A school superintendent with many years of teaching experience explains why teachers should never use sarcasm against students in the classroom. He makes a good point: It sets an example for your students, and they will sometimes copy this behavior because you've shown them that it's funny, acceptable, and appropriate.
This exploration of how humiliation affects middle-school students, written by two San Diego State University education researchers, interviews students about how their reactions to humiliation (including sarcasm and bullying) by their teachers and peers. One of the quotes was quite telling: "Who wants to work harder for someone who embarrasses you like that?" A sixth-grader was describing a teacher who used sarcasm to belittle students for test grades.
Several years of research by a psychology researcher at the University of Manitoba, using puppets with young children, has led her to conclude that children are able to pick up on sarcasm at about age six, but don't really understand it until around age ten. I found myself thinking that this must also depend on the individual student's development and cognition, as well.
I love the Cult of Pedagogy blog, and I love this post. One of the problems with humiliating a student (and sarcasm can, and often is, humiliating) is that the student stops thinking about what they actually did wrong and why it was wrong. Instead, they're "focused on how much they can't stand you." The comments are thoughtful and worth reading, as well.
Are there any benefits to using sarcasm? According to this Scientific American article, yes. Surprisingly sarcasm increased creativity. However, keep in mind that the study discussed in this article only used adults, and this result relied on one crucial quality: trust. In order to result in something positive, there had to be trust between the two people. So maybe this "creativity" could be increased by studying sarcasm, rather than directing it at your students.
In this short video, a fifth-grade teacher shares her preferred alternative to "publicly calling out" a student who is misbehaving or off-task. She gives the student her "teacher look" before addressing them in front of the entire class.
This teacher has made her classroom a place where students are taught, specifically and systematically, how to speak respectfully to their classmates. One technique she's taught them is to always use a person's name when addressing him or her. Importantly, she models this respectful speech for her students and stresses "accountable talk" through "accountable talk stems." I found this short video helpful and practical.
I found this post by an Israeli Professor of Behavior Disorder very practical and useful. A few of the best suggestions were "Avoid sarcasm, even if your students might laugh at it. Students often save face by hiding how humiliated they really feel" and "Keep communication between you and your students private when talking about behavior or academic progress." This second one might be difficult to do in a K-12 classroom, but I agree with the idea behind it. This is worth reading.