Over in our WeAreTeachers High School HELPLINE group on Facebook, teachers have been talking about cursing in the classroom . Some are of the opinion that it’s not that big of a deal, while others just won’t tolerate it. Take a look at their thoughts and ideas to help you figure out how to handle this perennial teacher problem.
Decide if cursing in the classroom really matters to you.
Take some time to think about why cursing in the classroom bothers you as a teacher. Determine your own personal limits and be prepared to explain to your students why you’re asking them to change their language.
“I teach emotional support in an urban high school so I’m immune to a lot, but is this really the mountain you want to die on?” asks Kiera F. “Is anyone really offended or hurt by the curse words? Is there something more detrimental to their education that you could refocus that energy on and just ignore the cursing? I understand that in many job situations you need to be able to communicate without cursing, but if they refuse to see the opportunity of you trying to help them break that habit, that’s on them.”
Amanda B. doesn’t punish bad language but tries to help her kids see that it’s not always appropriate. “The problem I see with punishing them for it is that it’s habit for them,” she says. “They frequently don’t even notice they are cussing until they are called out on it. I figure that I am preparing them for their future life somewhere in the work force. They need someone to call it to their attention and be kind but firm about it. I am sure to remind them that I don’t cuss in my job. And I remind them that it is their JOB to remember that in my classroom. They respond well.”
Remember that many kids hear foul language so often they don’t realize it’s wrong. “They will tell you that their parents and their friends cuss at and around them all the time,” notes Amanda B. “You’d be bad at filtering out the cuss words too if you didn’t have any practice NOT using them.”
Consider the way the words are used and teach kids to value respect.
Source: Leland Michael/Facebook
For some teachers, the occasional swear word isn’t an issue, unless it’s being used in a hateful way. Angela C. explains, “Unless they’re cursing at me or another student, I ignore it. If it’s offensive language like ‘retard’, ‘gay’, etc., I come down on it. Usually stops.”
“I figure as long as they aren’t cursing at or about someone, and are apologetic when I redirect them, I let it go,” says Angela B. “If they call me or someone else a curse word, I will immediately write a referral. I don’t kick them out of class for just that but I do explain that they need to stop or consequences will escalate. If they don’t, I have an asst. principal or a security personnel come get them.”
Have an open conversation with your students about language and how they use it. Help them see that words can indeed be hurtful and that they should consider what they say and how they say it.
Raise their awareness about how often they’re cursing in the classroom.
Kids are often shocked to realize how often they use words that can be offensive to others. “Last year I kept a tally on the board,” Lou H. shared. “The class would keep tabs and would write up the tally marks and by the end of the period I would have the offender count how many cuss words they spoke and nothing else. I was amazed when they would tell me that they didn’t even realize how much they cussed. I told them they sounded like they lacked words to express themselves and that they hadn’t learned much all these years of school. Plus I told them that in the real world, depending on the boss, they could get written up and fired for unprofessionalism. It really did work for me!”
Mary C. has a similar method. “I had kids self-monitor their swears in class as well as their random off-topic comments with hash marks on an index card. On the other side of the card, they gave themselves points for on-topic comments. It seemed to raise their self-awareness and sharply reduced profanity in class. They were genuinely shocked at how many obscene/profane comments they made. I tied this to future job prospects.”
“I had students write eulogies to their favorite swear words,” Ainsley E. shares. They read them out loud to the class, and then we buried them. It sounds silly, but they really got into it, and then every time someone would slip, another classmate would be like ‘We already buried that word!’”
Help them understand why cursing isn’t acceptable in a school setting.
Kids are much more likely to change their behavior if they can understand the benefits of doing so. Many teachers emphasize the fact that swearing isn’t appropriate in many workplaces, like Gina H. “My rule: If you can’t say it in an interview and get hired, you can’t say it in my classroom.”
Inidnan V. teaches in an inner-city school where cursing in the classroom crops up often. “If my entire class is having problems with it, we have a lesson about how to use correct language and what the ramifications are for using foul language in the workplace. They hate these lessons because deep down inside, they know how to act, and the last thing they want to do is waste time learning something they already know.”
In the real world, people often judge others by the language they use. Remind your students that whether it’s fair or not, the way they present themselves makes a big difference. “Students where I have taught have enough problems,” says Inidnan. “They really don’t need anybody judging them on their behavior.”
Remind them the classroom is a place for good behavior.
Encourage your students to think of your classroom as a place to be their best selves. Bailey Q. says, “I have found it helpful to validate by saying ‘I know that you may use this language at home or outside of school, but let’s use a more school appropriate word and demonstrate our self control’.”
“I have them step outside and put on their ‘language filter,’ an imaginary filter that blocks the bad words and lets the good words through,” notes Sarah C. “I’ve found it makes them be more conscious of what they’re letting out.”
Ask your kids to think about whether they’d use that language in other situations. “I’ve had them to call home and quote themselves,” Steven W. says. If they wouldn’t use those words with their parents, they shouldn’t use them in the classroom.
Try coming up with curse word alternatives.
Sometimes curse words just slip out. Train your kids to come up with creative alternatives instead. Here are some that teachers can try. (Need more ideas? Try this list of 50+ curse word alternatives that your fellow teachers are already using!)
- “When my kids curse, I stop them and make them say three different words they could have used instead.” (Libby R.)
- “Teach them to curse in an unusual and fairly obscure language (Danish, for example) or make up a language as a class. Give them permission to curse in the alternative language without consequences. My students stopped cursing and could never remember the alternatives that were allowed!” (Riina H.)
- “I correct it right away with a goofy sound-alike word. For instance, if I hear the F-word, I make eye contact and say, “Fluff!” They usually laugh and repeat their sentence with the replacement word instead of the swear word. Now most students just use my replacement words in my classroom when they want to swear. It’s sort of comical, but it has worked for me so far.” (Karen F.)
- “When mine use the F-word, I tell them that if they’re going to talk about firetrucks, please use all the letters. Now, my seventh period says ‘Firetruck this!’ I laugh every time!” (Dusty R.)
- “I give them all a list of Shakespeare curse words/phrases and that is all they are allowed to use in class. I do have to let other staff know because it usually spreads to the whole school, but it does make students much more aware of word choice.” (Michelle P.)
Set up a good old-fashioned swear jar to catch cursing in the classroom.
Some teachers collect real money each time they hear cursing in the classroom and donate it to charity at the end of the school year. “I have a well known swear jar in my room. If I hear it, it costs them,” explains Michelle E. Set a list of inappropriate words and determine how much they “cost” a student to use.
If you don’t want to use real money, exact different sacrifices like reduced screen time or losing classroom participation points. “I made it a weekly vocabulary grade in my ELA classes: They get ten points a week and lose one when they are caught swearing in class, with a referral for insubordination if they lose all of their weekly points. On the other side, kids who rack up streaks of swear-free weeks earn extra credit points for each week they stay at ten points.”
Feeling challenged? Learn how to keep your cool when student behavior gets tough.