 I interviewed for about fifteen international schools at a job fair in Boston.

I was offered a job working at a boarding school in Switzerland for about fifteen thousand a year, or Damascus Syria for almost four times that.  

I chose Syria.

We did the math. We concur.

The Damascus Community School was a K-12 school with about 20 students per grade.  Most of our students were Syrian (or half-Syrian with an American parent), the rest from scattered parts of the globe.

One of these students in particular was a Kuwaiti sophomore who wore a hijab: bright, outgoing, always with a smile, and had no idea what to make of my humor.

A few months into the school year, her father made her take the hijab off. He told her when she was an adult she could make that decision, but for the time being she would not wear one. 

Her outfits were always Western in style, but as she grew more comfortable with the new look, she bought more clothes that fit the average student at DCS. 

One day, she came into class excited, dressed in ripped jeans and a brand-new sweater. 

“Mr. C!  What do you think of my new sweater?”

I responded as only I could:  with a complete lack of understanding for my audience.

“You PAID for that??!!”

Tears. 

More tears. 

She ran out of the classroom.

I couldn’t begin to apologize enough once a few of her female classmates convinced her to return to class, and I went on to explain sarcasm as best I could.

It’s a good start, but we’re gonna need a little more, here.

From that point forward, I decided to make it OBVIOUS I was joking. I couldn’t always stop myself from reacting with a sarcastic statement, so I began to follow it up with a ridiculous rolling of my eyes… which at some point, became a thing of its own. 

Students around campus began doing the same to each other, and most of the kids incorporated sarcasm into their own humor.  At some point, I even cracked a comment to that same student I’d made cry a few months earlier, this time with the eye roll.  

She laughed.

Last September, a few of my students were in New York for the U.S. Open, and they called me up and asked if I could come up for dinner with them on a Friday night. It had been years since I’d seen them; I quickly scrambled my schedule and drove up to meet them.

Within a few minutes of seeing them, one of them told me it was great to see me.

And then gave me a huge eye roll.  

It was beautiful.


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cstolliver
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cstolliver
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November 30, 2022 5:14 am

Ha!

Phylum of Alexandria
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November 30, 2022 6:57 am

Are Nazar charms big in Syria?

If so, maybe you could start a business selling protections against the Rolling Eye.

 😉 

I have noticed how broad physical humorous gestures tend to translate best across cultures. If Homer Simpson playing out a Stanley Kubrick film doesn’t work, Homer Simpson falling down the stairs will do the trick.

I’m lucky that bad puns are so easy to think up in Japanese, and they have a similar reception as they do here. Their version of groaning or eye rolling upon hearing an “old man joke” is to say “it’s cold in here…”, as in, your joke did not land at all.

Like music to my ears!

Last edited 1 month ago by Phylum of Alexandria
Virgindog
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November 30, 2022 9:54 am

“It’s cold in here” is a great expression. I’m going to remember that.

mt58
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November 30, 2022 11:59 am
Reply to  Virgindog

Reminds me of that wintertime classic:

baby its cold.png
Phylum of Alexandria
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November 30, 2022 12:13 pm
Reply to  mt58

That’s a pretty classy way to brush off bad jokes, but something tells me they were going for frosty rather than Frosty.™

Aaron3000
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November 30, 2022 12:02 pm

Love it! Our ten-year-old has no concept of sarcasm or figures of speech. I’ve never known a kid who was so literal about everything, it’s the most bizarre thing. We’ve tried to explain it to her, but I’m gonna try working in the eye roll thing too. 🙂

lovethisconcept
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November 30, 2022 3:51 pm
Reply to  Aaron3000

My daughter was like that, too. Made for some hilarious moments. One moment, though, entered the family lexicon and we still use it to this day. She was about five and had been doing something irritating. I exclaimed, “What am I going to do with you?” She considered it seriously for several moments, and then asked, and it was a real question, “Keep me and love me forever and ever?” Of course, irritation completely dissolved, promises were made that will never be broken, and that is now the answer to everything.

LinkCrawford
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December 1, 2022 1:44 pm

Awww

cappiethedog
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November 30, 2022 10:32 pm
Reply to  Aaron3000

My mom is big on gallows humor. Two examples.

About four years ago, she totaled the car on the freeway. A policeman was walking with us back to my car. Not a scratch on her. It must have been the adrenaline from avoiding disaster. She tells the cop: “If I was near-death, my son, here, would be screaming in my ear: ‘Where do you keep the living will?!'”

We were reminiscing about how I lost control over my grandmother’s memorial video. I was grumbling about my uncle’s choice of song: “The Days of Wine and Roses”, and his choice of photographs. He limited the scope to just her and my grandfather. Conversely, I had all of us in it, and for real, “Magic” was on my shortlist. Probably would have gone with “Grease” or “The New Kid in Town”(my grandmother loved this song).

And then the subject turned to hypothetical funerals.

I want Nick Cave’s version of “The Mercy Seat” to be played at my funeral. My mom responded: “Over my dead body,” and added, “I know you’re frugal, but I want a funeral. Don’t just dig a trench in the backyard. That’s illegal.”

JJ Live At Leeds
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November 30, 2022 3:30 pm

You have to be careful out there. I’ve found that sarcasm doesn’t always travel well. I didn’t make anyone cry, instead I made a German woman angry as she misinterpreted my sarcasm and thought I was mocking her. I guess its difficult detecting nuances when your not conversing in your native language. I tried to explain, I don’t think it helped.

cappiethedog
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November 30, 2022 10:33 pm

You’re on a roll. Loved these past two stories.

dutchg8r
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December 1, 2022 10:53 am

Hand to God, this was a legit chat I had on Teams yesterday with a buddy who’s a manager:

Him: “Have you noticed, there are things that you can’t say without it sounding sarcastic? Like, ‘oh, really?'”

Me: “dude, you are talking about every sentence I utter”

Him: “Amen sister.”

MrDutch does not possess a sarcasm gene. Our first year together involved interesting conversations- “no, dude, I did not mean that LITERALLY!!” Thus my need to compromise my inability to not speak sarcastically and trying to get him to understand its a JOKE by saying the most extremely absurd thing I can think of to make it obvious it’s sarcasm.

It’s worked. He may say “you’re an idiot” but at least he laughs. 😁

LinkCrawford
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December 1, 2022 1:52 pm

Here is a not so great moment in parenting by Link Crawford:
As elementary school standardized tests approach, the school makes SUCH a big deal out of them. I assure my kids that they needn’t worry, they aren’t going to affect your grade, etc…

But everytime the school sends home a request for parents to write an encouraging letter to their kids for them to read before the test starts. I always thought this was absurd and I always wrote a silly, sarcastic note to each kid joking that if they didn’t do well enough on this test their lives would probably be ruined etc, etc. (I was channeling the notes that Linus’ mom would put in his lunches in the Peanuts strips).

The joke landed with all three of my daughters, but my youngest, my son…he didn’t get it. I made him a little mad and so he dumped the letter on the ground. Teacher found it after class.

I got an unhappy call from the principle that evening. I apologized…all my other kids got the joke. (sigh)

By the way, Tom in the adjacent cube (for those of you that read The Number Ones comment section) absolutely loves that story. 🙂

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