Soap In Mouth by SSTASKIf you teach high school you hear it all day. Oh it may or may not be in your classroom but you hear it. They say it in the hallways, in the cafeteria, in the bathrooms and in those classrooms with the “young teachers” or the “cool teachers.”

Quite often it’s heard in the gym, in the locker rooms, on the playing fields, and (unfortunately) in many health and PE classes where the coaches themselves feel free to use it.

Now, before you say, “You are such a prude,” I want you to realize that I did 20 years in the Navy and sailors use that word as a Noun, Adjective, Adverb, and 4 or 5 other parts of grammar. But the day I walked into my first classroom that word left my vocabulary. And, there are a lot of places that people are employed where that word is just not accepted. Teachers get the added benefit of being suspended or even fired for using that word or any other word considered profanity.

Here’s an example of what happened to me because of using profanity: I was teaching 6th graders in Newport News VA. The class had done poorly on a test and I was starting the day by handing the tests back. I made the remark, “sometimes I worry that there are some of you who don’t give a damn about this class.”

That was at about 8:15. At about 2:15, after the students had left, I was summoned to the principles office to explain what had happened in my first period class. I had to think back but I knew that my remark was the only thing that could have been bad. Sure enough he had been called by the superintendent. The superintendent had been called by 2 board members. The next morning, before school, I was apologizing to one of my students’ grandmothers for my profanity. She responded with “the next time this happens I’ll see that you are fired.”

So how do we get students to stop? Calling parents helps in about 1 in 10 cases (maybe less). A discipline report, detention, or other disciplinary action stops it for today. A talk to the student body from the principal helps. But, the most effective way is to get EVERY adult in your school on board with the importance of eliminating it from your school. If you are reading this and saying anything other than “that’s what we need to do,” then getting rid of profanity won’t succeed at your school. Heck, it might not even be a big deal to you. Even with my total disgust with the F-word I fail to get my students to stop saying it.

Bottom line? I will continue to make remarks whenever any of my students say any of the following: Suck(or any variation of the word), Bitch, Bastard, Ass(or any variation of that word), Damn, Gay, Retarded, Shit, The C-words, The F-word, Dick, and probably another 5 to 10 words that escape me right now. I would appreciate you doing the same. Together we – oh heck who am I kidding. We’ll never get rid of these words. But, we can educate our students on the importance of using appropriate words. Isn’t educating students what we are supposed to be doing?

7 Responses

  1. I generally agree with you. I've found that referrals and calls home don't make much of a difference in student behavior. It's a constant battle, but I continue the fight because the classroom is a public place and they really don't need to be using those words in public. It's a tough battle to fight when you hear parents using those words when they talk to their children.

  2. The parents can really be a problem and I try not to laugh when a parent says "my child doesn't use bad language."

  3. Great post, Chris.

    Time, Place, and Manner.

    . School hours (like any professional setting) are not the time.
    . School buildings and grounds are not the place.
    . Kids and teenagers can be downright cruel. I suspect most of the manner comes from a place of anger and hate and isn't just colorful descriptions.

    Having said all of that, one of the funniest blog posts I ever read was titled:
    F^ck, F^ck, F^ck, F^ckity, F^ck, F^ck, F^ck!
    …and the story of my friend's very bad day lived up to the title. But, his post was shared at the appropriate time, in an appropriate place, and with appropriate manner.

    I wish we could get past the point of certain words being offensive. Any word /can/ be offensive, i.e., "Listen, Honey…" or "Move it, Lady!" It's all about the tone, intent, and how it is used. And, blacklisted words are often taken back or embraced by the communities they represent, i.e., The Vagina Monologues, racial slurs in cultural music/poetry or among friends, etc.

    So, why is it that some words are offensive no matter how they are used? I can't rationalize that against words we all claim to be offensive being used in positive movements.

    It boggles the mind. Oh, wait, isn't "boggles" a profane word in the U.K.? 😉

  4. True story: First quarter I received a call from a parent. My classroom phone was on speaker, and I didn't switch it back. Students were gone, so I discussed issues regarding late assignments with the father. We ended the conversation, but I had not reached the phone to switch it off. He thought he had hung up, but had not. Every imaginable word was heard as he yelled and screamed at his ten year old beautiful, intelligent daughter including the "f" word. We needn’t wonder why we have a problem with student language.

  5. It is a losing battle when many students hear their parents/guardians use those words frequently. I suppose we should really try to get them to understand different situations require different ways of speaking (formal vs. informal).

    On a personal note, when I discovered my informal potty mouth was creeping in to my formal language I worked really hard to stop. Now if I do use bad language it is very shocking to the people around me (and I mean it to be so.) Those words have real power now when I use them instead of as a filler while I am trying to think.

  6. A worth while discussion. My experience at the high school level has been when I am consistent and explain to the students why I request them not to use certain language (offensive to my "old" ears, learning new ways to express themselves and broadening their vocab, ..) they are usually very willing. Consistency is a must or they won't take it seriously.

    I taught in Mass. for a year as a long term sub and the students used the above discussed language without ANY apparent awareness of who they were talking to. It took me longer there but one day a student asked "Ms. is this just a respect thing with you?" After answering yes it was never much of an issue, even to the point of them correcting themselves when talking to me when I would see them in the evenings out of school. We must help our students to communicate in responsible ways and believe that they can.

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