Saturday, May 28, 2005

My Virgin Ears!

The bell rings for dismissal at 2:22. Moments later students begin streaming out of the building towards their cars or the bus stop. The horseplay begins in the hallways and makes it's way out into the parking lot. It is a typical day at the high school.
I had several visitors coming to the school that afternoon for a 2:30 meeting. As one of the women clicked down he hallway toward me in her low heeled pumps and polyblend suit, I couldn't help but notice her furrowed brow and tightly pursed lips.

"Hi, I'm glad you could make it. Is there something wrong?"

"That language! Such foul language! All that cursing. Those kids are just awful!"

Her words and tone, ironically, brought a smile to my face and a mental flashback to a parking lot thirty years ago.

I was a senior at Notre Dame Academy. Usually I rode home on the bus, but that day my mother came to pick me up after school. While she waited for me in the parking lot, a group of girls in preppie blazers and saddle shoes, came walking past her open car window, using profanities that would make a sailor blush. Mother was appalled...Her virgin ears defiled. I was treated to a lecture on the evils of vulgar language all the way home.

How does a teacher handle inappropriate language in high school?
Every teacher has their own style. Some give detentions, some deduct points, others are defeated. I like the honest approach.
At the beginning of the year when I initially discuss my expectations and class rules, I simply tell my students the truth.

"I love to swear. I consider it the most effective form of stress therapy. I cannot drive my car without it. Anyone who has ever been with me in rush hour traffic or the teachers lounge on a bad day will vouch for me.
However, because I respect you, I will make every effort to use appropriate language when I am speaking with anyone in this classroom. I expect the same from you."

Since taking this approach, I rarely have a problem with language in my classroom.

Teenagers understand that word "respect". They long for it. They will strive for it. In the relationships that they have with adults it ranks right up there at the top. They also understand that respect is a two way street. They will not give respect to anyone who does not respect them. (At least, not for long.)


Anonymous said...

Fortunately Mary, you don't have to be stuck with unruly behaviorially challenged student all day long. Imagine, if you had to walk in the shoes of a Special Education Home Room Teacher, I wonder would you still be in great spirits. A lot of these teachers are the unsung heros of the Cleveland District and they don't get the recongnition that they are due eventhough they put their life on the line to teach.

estarz said...

U went to Notre Dame? How funny! I dated a girl from Notre Dame....we did Council of World affairs. I drove with the team from Notre Dame to a meeting in Michigan. I went to St. Eds.

marybeth said...

Dear Anonymous,

You are absolutely right. The special education teachers ARE the unsung heroes of the Cleveland School district.
I know this because I have been dubbed an honorary member of the special ed department at my school.
You see, as a Visual Art teacher, my classes are the first slated for mainstreaming and inclusion. Many of my students are special needs, including those in classes for learning disabilities, developmental and emotional disablities, and multiple handicaps. I am not given an inclusion teaher or teachers aid since they are needed elsewhere in the building, and I have never asked for one.
For the first four months of this year 78 out of my 156 total students were were special needs. 30 out of 31 in one class alone due to a scheduling error. Illegal? Definitely. Did I complain? Yes. In order to fix the error, the administration pulled 10 of them out, leaving only 20 special needs students and one regular student. (The maximum number allowed by law in a special ed. class whith certified teacher and an aid is 8-12 depending on the disability.

But it is TRUE...I don't have a homeroom this year. I'm sure that has a lot to do with my good spirits.

Jeff Hess said...

Shalom Mary Beth,

I've always thought Lenny Bruce had it right: when a word gets used enough, it loses it's power. There aren't many words left in the English language that can really snap someone's head around.

Off the top of my head, I can only think of Fuck, Cunt and Nigger. And even those are rapidly losing any real power.



marybeth said...


In my opinion, it is good that the words of degradation and hate are losing their ability to ingnite anger. We use them so often, they are cheap and nearly meaningless
Interestingly, in my experience, there are still words we hold in reserve, afraid of the consequences if spoken.
The words "I love you" continue to retain their power.

derek said... more humorous than foul. People like Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy and George Carlin have made them such.

Cunt is still pretty foul...I don't use it.

Nigger...depending on tone and usage, it still cuts. Anyone who doesn't think so is deluding themselves. A lot of words were accidental swears or have some other purpose (like shit, ass and others) but nigger has one purpose. Though some have reclaimed it, it's still about prejudice. This is why I don't use it...and I am black so, to some,I have a pass to use it.