Eliciting a Slap in the Mouth

I’m gonna blow your mind with this one, but the ironic thing about unforeseen problems is that you never realize you’ve got one until you’re too deep to turn back. Deep right? Not as deep as I’d been. I’d already been feeling some pressure as the Vice Principal of my school stared at me from the back of the room, but thankfully up until this point, everything had been going smoothly. It was a lesson on modals, teaching the word should in the context of good and bad behaviors during school, and even though this was by far my worst 6th grade class in terms of both English and behavior, the kids had been keeping up with the materials and getting it smoothly enough. That was actually the reason our Vice Principal had felt the need to be there in the first place; these kids could go full-asshole in a matter of seconds over nothing, and had almost as little regard for their foreign teachers as they did learning English in general. Things had been going uncharacteristically smooth though as they nailed every example that I’d pantomimed for them or shown pictures of, and it had really seemed like their enthusiastic participation was going to impress my boss who otherwise couldn’t understand a single word of my lesson… until we got to the PowerPoint slide You Shouldn’t Say Curse Words. It was only then that I’d realized my lesson planning had suddenly put me between a rock and a hard place.

The lesson became like playing a game of taboo in front of your boss when the answer could get you fired

I’m pretty sure one of the first things a teenager learns in a foreign language is how to insult somebody’s mother or combine the word fuck with a pronoun, but how many people would expect anybody but someone who’s fluent to know what “curse words” means out of context. I’ve already mentioned that these kids were enthusiastic but not exactly the brightest, and while I’m sure that they could’ve completed the sentence “My teacher is _____” in 20 different offensive ways, there was no way that any of them had a clue what a “curse word” was without being given examples. Explaining its meaning by giving examples would’ve been effortless if it weren’t for the simple fact that dropping the F-bomb in front of your students is wildly inappropriate, and so the lesson became like playing a game of taboo in front of your boss when the answer could get you fired. I’d tried category diagrams, as well as defining it with terms like bad words and words your teachers don’t like, and I’d even went so far as to fake stub my toe and literally yell BLEEP, but the more I jumped all over the place grasping for context and beating around the bush, the more I just confused the shit out of them and lost their attention. A game of hangman would be my final attempt, and I’d prefaced my last stand with Do. Not. Shout. Out. The. Answer. before proceeding to draw out the gallows and write the capitol F that would be their first and only clue towards guessing this four letter example of a curse word.


Uhhhhh, Fish?

Could I actually be mad that almost half the class shouted fuck, some even gleefully? The most powerful method of teaching is leading the students to figure out the answer on their own, and I‘d just led a class of kids who weren’t used to being successful in English, and who loved cursing, to do just that as loud as they could… right in front of their Vice Principal. I’m pretty sure the goal for eliciting is limited to curriculum materials only, and to the vice principal who had only understood that F-bomb without any of the context that’d been meant to go with it, curriculum materials were probably the last thing he would’ve guessed as he’d lunged for the nearest grinning boy to smack the smile off his face. I couldn’t exactly blame him either, since he’d originally been there to keep a consistently misbehaving class in line, and so I’d been forced to sit back and watch powerlessly as kids who’d merely been following my lead got slapped and screamed at for acting at face value how they’d been expected to act.

It was a Shakespearean tragedy of mouth slapping before one of the girls finally managed get the principal to pause and hear her out. In all of his years in education, this was probably the only situation he’d ever encountered where yelling Fuck in the classroom could be justifiable, and all he could do was stare at me disapprovingly before exiting the classroom without ever uttering a single word. He didn’t come around too often after that, and I’d been pretty much on my own after that as far as disciplinary assistance went. The kids were beyond unruly and defiant for at least a week and a half after that lesson, and I’d just let it ride. I’d figured I owed them some leniency for accidentally leading them into corporeal punishment for the second time that year.

And since this is also the second time I’ve written about flagrant beatings in the classroom setting, I guess I should take a moment to explain that at the beginning of each school year, along with all of the health forms and registration paperwork that we would expect, a standard waiver for corporeal punishment also gets sent home for parents to fill out. The waiver gives educators legal permission to issue a five across the eyes whenever a student needs a study reminder, and most parents aren’t at all opposed to signing it so long as their kids stay on track with their studies.

Still though, could’ve went worse for all parties.

What do you think of this policy? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.