There are Only Stupid Answers
You’ve heard the phrase “there are no stupid questions” a million times. You might even believe it from time to time. However, all it takes is one student to ask, “What are we supposed to be doing again?” to make you want to bang your head up against the wall.
As a middle school teacher, I sometimes found it difficult to remove sarcasm from my responses to these types of questions. I would NEVER say anything to intentionally hurt the feeling of my students, but my sometimes snarky might have been taken more seriously than intended.
A Taste of My Own Medicine
Over the last year, I’ve taken up the new hobby of fishing. I even saved a little money and purchased a boat. Fishing and boating are two worlds that I knew very little about, so I did what any curious person would do and joined a bazillion Facebook groups to gain knowledge from others who shared my passion.
On the boat, there are these six oddly placed holes in front of the passenger seat. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what was supposed to go in there. I tried every tool on my boat, but nothing seemed to fit correctly.
I knew I needed to leverage the internet’s power and ask one of my Facebook groups about the holes’ purpose. They’d surely be able to solve my problem.
I took a few pictures of the holes and uploaded them to the Facebook group. I went back to fishing and forgot about the post until I was back at the boat ramp. What happened next still haunts me to this day.
I loaded up my post and saw 93 replies to my question. I assumed I was about to dive deep into a treasure trove of new boater tips. Boy, was I wrong. What I actually saw was a collage of hate-filled responses that would make even George Carlin blush.
I read gems like:
“You should literally take your boat to the middle of the lake, cut a hole in the bottom of it, and sink it…with you onboard.”
“People like this should be required to give up their social security number.”
“How did you ever make enough money to be able to buy a boat?”
“Transfer the title of your boat over to me. You’re clearly not worthy of owning a boat.”
I was mortified and couldn’t delete the post fast enough. These people made me feel about two inches tall, and I was so embarrassed that I left the Facebook group. Keep in mind that I eat sarcasm for breakfast, but it didn’t change how I felt.
It was the first time I’d ever experienced getting flamed for asking a “stupid” question.
It turns out the holes were for the fisherman in the back of the boat to keep their rods in. In my defense, they’re in a REALLY stupid spot, but I digress. Trolls +93, Chris 0.
I immediately connected the lesson back to my time in the classroom. It made me wonder how students may have responded to my own comments. Granted, I would have NEVER said anything as harsh I had received.
Words matter. Responses from other students matter too. What seems like innocent humor can feel very personal and can have a negative impact. I’m about as thick-skinned as they come, but those comments hurt my feelings. It wasn’t so much a single comment, but the piling on. I can laugh about it now, but GEESH!
Having a sense of humor with students is one thing, but I’m hoping this story is a good reminder that your sarcasm might need to be checked at the door. I realize there’s a fine line between the two, but the negative effect on a student isn’t worth walking the tight rope for a quick laugh.