Teaching Opinion

Preventing Classroom Profanity with Peace and Love

By David Ginsburg — September 08, 2010 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Have you ever noticed that the more you wear a pet peeve on your sleeve, the more students seem to trigger it? Well, such was the case for me with profanity, which completely bugged the s- - - out of me as a new teacher. And sure enough, the more I reprimanded students for swearing, the more they did it. It was only when I came up with a more proactive, less confrontational approach that I was able to get cursing under control.

So how did I get cursing under control? I started by reflecting on my response to it, which was purely punitive: any time a kid swore, I took disciplinary action. Yet no matter how many calls I made to parents or referrals I sent to the dean (my single-day record was 37!), profanity prevailed. And the more I punished students for it, the more adversarial my relationships with them became. Finally, exasperated by how much time I was spending policing profanity and how ineffective it was, I sought a better approach.

I began by recognizing the difference between students saying “that m.f. is cool” and “you’re a m.f.” Both were unacceptable, but the former was also unhostile. It was often unconscious too---i.e., expressions like, “s- - -, man” and “f- - - in’ cool” were so much a part of students’ vernacular that they often used them without realizing it. And even when they did realize it, they didn’t consider it inappropriate. (No wonder my relationships with them became so adversarial.) And since most cursing in my classroom was unhostile and unconscious, I decided to treat it as teachable moments rather than punishable ones. In short, I needed to raise students’ self-awareness of their language and, in turn, their ability to self-regulate it. And the way I did this was through a simple rule: Any time you’re about to use “f- - -" or “s- - -,” replace it with “peace” or “love” or a derivative thereof.

Pretty crazy, huh? I know, but also remarkably effective---much more so than even I expected. In fact, the very day I introduced this “rule,” students ran with it. And not just any students, but some of the biggest offenders, who really got into calling classmates “mother lovers” or telling me I was “full of peace.”

Better yet, when students slipped up, their classmates---not I---let them know: “you mean peace or love.” Even better, the offenders themselves soon began to acknowledge their slip-ups mid-sentence: “oops, my bad.” Hello self-awareness and self-regulation! And good-bye adversarial relationships!

Are there other ways to prevent profanity in the classroom? Sure. I’ve worked with schools whose zero-tolerance policies have been effective because all staff enforced it and the administration followed through on it. But in some schools, a high incidence of more serious infractions can result in a lack of consistency and/or urgency with respect to less pressing offenses such as profanity. Sound familiar? If so, maybe it’s time for a more peaceful and loving approach.

image by Barnabychambers, provided by Dreamstime license

Join my mailing list for announcements about webinars and the work I do to improve teaching and learning.

The opinions expressed in Coach G’s Teaching Tips are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Opinion You Can Motivate Students to Accelerate Learning This Year
If young people suffered setbacks during the pandemic, it doesn’t mean they’re broken. Now is the chance to cover more ground than ever.
2 min read
Images shows a stylized artistic landscape with soothing colors.
Teaching Opinion A 6th Grade Class on Racism Got Me Ready for the Rest of My Life
Every student should have the opportunity to learn about race, writes a college freshman.
Cristian Gaines
4 min read
Illustration of silhouettes of people with speech bubbles.
Teaching Opinion The Classroom-Management Field Can’t Stop Chasing the Wrong Goal
And, no, new social-emotional-learning initiatives aren’t the answer, writes Alfie Kohn.
Alfie Kohn
5 min read
Illustration of children being cut free from puppet strings
Daniel Fishel for Education Week
Teaching Photos What School Looks Like When Learning Moves Outside
One class of 5th graders shows what's possible when teachers take their lessons outside.
1 min read
Teacher Angela Ninde, right, works with students in their garden at Centreville Elementary School in Centreville, Va., on Sept. 7, 2021.
Teacher Angela Ninde, right, works with students in their garden at Centreville Elementary School in Centreville, Va.
Jaclyn Borowski/Education Week