10 Tips For Managing Swearing

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John Dabell

I trained as a primary school teacher 25 years ago, starting my career in London and then I taught in a range of schools in the Midlands. In between teaching jobs, I worked as an Ofsted inspector (no hate mail please!), national in-service provider, project...
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How do we manage pupils who swear?

Inappropriate language, bad language, abusive language, profanity… swearing has no place in our schools. But, you are going to hear it and you could well be on the receiving end of it. I won’t forget the first time I heard a year 6 pupil tell a teacher on playground duty to ‘F-off’! The teacher was in tears, but the child loved the scene it caused and the thrill of the moment.

Pack The Language In

Swearing is commonplace in society and pupils hear it all the time. So, we shouldn’t be too surprised if they repeat what adults have said, what older peers have encouraged them to say, or words they have heard via TV and social media.

Some students use inappropriate language out of sheer frustration and anger, others use it to get a reaction, impress or be the centre of attention. It’s worth remembering that younger pupils do not always appreciate the inappropriateness of what they are saying.

If you hear pupils swearing between each other or you are the victim of abuse, what do you do? Take a look at the following tips, I swear by them.

10 Tips For Managing Swearing

1. Aim low

Your immediate reaction might be to go off like a stick of dynamite, but keep absolutely calm and keep your emotions in check. If you explode, raise your voice and come down like a ton of bricks, then monumental chaos can ensue. Watch your tonal register and don’t speak louder than the class.

2. Move

Take the offender to one side for a brief time out and diffuse the situation by talking not lecturing.

3. Be matter-of-fact

Let the offender know in a controlled and calm voice that the language used is unacceptable. Be professional, business-like and restrained rather than show disgust and disdain.

4. Consequence

Make sure that you emphasise that certain words and phrases are out of order and if they are used they cannot be ignored. Select a consequence that is fair, proportionate and works for you. Sanctions could be a loss of time, removal of privileges, litter-picking, etc.

5. Write it down

Collecting evidence is important so whatever is said, record it. Make sure your class know that any incident is written down and will be on record so it can be shared with others.

6. Reminder

Let the class as a whole know what is acceptable and unacceptable  language. Address the message to everyone without drawing attention to any one individual, group or situation. Discuss how we show each other respect and insist on politeness and manners.

7. Replace

Teach pupils different ways to express themselves by selecting  words or phrases that are inoffensive or can be used as alternatives – use nonsense words if need be, or why not try some Shakespearean insults! Some pupils may find it beneficial to vent their frustrations and anger using a journal where they can write or draw how they feel.

8. Silent Signal

For pupils who struggle to use appropriate language discuss a secret or silent signal that you will use to indicate you want that person to stop speaking.

9. Contact Parents

When possible try to engage support from parents and carers so that incidents, information and strategies are shared.

10. Be totally consistent

Don’t let anyone get away anything – this is zero tolerance. Encouraging polite language and discouraging swearing has to 100%. Don’t let ‘minor’ words slip through the net compared to the heavyweight abuse. Deal with every example and incidence of swearing so that pupils get the message words matter and they have to chose them very carefully.

The Three P Approach

Being able to identify the underlying reason for a pupil using inappropriate language will enable you to respond more effectively and following the Three P approach to classroom management will help you respond with a plan.

It calls for classroom management to be (1) positive (2) proactive, and (3) preventative by discussing responding techniques with students, talking about attention signals and thinking about movement activities that can provide extra input into challenging situations.

One more thing…always follow your school behaviour policy.

3 thoughts on “10 Tips For Managing Swearing

  1. Very good tips for a very real problem. As I often share it’s a challenge to control language when it has become increasingly pervasive and common in society. It’s a great lesson for students in knowing how to code switch and time and place.

  2. I am having trouble with Cheerleaders who constantly use the anacronyms that stand for swears in a sports online chat the younger non-teacher coach set up. She is jealous and is passive aggressive in front of the Athletic Director and in emails however she sets a very bad example for the students using inaprolriate slang and refers to herself as a “gangsta”. When I remind the students to be careful of their language particularly in writing at the risk of school consequences she rudely dismisses me and this only fires up their use of profanity and especially the anacronyns for swears in a school chat line. The non-teacher coach didn’t even add me to this chat line for 2 years because she is intentionally keeling me out of the loop to undermine my success. I just found out the administrator didn’t even know she wasn’t a teacher. The admin try to avoid write ups as too many referrals make the school look bad. Hence, the students contibue using the swears and they are not even angry. No, it wasn’t a slip or a “my bad” moment. They typed it. They know that they are breaking the School honor code. What should I do? If I’m not on the chat I won’t know what is going on at all. If I’m on the chat line as a teacher I feel obligated to call these students out for using inappropriate language. Please help. This is tougher than swearing in the classroom. I can handle that when I see the students in person and manage their grades.

  3. You’re very much on point here. Nonetheless, what if the class manager (teacher ) is the one using vulgar language in the class, what happens?

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