I had an unforgettable 7th period class today. And it had nothing to do with mathematics.
The kids walk in. I assign seats every Monday using popcicle sticks, so they each grab one and make their way to their new seat. The late bell rings and I move to start class.
Out of nowhere someone lets out a curse. I think is was the f-word. Now let it be known, I have always been downright annoyed and refuse to accept any profanity in my classroom. This class knows it and every other class I’ve ever taught knows it too. (It’s a losing battle, but this is one of my nonnegotiables.)
Hearing a curse from a student in this class isn’t unusual. In fact, it’s relatively normal. I’ve accepted this, but I still firmly correct each and every curse I hear. They’ve actually gotten better about it. This particular curse gets my usual response of “watch your mouth.”
Out of sheer curiosity, I publically ask the girl who committed the verbal crime whether she’s had teachers who don’t care if she uses that type of language in their classroom. I didn’t know it at the time, but that question changed the course of the entire period.
After she responded that yes, she’s had teachers who don’t care (and even use profanity while teaching), many of the other students chimed in on the matter. Their experiences were mixed and led to a discussion around whether or not profanity has a place in schools. I mentioned that the way you speak can sometimes open the door for others to place unfounded judgements on you — and that those judgements can have lasting impacts. This drew strong reaction from the students and several more spoke up. Some said that they refused to change who they were no matter what others thought. Some referenced siblings who have offered similar words of advice.
Keep in mind that at this point we’re about 20 minutes into the period. But the fire had been lit and I was determined to get out the way. It felt like the right thing to do.
The conversation took up a mind of its own. It was morphing, changing, adapting to the needs of the students. I didn’t talk much. Things twisted and turned through religion, race, parents, and stereotypes. A few students admitted to being bullied in middle school. One girl started crying because of rumors that she was a bully. I brought her tissue and a classmate gave her a hug. Respect was inherit in everyone’s tone.
So yeah, we spent the entire 45-minute period talking…and airing out some deeply rooted emotions. We did no mathematics. Heck, we didn’t even get past the Bell Ringer.
Normally, I would consider a class period like this to be an utter failure. A huge no-no. A cause to reflect very differently on this here blog. But not today. Life happened, and I’m ok with that.