Recently on FLTEACH, a teacher, Joe, asked advice for dealing with a sophomore who swears and is disrespectful in order to get attention. Bill Heller responded with different books including my “Teacher Dialogues.” Joe still isn’t sure how to create a dialogue with this student because of their strained relationship and feared that it would be awkward to probe into the student’s life to figure out what was going on with the student.
Here is my advice:
Joe, we are constantly refining “our teaching voices” because they change with our own life experiences that we bring to the classroom.
As I approach 60, my teaching voice is blended with grandmotherly concern, so my dialogue would most likely be like this:
“I am concerned for you. I’ve taught thousands of students and some of them are now 40 and I keep up with them. Through them. I’ve learned the importance of keeping all options open for a great life.
One way to do this is to be hired for interesting jobs and the folks hiring are the older folks who usually offer jobs to people who know how to be appropriate. This habit of swearing is obviously serving the 16 year old version of (kid’s name) but will it serve the 25 year old version of yourself?
It’s easy to let swearing slip at the wrong moment, especially if you are anxious during a job interview.
As one of the adults in your life, I feel responsible for helping you to be the best version of yourself and to help you to eliminate swearing in my class as an exercise in self-discipline and as a commitment to the vision of the great man you can be.
Maybe if you help me to understand how swearing and being disrespectful in my class helps you now to get through my class, we can brainstorm other ways to meet your needs.”
I would have this conversation privately and I would make sure that I flushed from my attitude any residual resentment towards this student before starting the dialogue. I would make sure I was full of sincere concern so that my tone reflects my words.
Joe, I hope you can use this as a springboard for crafting your own dialogue. Good luck!