Rude Language from Boys 1

I got this from a group member. We need a group discussion on this one. It’s serious.

Hi Ben,

I have a question that I have faced this year more than any other that I can remember.  Usually I encourage students to make connections to French with English to help with meaning and pronunciation.  For example, to help students remember that ‘piscine’ means pool I say “don’t ‘piscine’ the pool which you know sounds like in saying “don’t piss in the pool”.  Recently I have heard the following “connections”:

dix-neuf = these nuts
touche le bonheur = touch the boner

and the one that recently earned two students suspensions; a note that said,

“j’ai un ____ saussicon”  that the boy put the word “grand” in the blank and went around saying aloud during class. We all know what THAT meant. 

In the same class another student reacted to the word “kiss” with suggesting the character give a French kiss, then a kid in the back of the room provided a visual and “kissed” the air with his tongue wagging around in the air. 

In all incidences, the offending students were asked not to repeat their actions or words, but often (as is typical of high school students) they latch on to such things and repeat them, even when I ask them to stop.  I am easily offended at such things for reasons not explainable here, but I am feeling sexually harassed, maybe unjustifiably so… This feeling is what lead in part to the recent suspensions.  I’m dreading the meeting with the parents this week because my reaction to the situation is quite subjective, but I plan to focus on the students’ “failure to comply” when asked to stop.

Anyway, the question is how to continue.  The atmosphere in the room is changed and is very tense.  It’s hard for me to be “a storyteller” when I’m in a bad mood.  This mood often carries into other classes and can make me upset enough that I can end up with tears in front of them.

My question is how to handle this.  This goes beyond classroom management.  Is this something that happens to you?  Does a male teacher have this going on with the TPRS method?  Have you heard of this before?  How do other men/women handle it? 

My response:  Of course that he was allowed to walk around in class and say that without a swift and hammer like response from you is the real answer to this. You needed to do that. You need to act at each offense. I personally would have thrown the offender out with a note to the library (or a principal if you have principals with principles and who know how to honestly and honorably support teachers) and then call the parent without fail that night.

These kids see kids get away with this kind of stuff on TV all night long and now you are going to have to act and act swiftly. You will need other adults in on this one. You tell them not to do it and they don’t respond when you do so is major red alert time, time to go to other adults.
 
First step: I would go to counseling, ask their advice, have them definitely call the kid in for a meeting with counseling in which they are told in clear terms that if they don’t stop this immediately then it goes to a parent meeting with the teacher (you) there and the counselor and a principal.

Second step (if step one fails): demand a private meeting at school with a counselor and maybe a rep from the teacher’s union with the parent and the kid. Just tell them that you require this meeting. Then in clear terms take out your documentation of the event(s) and read it to the parent and say, “I’m not sure how to respond to this. The meeting with the counselor has failed. Do you have any ideas? I would like to be able to settle this in house before I go to a lawyer, because we both know that this is sexual harrassment not just of me but of the girls in the room.” That’s probably a stupid idea because admins probably don’t think it is possible for a teacher to be sexually harrassed by students. I just don’t know about that but I would certainly talk to a union rep and see what your options are on that front. The thing that I see as the problem here is your not bringing in parents or counseling at the first comment from the first kid. You’re allowed to ask for help too.

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21 thoughts on “Rude Language from Boys 1”

  1. A year ago, I would have agreed that this is very difficult terrain to traverse with students, all those words in the TL that sound like inappropriate English words. Latin is full of them: the word for human being is homo, the word for black is niger (pronounced the way you think it is pronounced). Tell that to a class of 12 year old boys. So from a purely linguistic perspective, this can be difficult and awkward; but, as Ben mentioned, our response to kids on these should be swift and unequivocal. We all know when a kid is trying to get away with something. Here is what I do as a way to head off potential difficulties. First of all, I avoid potential word bombs whenever possible. I use persona instead of homo, and ater instead of niger. And if some pedant tells me those are not as accurate, I tell them to come in and teach the correct ones to my classes for me–good luck with that. Second, when such coincidences are unavoidable, I anticipate them, and tell kids that it is not okay to use that word with bad intent, and don’t pretend you are ignorant–you will still be in trouble. The one or two kids who may push it after this deserve what they get, and there is no doubt about their intentions. I too used to think it was helpful to “exploit” allusions and justify it by saying that the kids will remember it. But often I was the one who was exploited in the process, along with some of my students, who then did not feel safe. In my opinion, while comprehensibiliy trumps everything else, goodwill trumps even acquisition. If there is no goodwill, there is certainly no acquisition going on, because the affective filters are on full blast.

  2. …often I was the one who was exploited in the process, along with some of my students, who then did not feel safe….

    This says it all. Take your pick. Be an enforcer or a wuss. Wusses don’t make it in the teaching profession.

  3. I have to agree with Ben and John. It’s taken me a while to get to this point, but they’re correct. Reserve the hammer for when it’s needed, but when it’s needed bring it down, in John’s words, unequivocally.

    As for how to repair the environment and the relationship with these kids, it’s my opinion that you’re now in the terrain of having to go out of your way to make sure it’s done. Calls home, meetings w/ parents and counselors per what Ben said is all “extra” work but if you’re going to reaffirm to your class that it’s a safe place, it has to be done.

    I’ll add one more bit and that is to make sure the rest of the class KNOWS there were consequences for those kids. I don’t know how you’ll do that, but do it. It might be a simple comment you make the next time someone approaches the line during CI when you have their full attention. “Kids you noticed X and Y were gone from class a few days ago- that’s what happens when you use language in the wrong way here” or something like that. Often, if they get a class suspension immediately after offending, the kids in the class will notice. This is my preferred method. If I get to a point where I have to send a kid out, I always request my admin to keep her/him out of class the next day. I give them a workbook page or some other assignment to work on in ISS.

  4. As for dealing with a situation that has already progressed too far, my weakness has always been tolerating too much chatter, comments, low volume stuff that they always try to get away with. If you shut them down, and don’t allow even one comment or outburst, that is the best way to regain control, AND prevent any offensive things from being said.

    On the topic of TV shows, Ben’s comment really got me thinking, and it is so true that every tween and teen show that takes place on a school campus has kids talking or texting or gesturing to each other during class (or cheating!), with some old stupid teacher at the front, carrying on with his lecture, occasionally calling out a kid in a very ineffective way, and the kid gives him attitude, and gets away with it. Why does our culture hate teachers so much?

    1. I’ve found iCarly to be one of the biggest culprits of this. The one teacher on that show is portrayed to be a complete d-bag, making the disrespect from students acceptable.

  5. I have some thoughts on this, as a woman, but am running late. I’ll get back tonight. As a teacher, you have the right AT ANY TIME, to get strong and not back down.

    Why they are doing it, or why they continue to do it is not the issue. You cannot change those things. What you can change is your reaction to it. It’s hard, especially if it is an emotional as well as professional issue. But that is why it is even more important.

    It is a matter of classroom management. And I know that you are already good at this. You would not let them run around yelling the F word, or S&%*, or make racial slurs indiscriminately either. Let them know that they have plenty of opportunities during the day to act like that. Your classroom simply is not one of them. There are, and will continue to be, many places in their lives where this kind of humor is just not acceptable. They need to learn that. Starting now.

    You may blush. (I do) You may cry. ( I have) You may get flustered. (We all do.) But stand strong anyway. Emotions exist. Forge on. You will see that showing emotion and falling apart do not have to be the same thing.

    We’re here and we will continue to help. When I was at this point with an issue, a counseling session or two FOR ME was a great help. If nothing else, it gave me a place to prepare “scripts” of what to say and a place to practice saying the things that embarrassed or upset me. Your district or union may have a provision for these that don’t even cost you money.

    This is about you feeling strong and safe in your classroom. We are sending you love.

    with lots of love,
    Laurie

    1. I really appreciate your reminder:
      “As a teacher, you have the right AT ANY TIME, to get strong and not back down.” It helps so much to remember this and disarm those “shoulda coulda woulda” traps I sometimes set for myself.

  6. Just chiming in here as someone who needs equally the advice given above. I would only add that in your original post, you said that your reaction to the situation was subjective, and so this was making you focus more on the non-compliance rather than the nature of the offense. I am certainly no behavior expert, but I don’t think your reaction is as subjective as you think (and subjectivity isn’t necessarily a problem). You are spot on in feeling the huge breach of safety for everyone in the classroom. And safety is paramount. If you, as the adult, feel unsafe, there are definitely kids who are freaking out. Safety first. Your classroom may be the only safe haven of the day for some kids. And it certainly affects how we are able to deliver CI, not to mention the kids ability to receive and process it. I am saying this to myself as I write, because I can see all kinds of little undercurrents/ body language/ “jokes” that happen that might appear more innocuous, but that may shut someone down. Trust your gut on this. It doesn’t lie.

  7. We had a small group of boys – hmm, young men -they were seniors whose great joy in life was making the library staff miserable last year. They were doing some truly unspeakable things. The boy’s lav was involved. I will say no more. My admin seemed incapable of doing anything about it until, one of the library aides made it a hostile workplace issue. Once it was kicked up to that level, something was done. The response from the admin was less than acceptable but in the end, but it was better than nothing. It may be simplistic, but pop culture, family difficulties, etc.seem to have had a effect on some children that has rendered them incapable of empathizing with others feelings or reading the reactions that their words and actions are at times very inappropriate. It is sad and it is good we are talking about this here.

  8. this discussion is a good reminder to me. I have let things go that I never should have. Thanks John for the reminder to pre-warn ahead of time.

    david.

  9. I wrote a letter to my admin team in November about the two boys who were over the top and they were permanently removed from the class by Thanksgiving. Here is that letter. I include it here to make the point that, all too often, we wish and hope that a word in the hallway will bring an administrator into proper relationship with what is happening and act accordingly. We can’t blame them because they have fifty of these per day, at least, in my own school. So the letter and the fortitude that Laurie talks about are necessary on our part. We can’t back down to kids or to weak administrators. We shake things up until we get results.

    Dear _____

    I have thought about Jerry’s (not his real name) behavior a lot lately. I have worked with Jerry in a positive way to the absolute limit I am capable, and am now formally recommending that he be removed from the class. He is destroying it. I can prove that. Just come to Jerry’s class in 8th period and then to my other two classes after that. In my other classes, you will see kids laughing and happily learning French, but in Jerry’s class, you will see a dark energy that I attribute largely to Jerry’s presence. It’s strong talk but I mean it. I might add that we must keep this private. Were I to confront Jerry with this, he would not understand it. This situation is way beyond the “discuss it with the student” phase. I am not sure he has even yet been confronted in this way in his other classes. Maybe this is because in my class, children must sit up and particpate in a positive way with no options. I put the full 35 years of my experience in a classroom behind the position I have taken here. I can be more specific in private conversation with you in case you need more information about how Jerry operates to make your decision. Jerry is very rare among students, extremely hard to even identify as he is expert in flying under the radar with his destructive behavior, but this in no way changes the impact he is having on my teaching at ALHS.

  10. In meetings with administrators on this topic, it is my own opinion that we should tell them what the kid did (read it from a piece of documentation to make it more official sounding) and leave it at that. If they try to draw us out, we don’t go for it. We repeat our point like a broken record – “The kid chose to do this on such and such a day and I told him to stop. He chose not to do that and here we are. Now I need your help in a real way, because what I have done so far with this particular child hasn’t worked, and that includes parent phone calls, meetings with counselors, etc.” We need to be able to recognize when we have done all that we can and when the problem is not ours anymore. It is the kid’s and his parent’s now and the school must act. Weak admin teams don’t see when the problem is no longer a classroom teacher’s problem but the school’s problem and they often try to lay the situation back on us, but the kid did the action. Just repeat that the kid chose to do this on such and such a day and you told him to stop. He chose not to and here we are. That is what I would do. Deep breath everybody. We can just teach. Doing this hard work in those rare cases is the price for being able to just teach, but, if we don’t pay that price, we can basically kiss our careers goodbye. That is how destructive these kids can be.

  11. What great advice to be able to read two days before a new semester.

    I think that what Ben, Grant, John, Laurie, et al have said is right on, stop it on the spot with a firm disapproval.

    That being said, I think it is also a good idea to use discretion at the severity and possible innocence of certain remarks. One time, a girl said that something was “gay”. Of course, she did not mean it in the literal sense. She is a good student, and her parents both work at the school. Something I had read had told me to “be tough” on such language. So I said in a somewhat stern tone right away, “That word will not be used in this classroom and will be considered a form of harrassment.” Kind of overboard for this situation. I think I made her feel attacked, and I’m sure she told her parents who also probably thought I was over-reacting (it was my first year at this SMALL town school). I think I could have been more understanding (but not accepting!) to the lax usage of the word… I know I’ve caught myself saying it inadvertently, even still!

    Another situation came in a (gulp!) class of 22 girls, all girls. There was a story, and Carmen Elektra came up. I hinted that she was “bonita” I think. Anyways, a few days later after the totally fine situation was all behind (or so I thought) I found a picture of a woman in a bikini slid under my door as I entered the classroom. There was some writing on it that had my name (can’t remember details). I did not recognize the person being Carmen Elektra, so the connection never entered my mind. I went straight to the principal to fill him in on the situation. He reviewed camera content and found the person,a girl who thought the distorted (in a non-flattering way) pic of Electra in her bikini would make me giggle (since it was I who thought she was pretty). Another slight over-reaction in my case, as I’m sure it scared the crap out of her, probably made my principal question my integrity a bit. Iin hind-sight she meant no harm by it.

    Reading over this, I don’t know if the over-reactions were the best way to handle them. I probably broke some bonds with those students on the receiving end in my tough hammer approach. I did learn from them though, the message of disapproval was sent, and I suppose with not too much face lost.

    I hope those two accounts will give you some perspective in dealing with future problems (and I do recognize that you are dealing with REAL harrassment here, so don’t let it slide.)

    1. Yes Jim I am assuming in this discussion that we are talking about those very few kids who really need the tough love. It is very delicate. One rule of thumb on a kid is if you wake up at night trying to figure out how to deal with him or her. That’s a sign that says, “Action required.”

  12. Superbad says it all. All boys during that age have **ahem** issues with that.

    As for sexual harassment, definitely.

    They’re testing you. I know you’ll pass.

  13. I echo those above who encourage you to take action against this sort of behavior. John’s ideas are excellent in regards to which words you choose to teach and how you prepare students.

    There is respect for the language you are learning and teaching. In a community of learners whenever the respect is missing, there is no safety to learn. And while this may bring up all kinds of things on a personal level for you, You Are the Model the other members of your classroom are looking to for their own support and safety. There are probably students in your class wondering what you will do. It isn’t really about those boys. It is about those voiceless others who are their peers and afraid to call them out themselves.

    An honest discussion with your class in English when the offenders are removed allows the opportunity for others to express their own concern. It will clear the air. It will state the consequences for actions that are way out of bounds and disrespect the learning environment you and your students are working so hard to build.

    Laurie’s suggestion about some practice sessions on how to say what you have to say are very helpful. someone who supports you but doesn’t get in the way by telling you what to say. It is more powerful for you for you to say it in your own words. For in the end as my friend Sironka pointed out to me, “Our words are all we have. We should treasure them and the listener who recieves them.”

    Good luck and know that each of us is wishing you the best in a speedy return to your classroom family.

    1. Nicely said, Kate. I especially like this:

      …there is respect for the language you are learning and teaching….

      and also this:

      …an honest discussion …will clear the air….

      And, of course, Sironka has said something truly insightful there. Use of language. Wow. Bringing language back to what it may have been once, a vehicle to honor others, before the current times.

  14. I definitely echo all of the above when they say that respect is essential for a proper functioning classroom. When I first started teaching, I would let lots of things slide until my classroom became such a negative place; I would never want to do that to students again. I spent so many hours blaming the kids, administration, when all I had to do was look inside and see that the problem began with me. You really have to be assertive and exert control over the classroom. Once one students sees that its okay to be rude and disrespectful, others will follow.

    Good luck and know that we are all here with you 🙂

  15. This blog has helped me tremendously over the years and I think the very best piece of advice was to “phone parents immediately” Even if parents aren’t supportive, and they usually are, positive power is generated by the very act of calling. Word gets around my classes. I’ve discovered that when students don’t feel that they are invisible and they are aware that what happens in class doesn’t necessarily stay in class, well, things turn around. They’re kids, after all, some of them think that being a kid means to test the heck out of us.

    I read somewhere else…on this blog too I think…that boys LOVE to tease…it’s part of who they are. According to the article, the more they like us, the more they tease us. It’s made a whole lot of goofy behavior a lot more bearable when I look at it in this light.

    With all the garbage they access online, it’s no wonder that their limits are challenged in class. If ever we have to have “the talk” in the hallway, I try to end with “you can do better! you are SO much better than this sort of behavior!” When they know we care about who they are for the sake of them! well, its a wonderful thing! And boom…100 word essay by hand in French explaing what’s wrong and how it’s going to improve. Or a card to touch my heart and almost bring me to tears it is so thoughtfully constructed and worded…in French…by hand.

    I, for one, refuse to avoid the verb “venir” = to come……….and I put up with a few giggles every time I introduce it, then I say, “that’s inappropriate” then the talk and the call home. RIGHT AWAY if the behavior doesn’t evaporate.

    From this blog too – the SEATING PLAN and when there are dynamo personalities headed down the dark dark road to ill repute….well, I move them RIGHT AWAY, to where eye contact is difficult between guilty parties and they aren’t at the front of the class to entertain anyone! After class I take a few minutes to construct a plan and it greets them on the screen when they come in next class. It is cast in stone until their hair is the color of mine, I tell them (white) I can’t believe I didn’t use to do that! I don’t hesitate any more and it makes a ton of difference to let my students know that there’s a limit, when it’s crossed – here’s the consequence! This is MY class and I am the boss of everyone. point finale!

    And I tell them right out if I’m not getting results, “Look, I can’t teach the way I like to teach – and most of my students like to learn – if some of you aren’t going to follow the rules (which are posted and refered to at the beginning of the term). You decide. This comes up when the behavior just won’t go away. Positive peer pressure works wonders. My students love TPRS and aren’t about to give it up so that’s helpful too.

    As for help from admin…I’ve pretty much given up on admin. Thing is, when I turn a problem over to them – I’m giving all that positive power away. And I’ve learned that I can never predict the outcome. Admin has their own agenda and when I ask them to take over I’m putting myself in the position of having them tell me they don’t agree with my standards, or siding with parents with prestige or a SCARY personality over the teacher, or listening to an extemely manipulative child….whom they have never encountered perhaps outside of this incidient. It happens. I avoid going there for the most part. I may ask their opinion, to keep them in the loop. And I always let admin know when I’ve had conversations with parents that may head south.

    Some behavior is a pain! But I find that more and more, with clear rules and expectations, and being sure they understand why I ask them to do what I ask of them…keeping the input comprehensible….the difficult moments are simply that, moments. Life is mostly bliss in here. And that’s the way we like it! uh huh uh huh!

  16. New teachers, heed the above. Discipline precedes instruction. The rules many of us have grown to depend on for our survival (not really kidding on that one) are on the resources/posters page of this site. The Five Finger rules can be searched here as well (there are two sets of rules, one posted in the classroom and the other a quick finger wake up call to the kid (finger rule #1 gets a lot of use during hard winter days, I have noticed).

    Lynn’s statement that the Phone Home rule is THE most important thing of all makes total sense – we can be experts with the pedagogy but then long to quit the wonderful field of teaching because of that horrible kind of wake-up-at-night despair, worrying about some kid, which sleepless nights nobody can avoid because our jobs with these kids is a far greater challange than anyone, especially those administrators who have rarely or never stood in front of kids, can ever grasp. I will republish Lynn’s comments as a separate blog post via a time stamp to Aug. 20th so we can read it as we begin again next year.

    Lynn, when you said “point finale!” that tells me that you have had training somewhere on the formal French dictée form. At least I would assume. If you or anyone (Judy?) knows how to say “new sentence” or “new paragraph” in a dictée could you share that below? Or maybe we could get a complete list. And check my accuracy in describing dictée on the resources/workshop handouts site? The terms in Spanish and German wouldn’t be refused either.

    Dictée/dictado is going to be our very best friend, along with the rules, as we negotiate these next few months. It is the ultimate recover-our-balance move when things get totally insane, about every other day for the next few months). As the kids get tired of stories, tired of being forced to show up as a human being in our classes (what?) and hang out in their right brain for most of our class, interacting with us in happy ways (what?), we will come to increasingly love dictée as the year moves along.

    As just stated, kids are simply not used to hanging out in their whole brain/right brain in school settings, and dictée shuts up kids and moves them happily and promptly back into their school turf brain, breaking up our class just at the right moment, when we need it.

    And it’s not just output, but a combination of input and output. For that alone, for the capacity of a good ten to fifteen minutes of dictado to quiet kids, it deserves a medal from the French Légion d’Honneur.

    Thanks for these comments, Lynn.

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