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Swearing at School

What’s Your Policy?

Found in: Classroom Management

Here's how seven teachers answered this question: How do you keep school language clean?

Appropriate Language for the Occasion & Place

Formal & Casual Language

I teach at-risk high school students the difference between formal language and casual language. I explain that formal language is the language of the work world. I explain that I expect them to practice formal language in my class. All this is taken from Ruby Payne's program. When they slip, I simply ask them to find a better way to express their thought. They have no trouble following this practice most of the time.

          -Beverly Kinnischtze

In and Out of School

Our district handbook lists bad or obscene language as a Level lll offense, meaning that a student can be punished with anything from a student conference to suspension. Our school uses Ruby Payne's Framework for Understanding Poverty. Our children are taught that the offensive language they hear in their neighborhoods, at home, or on the basketball court are not acceptable in school. There are two sets of rules and the set for school does not allow obscene language.

          -Judy Whitson

Street Talk v. School Talk

I have worked with "ghetto" kids, military kids, and kids from high-income neighborhoods. With all of them, I demand respect and I act as a role model for the students. I let them know that the language they are using in my classroom is just "practice" for when they go off to college or the work force.

If they say "yeah," I say, "I'm sorry, didn't you mean 'yes'?" After a few weeks, they get it and I see them catching themselves. If they tell you that it's "street talk," let them know that there is a difference between school and the street. I usually get the students by asking, "You wouldn't say that in church, would you?" And they understand.

Inform parents about your concerns about the student. Sometimes the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, but no one wants their child to represent them with foul language. Being both a mother and teacher, I know from personal experience.

          -Angela Martin

Creating a Positive Environment for Everyone


Consistency is the key. Every swearword must be addressed immediately. If a student says “I don’t think that’s a swearword, I say, "In this room it is." I not only address swearing, but I also address any language that is not "kind" or positive. I say, "We don't talk like that to each other." You must start at the beginning of the year and constantly remind the students and praise them when they use kind words.        


Nix On Being Negative

I’m a big proponent of maintaining a positive outlook no matter how bad your day is going. When I set up my expectations at the beginning of the year, the students find out right away that not only is swearing not appropriate in school (including the hallways and locker areas), but also being negative toward each other or themselves in any way is unacceptable.

Students have also learned my rule "It's the meaning, not the word," so they know I don't accept substitutes for swear words, like "aw snap" or "oh fudge." The students are learning that maintaining a positive outlook is not just good for school, but helps one mentally all-around.

          -Holly Butler

Mutual Respect

I teach 10th-12th graders at a low-income school with a bad reputation. Being a first-year teacher, I was overwhelmed with the swearing. It's in the halls, my classroom. It's part of their normal vocabulary.

It did not take long for students to realize that part of the mutual respect between themselves and me is the lack of swearing. If profanity is blatant and direct, I ask for an apology. Nine times out of ten, the student has already caught himself and has self-corrected and apologized.

We must remember these students are almost adults, but many of them come from homes that do not value a profanity-free environment. We have to be flexible and willing to forgive the occasional expletive that slips out from frustration. So much is accomplished through behavior modeling by the teachers and staff, and a true, genuine respect for the students as people.

          -Paula Rice


Swearing Intentionally?

Whether in the hall or classroom, when I hear an offensive word, I just call out to the individual(s), "Language please," in a polite tone and normally the immediate response from kids is "Oops, sorry!"

If someone is belligerent or in-my-face, I ask them politely if they want to take care of this now or if we need to invite the principal in for a discussion about vocabulary choices. Only once in a blue moon am I taken up on that one.

Our policy: Swearing intentionally without stopping after a reminder equals in-school suspension. Swearing repeatedly with intent to upset people, and/or swearing at a staff member is an automatic out-of-school suspension.

          -Kimberly Fandi

These comments are from the 2008 Works4Me discussion board


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