drinkcoffee's picture

It seems to be that "sarcasm" is a conclusion that is reached based on specific behaviors. What kind of feedback did you give her? When you talk about observable behaviors, it's becomes more difficult for her to think you are criticizing her personality and overall approach.

What did you observe that led you to believe she was sarcastic? Was she saying something untrue in a mocking tone, or smirking, or berating somebody? Each of those are unprofessional and juvenile behaviors, and measurable.

rthibode's picture

Thanks drinkcoffee!

You're right, sarcasm is my conclusion. I think most of it is saying something untrue in a mocking tone and berating. She'll turn around a few seconds later and say she was only joking or something to that effect, but I think the sting has a lasting effect on some "senstive people."

I did find it really challenging to describe her verbal behaviour. It's not only the words she uses; others use sarcasm with no ill effect. But "Karen's" sarcasm is sometimes delivered with a tone that sounds harsh and aggessive to my ear.

I realize those are just more conclusions, not behaviours. I guess I'm stuck on how to give feedback on a tone of voice? I can imitate it, but I don't think that would be appropriate. I could suggest videotaping the class so she could see/hear herself in action. At this point, classes are nearly over and I need to fix our relationship before I can suggest anything that intrusive.


sklosky's picture


Interesting situation.

I have a few questions.

Is Karen one of your direct reports?

How often do you hold meetings with Karen? How often do you have One on Ones?

My sense is that without an established Manager to Direct Report relationship, the Manager Tools feedback model may not work as desired.

It strikes me that behavior change (of Karen) will take time, and will not be instantaneous.

I also didn't pick up on exactly what negative effects you spelled out for Karen. It sounds like one person dropping out of one class is not a dramatically large performance metric to hit Karen's radar. I'm asking myself -- is being an abrasive teacher that big of a problem for an institution? If so, how do you capture that in business terms or performance metrics? Interesting questions. :)

Good luck with turning things around.


rthibode's picture

Hi everyone,

Karen reports to a Team Leader, who is my direct. Karen and I see each other casually about once a week, but I have not given her feedback regularly. That is the Team Leaders' role. However, I had discussed the sarcasm with her about 8 months earlier.

The situation has been partially resolved. I asked Karen to meet with me again, as I wasn't happy with where we'd left things. I got some push back, or passive resistance actually. She was very busy. To be fair, these students only work 10 hours a week for me, so I don't have any claim to additional time.

When we did finally meet, I told her I wanted to talk mainly about how she'd received the feedback when we first met. She apologized and said she'd been under a lot of pressure with school. She also told me she'd discussed my feedback with her family and her boyfriend, and they told her they found her "scary." I think having that perception reinforced by other people was an important turning point.

I accepted her apology, and we moved on to behaviour changes. We agreed that next fall, she would conduct a survey on the first day of class to ask students how she could best help them learn, how they feel about her making snappy comments, etc. We also determined that when Karen conducts peer observations, she'll focus on how other teachers deal with students who are particularly sensitive. Finally, she will ask peers who observe her teaching to look for behaviours relating to this issue and give her feedback on them.

It felt really good to have this over with. Now I need to be really firm about following up in the fall. I know I'm going to want to avoid it because of her resistance to feedback. I've already put it in my calendar for September.

Thanks for all your support everyone!


juliahhavener's picture
Licensee Badge

Be sure to let us know in September how things are going for Karen!

sklosky's picture


I've been thinking about this a bit, and I was wondering.

Does it make sense to delegate this management task (ie. monitoring and adjusting Karen's behaviour) to the Team Leader?


Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

He or she is not already involved completely?

If not, make it so.


ian_england's picture

"We agreed that next fall, she would conduct a survey on the first day of class to ask students how she could best help them learn, how they feel about her making snappy comments, etc."

I'm asking not stating - I don't know the specific relationships - is this potentially degrading for the teacher?....How would you feel being asked to do this?

If she has broken down into tears, this may be an emotional period of change for her.....where is the support coming from....?

asteriskrntt1's picture

I teach at the College level (finance, marketing, strategy). One of the best tools another instructor gave me was a feedback model called Stop, Start, Continue.

You ask the students what they want you to start doing, what they would like you to stop doing and what they want you to continue doing. You ask them to do it anonymously and deliver it the next class printed out so that you cannot identify anyone by handwriting etc. Perhaps your student teacher can use this tool. It is very powerful and has transformed my teaching skills and classroom management.


Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge


Yes, we have that tool in our recent cast about asking for feedback. :wink:

And asking for feedback is ABSOLUTELY appropriate, and not degrading. If a teacher is not willing to listen to feedback, she is not fit to teach.


rthibode's picture

Hi everyone,

It seems the automated reminders aren't working and I didn't know there had been so many replies! Thanks for all your comments and questions.

RNTT: Yup, Stop Start Continue is a great tool that we use all the time, including Karen.

ian_england: It's an everyday thing for me to instruct my directs and skips to use specific feedback tools. Often they want to use something quiet generic (like Stop, Start, Continue) but the students get a bit blase about these and often don't give specific feedback. The tool I recommended for Karen is used a lot to help the teacher and students get to know each other's styles and preferences. I use it myself all the time during our pre-service staff training. Karen hasn't used it in the past, preferring her own informal/intuitive perceptions of what her students like. The problem here is that a couple of students strongly dislike her tone and she has a hard time understanding these "sensitive people."

mark & steve: Yes, the Team Leader was involved, but there will be a new Team Leader in September, so I've chosen to hold the reins for now. Team Leaders here are still just part-time student employees, so there's a limit to how much extra tim I can request.

Thanks for your ideas everyone. I'll update you all in September.


US41's picture

[quote="rthibode"]Thanks drinkcoffee!

You're right, sarcasm is my conclusion. I think most of it is saying something untrue in a mocking tone and berating. [/quote]

One of the hardest concepts to learn from MT is that of behavior vs. conclusions. I remember the first time I met Mark and Mike and they asked me to name the behaviors they were acting out and I strung out a bunch of conclusions over and over again. Hilarious! At the time, it was confounding.

I think that understanding behavior vs. conclusions is the best way to avoid arguments about feedback. It is very powerful for that. It is even more powerful for helping others to narrow down their complaints about your own interactions with them to specific things that you can control.

I would say that the behavior vs. conclusions thing is possibly the most powerful of the MT tools.

So, you brought up "being sarcastic." That's a conclusion.

Then you brought up, "Mocking tone." That's also a conclusion.

"Berating" is also a conclusion.

To effectively give feedback to this person, limit your comments to quoting the words they have spoken or describing their bodily and facial motions, volume and speed of speech, and way they pitch their voice up and down.

For example, if you had said, "Karen, when you say something that is the opposite of what you mean and roll your eyes when you say it, people take that as sarcastic. Some people think sarcasm is funny, but a few are offended by it. When you do that, your students come and complain to me. There is a certain threshold of acceptable complaints. The number of complaints about you being sarcastic is too high. What can you do to lower the number of complaints about you?"

Notice in my feedback I put in a metric for them to strive for instead of "stop doing that." Obviously not everyone will be happy with a teacher no matter how good they are. And no one wants to believe they are being required to be perfect. But improvement is something she can deliver without changing who she is.

Some people are amazed by this concept when they first learn it. Others seem to have been vaccinated in youth from understanding the difference. Once you "get it", you will get it forever, and it will empower you not only to give feedback, but also to defend yourself while learning to behave more effectively.

rthibode's picture

Thanks UB41!

Coincidentally, I just set a meeting with Karen yesterday to discuss next year (they're off in the summer). Your reminder about conclusions and you behaviour examples are really helpful. I think I leapt to "sarcasm" because Karen has referred to herself and her teaching style as "sarcastic." She describes this as her personal style and doesn't see a downside, except when it comes to those pesky "sensitive" people.

The idea of a threshold of complaints is another good one. I'm going to think about how to use it. This is a very timely suggestion as we've just made a policy decision to make these study groups mandatory -- regular attendance will boost the students' grades in a core seminar. This means fewer students will be able/willing to just stop showing up when Karen's behaviour is disagreeable to them.

Thanks again. I really appreciate the advice.


US41's picture

I would consider one other possibility - it could be that you are in fact a little over-sensitive to complaints and that the "threshold" you are imagining as too high is in fact not too high. I don't think you can expect your teachers to be complaint-free, and you should expect achievers who accomplish things and expect a lot of their students to generate some flack. As a manager, I spend some time every day taking in feedback about my directs... but quite a bit of it I respond to with, "Have you discussed this with them directly?" And some of it I respond to with, "Hmmm. I don't really see the problem where. What exactly are the consequences of them doing X again?"

A couple of students complaining that the teacher is sarcastic doesn't really sound like something that I would give feedback over. Your non-people-oriented folks are never going to be as people-oriented as you are, and you might need to get more comfortable with a certain small percentage of whiners coming to you.

In fact, you might even consider the possibility that complainers are not necessarily accurate in their reports, and that often when someone goes to someone else's boss, it's more of a political power play than it is a legitimate need for change.

I've been a quiet listener on conference calls my folks have participated in many times and have received complaints following the call ending. However, I was listening, and I knew for a fact there was no justification for the feedback. I used the technique of working with the complainer to move from conclusions back to behaviors many times successfully to reduce the big, vague complaint filled with conclusions down to a complaint about behavior, and then I have sometimes responded with, "So, you're calling me to complain that my employee spoke quickly? Why exactly are you contacting me about this again?"

Often I direct them to take the feedback to my employee directly and not to contact me without first trying to work things out with my direct first. It depends on who is lodging the complaint. If it is a client, customer, or a higher-ranking muckity-muck, I present as more responsive to the complaint whether I will take action or not. If it is a peer or someone lower on the food chain, I tend to redirect them more persuasively.

I don't know what kind of students you have (adult vs. kids), but where I grew up, kids in a class are not "customers" and they aren't expected to be happy, and their complaints are not really considered valid unless something VERY bad is happening.

I'd be wary of serving as a cat's paw for ill-intentioned students who are using you to get at their teacher.

Only you know your situation - just throwing out these things to help you think through it all.