What the @~#*?

We all have our weaknesses. I frequently tell myself that nobody’s perfect. Even Mother Teresa probably had an off-day or two. So, in the spirit of openness, here’s a list of what I get wrong – a lot:

  • I am too fond of chocolate cake. Any cake, really.
  • I have a natural inclination towards the supine. (I like a nap.)
  • I have a fondness for a finely-turned expletive.

It’s this latter fault which I had to be most aware of as a teacher. The others rarely presented a problem in school – I rarely got time to eat cake, and the idea of finding a place to nap was laughable. But swearing… well, I have certainly encountered pupils who have challenged my self-restraint in that area.

Obviously, though, I have never sworn in an educational setting in anger or frustration, and I would never condone doing so. But that’s not to say that I haven’t sworn, loudly and proudly. I have turned the air blue in classes more often than I can count… because I am an English teacher.

I’ve taught lots of books where swear words feature. Of Mice and Men, Skellig, To Kill A Mockingbird… all of these are texts which I love and which many, many students have loved with me. And they all have passages with language that I would not condone in everyday speech at school.

Like many other teachers, I have had complaints from parents because of the language included in these great novels. This mystifies me. Making students aware of the existence of something is not condoning its existence – it’s simply increasing their world knowledge. And in all the books I have taught which use expletives, they use them for a very precise reason. It tells us something about character, about context, about the emotional charge running through a scene. Language is power, and that includes the rude words.

Also, of course, as teachers, our job is to teach restraint. I want my students to be aware of the language, but restrained enough not to use it inappropriately. After all, that’s what I have to do every day. And that, I’m told, is all part of growing up.

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