Swear off sanctions to tackle classroom cussing

To get students to stop swearing, you have to swear off using sanctions as your only weapon.

This is the view of Carolyn O’Connor, a further education lecturer in the North West of England. Writing in the 15 May issue of TES, she admits that sanctions are the easy answer – and can sometimes be effective – but argues that a different approach is needed for persistent peddlers of profanity.

“Going in all guns blazing and confiscating phones, demanding an end to foul language and expecting full concentration for at least 20 minutes…is the wrong approach,” she says. “Often, to get to the swearing issue, you have to battle through emotional baggage from past educational experiences and issues at home. You are not just dealing with one problem; you may have a number of issues to unpick in tackling appropriate language.”

O’Connor explains that a swearing problem is usually combined with a failure to engage in class and poor standards of work. She advises that you tackle these two elements first, before moving on to the effing and blinding.

“I chose to focus on getting work completed, stimulating interest in the subject matter and relating it to students’ careers. In this way, they were invested in what we were doing and could put it into the context of their own lives,” she says. “It is also helpful to build up a picture of the person the student wishes to be.

“One way I try to achieve this is by getting students to create a description of the perfect employee. In this way they can take ownership of deciding which traits are positive and which are negative.”

If you follow this strategy, she says, students don’t need to be told to stop swearing. Instead, they do so of their own accord, which is a much more powerful remedy in the long-term.

“They usually end up giving their own reasons for curbing foul language. Once you hook students in to thinking beyond the here and now, they start to consider their aspirations and the changes they need to make to achieve them.”

For the full story, get the 15 May edition of TES on your tablet or phone, or by downloading the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. Or pick it up at all good newsagents.

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