Monday, August 28, 2006

Students Swearing In Class: Tolerating The Intolerable?

During a professional development workshop in Victorville, California, the presenter urged teachers to not get upset when their students use foul language in the classroom: (emphasis ours)
Victor Valley Union High School District teachers have been coached on a new approach to disciplining students that has some teachers shaking their heads in disbelief.

One teacher has stepped forward to air her concerns publicly, although she said she is concerned about how doing so could affect her job security.

“There is a cultural war going on and evidently it is going on right at this school site,” said Julie Behrse, an art teacher at Maverick High School. “It really is a movement, and now it has a name,” she added, referring to what Speaker Ray Culberson called the “new professionalism.”

At issue is whether teachers need to adjust how they interact with and discipline students who misbehave, particularly students from difficult backgrounds.

Culberson, director of youth services for the San Bernardino City Unified School District, said at a back-to-school inservice meeting that students today have less respect for authority than they did when many teachers were in school and consequently, some teachers have unrealistic expectations of their students.

According to Culberson, many teenagers come to school with baggage from problems at home or other areas of their lives. Culberson described these students, who are prone to disruptive behavior, as “kids in chaos.”

The district superintendent, Julian Weaver, said Culberson’s message does not represent a change in district disciplinary policy, but Victor Valley has many students from chaotic backgrounds such as Culberson described, and teachers need to learn to interpret their students’ body language. When a student is visibly agitated, the teacher might not want to push any buttons by asking if he or she brought in homework that day.

“We need to see ourselves as teachers and adults in the classroom,” Weaver said, “but we shouldn’t see ourselves as dictators, where students see themselves as far less than the teacher.”

A teacher at Silverado High School, who asked to remain anonymous to protect her job, said she understood Culberson’s message to be that teachers need to do everything possible to reach students and keep them in school.

When Culberson asked the audience how many times they could tolerate hearing “f-— you” from a student and said he could personally handle more than 100 instances a day, the teacher said she felt the presentation became a bit “off the wall.” A teacher next to her told her that she would not tolerate one case of swearing.

Teachers should never take anything a student says personally, Culberson said. He referred to a teacher’s personal “f-— youmeter, meaning the number of times a teenager swears at them before they would discipline the student. If teachers have a low tolerance for bad behavior and frequently send a student out of the classroom, the students will drive them crazy whereas teachers with a high tolerance will be able to calmly follow school procedure and still discipline the student, Culberson said in an interview. Maverick High School principal Beth Crane declined to comment on Culberson’s speech, but principal Tracy Marsh of Silverado High School said state law prohibits vulgarity and swearing in the classroom and allows discipline ranging from suspension to being expelled, no matter what background a student comes from.

“Nothing a person from San Bernardino says can change state law,” Marsh said. “We do want to make sure that the example is set and the tone it set,” he said, referring to student behavior.

He added that although he did not attend the inservice, he spoke to four teachers at Silverado High School who heard the presentation and described it as a positive experience.

According to Weaver, Culberson received a standing ovation.

“Everything that I do is designed for the mental health of the teacher,” Culberson said, and added that he gives presentations free of charge.
I'm curious to know if teachers can be disciplined for swearing in the presence of an in-service speaker who has wasted several hours of time that could've been better spent preparing their classrooms for the first day of school?

I'm not sure that there's a "f--- you meter" big enough to measure the intensity...
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