Teachers using profanity in the classroom
When it comes to teaching lessons, positive language is more powerful.
Originally published by the Moultrie News.
My daughter’s teacher uses curse words in his teaching. She thinks he does it to impress the students. She doesn’t like it and neither do I. What can I do?
A hallmark of the stereotypical “cool” teacher is the cavalier use of profanity in the classroom. This privilege used to be confined to college professors, but as we become a culture of less civilized discourse, the practice is trickling down to high school, middle, and even elementary teachers.
Using profanity is still nominally considered unprofessional behavior. That’s probably why it’s mostly restricted to the cool teachers — or, more aptly, the teachers who desire to be cool. They may feel it juxtaposes them with the squares who possess obsolete notions of professionalism and boomers who hassle our youth with prudish constraints.
Beyond that, I can think of no benefits for teachers to use profanity. At best, it’s superfluous. It conveys nothing but added sentiment, ranging from rage all the way down to a devil-may-care insouciance.
Beyond the lingering (if endangered) cultural disapproval of profanity, there’s a reason you don’t find it in newspapers and textbooks: it does nothing to help explain or transmit information.
You’ll also rarely find it in great persuasive speeches, whether it’s Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, Chief Joseph’s “Surrender” speech, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, or King’s “I Have a Dream.” That’s because profanity does nothing to help change hearts and minds. In fact, it can damage the speaker’s “ethos” in the esteem of those who believe its use is crude or vulgar.
Apart from the coarse meanings of our “bad words”, the basic reason they aren’t persuasive or ennobling (or even helpful) is that they’re negative. They have negative denotations and negative connotations, and they generally express negative emotions. (The cases where they convey positive sensations, we probably still agree, are unsuitable for the classroom.)
Now, let’s be clear. When a negative situation in school arises, I have no issue using negative language, sometimes even at an elevated volume. But I would still exclude profanity because it obscures the message. “Don’t throw pencils across the room,” expressed loudly, does the job better than “Stop throwing your d— pencils” (though the latter may make the teacher feel better).
When it comes to teaching lessons, positive language is more powerful. It keeps the emphasis on the content and promotes an edifying environment. Profanity, name-calling, and innuendos aren’t only ineffective; they set a bad example.
What profanity can do, though, is make an otherwise ordinary teacher more charming to students who find its edgy sophistication alluring. But it tends to turn off students able to sense the insecurity behind it (there are many).
To offer an alternative to any teachers who might be reading this, there is a much better way to become a genuinely cool teacher, and I’ve seen many talented educators achieve it: Do your job. Be authentic. Care about your students. Be fair. Relate what you teach to real life. And enjoy what you do. No profanity is required.
What can parents do about foul-mouthed instructors? Most districts have policies forbidding profanity in the classroom, so a kind message to the teacher asking him or her to tone it down is certainly justifiable. If it doesn’t happen, follow the chain of command.
To be fair, some young teachers may not realize that the words they’re using are considered profane. They learned their vocabulary from YouTube, Spotify, and Netflix, not Sunday school and cotillion. By politely voicing your concern, you’ll be doing them a favor.
A lot of parents won’t say anything because they like to be “cool,” too. They don’t want to be labeled as prudes, especially by their own kids and especially not today. Therefore, many simply shrug it off.
Of course, many won’t say anything because they know they use even worse language at home, or at least allow it in the shows, movies, and music they enjoy with their kids. To those parents, I applaud you for not being hypocritical but still encourage you to consider the benefits that more positive communication could bring to your family.
Read the original column here.
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