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SwearingNowadays it is normal to hear even very young children swear. And it’s not only common to hear it on the streets and at home but also in the classroom. This increase in children using profane language is due to a variety of factors, such as TV shows, older siblings swearing but moreover because it is simply becoming more normal and less taboo for many people. However, swearing is still widely considered inappropriate in professional situations and this includes in the classroom. Essentially, the purpose of school is to teach children how to be functioning human beings, both in the workplace and in their personal lives. Therefore not allowing children to swear in class is essential practise for their later life as many companies ban the use of profanity in the workplace.

So how can we tackle bad language in the classroom? This is a topic that has prompted a variety of responses. Whilst some schools enforce a strict zero tolerance policy on swearing, others are more tolerant of it, perhaps viewing it as a lost cause or simply choosing to prioritise other issues.

Swearing in class

Whilst some children swear in class for attention or to be rebellious, others swear simply because they are still learning how to moderate their language, and aren’t accustomed to adjusting their language to suit different situations. In the latter case, the best response is to calmly remind them that swearing in class is not appropriate, and perhaps ask the student to rephrase their sentence in a more appropriate manner. Responding in an angry fashion is rarely a good idea and confronting a swearing child may actually provoke more swearing.

Swearing at break time

I suggest a certain amount of leeway when it comes to minor swearing during break times; otherwise teachers would find themselves reprimanding children constantly. And a teacher who tries to enforce a zero tolerance of swearing may be seen by the children as overcritical. This could risk alienating the teacher from their pupils. Additionally, break times are a period in which children let off steam and are simply free to play and express themselves as they wish. So, as long as they are not using profane language to abuse each other, it’s not the end of the world if they swear occasionally during break. After all, it is better that children swear during break times than during lessons.

Of course, a line must be drawn when children are using swear words to insult each other or even a member of staff. Indeed, the context of the swearing is important, as using swear words as fillers is significantly less offensive than calling people vulgar names. Equally, a child may be rude to a teacher or mean to a classmate without uttering a single swear word so this should be taken in to account too.

How to respond to serious cases

A common reason why children swear is because it is considered ‘cool’. This is part of the reason swearing spreads around schools. Therefore, if you have to seriously reprimand a child for persistent swearing it is best to do it in private, so that the child does not have an audience to play up to. And if you’re a parent and you’re concerned about the amount of swearing that goes on in school then have an open conversation with your child about their experiences of swearing in school, to gauge what the school policy is and how pupils feel about it. Also, don’t hesitate to contact your child’s tutor for information regarding the school’s official policy on swearing.

Can swearing be used as a learning resource?

Diversely, whilst swearing in schools is clearly an issue, young people’s love of swear words may actually be used to enhance teaching. For example, teaching children Shakespearean insults has been successful in getting students interested in Shakespeare, as well as making it more accessible for them. Indeed, Sarah Swann advocates getting children to throw Shakespearean insults at each other as a class activity. She points out that this may be used as an opportunity to get the students thinking about staging and performance. This same tactic may be applied to learning modern languages in order to engage students in the lessons, but using comical and more harmless ‘rude words’ rather than vulgar swearing. So there is a positive to be found in this issue of swearing in class.




2 Responses to “How should schools deal with swearing in the classroom?”

  1. Douglas W. Green, EdD

    As a teacher when I heard bad language I would establish eye contact with the offender and give a “what the heck” stare for a few seconds. Then I would say something like “are we finished with that sort of language?” That usually worked. For repeat offenders I asked for a private session in the hallway. I wouldn’t raise my voice but I would calmly point out that their use of bad language was drawing attention to them and taking if off the learning at hand for everyone and that continued disruption is something that we can’t have. This was high school. As an elementary principal I had to deal with cursing students. The key thing is to say nothing at first and not get upset. Once you get your ego into the situation or raise your voice you have lost the battle.

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  2. Shane

    There is a hige difference between “confrontational swearing” (racist words and terms, belligerent words, threatening language, etc) and “conversational swearing.” In the high school where I teach, conversational swearing by students, unless constant or excessive) is generally allowed (except by the most old-fashioned or conservative teachers), whereas confrontational swearing is not. In other words, it is more of a case of the INTENT of the swearing being punished rather than the words themselves. This seems to work very well and establishes clear boundaries of what is permitted and what isn’t. Otherwise, school officials would be constantly inundated with disciplinary issues based on language. Personally, I love this way of handling it and would never want to go back to the days where students were punished for the use of all swear words. Things are much less tense!

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