Being with junior high schoolers all day requires an incredible amount of personal censorship. Example of things I’d sometimes like to say:
- If you don’t stop carving your boyfriend’s name into my desk, so help me, I will set your hair on fire.
- Where is the worksheet you’re supposed to be doing? On the table by the door where all the papers you need each day have been for the last 5 months. You literally almost have to trip over the table to get into the door. Do you see it now, Stevie Wonder?
- Yes, the name of this country is the United States of America. Have you been living in a Cold War bomb shelter your whole life? How did you miss that one?
- The next time you bring a Tech Deck to class, I’m locking you in the Chokey and feeding the key to a pack of wild dogs.
(*Disclaimer: No, I have not ever said any of those phrases to any of my students. I love my students and my job immensely, even if they drive me a bit batty on occasion.)
However, I’ve found these to be inappropriate comments for a public school classroom. But it’s not only overtly inappropriate comments that must be avoided: it’s anything that could be construed differently through a double meaning or as something remotely insulting, gross, or, of course, sexual. It’s hard to train your brain to think through every possible meaning of the words you say before they come out of your mouth.
I’m not very good at this. You’d think that since I’m young and my kids think I’m hip (I’m not; they should know that by the way I use the word ‘hip’) that I’d be more attuned than the average teacher to what the youths are saying on the streets these days.
I was an incredibly naive middle schooler and am still a fairly naive 24 year old. I’ve had to look up words like ‘on fleek’ and ‘bae’ in UrbanDictionary or BuzzFeed to make sure students aren’t trying to do voodoo magic on me.
One time a 7th grader asked me if I liked to ‘ship’ my students. I was 80% sure she didn’t mean mailing them and thought maybe she meant ‘ship’ like this, although that doesn’t make much sense, either. Turns out, to ‘ship’ two people means to set them up, or try to get them in a relationship. Get it? A+ to those of you who already knew what that meant. I apologize for being such an ignorant L-7 weenie.
Most of the time, I just assume anything they say that I don’t understand is dirty. I give them ‘the teacher look’ and they either look at me guiltily and apologize, or they say, “What did I do?!” When they say that, I usually respond “You know what,” and more often than not if what they were saying wasn’t actually dirty, they were doing something else they weren’t supposed to be doing that they now think I caught them doing. It’s a safe bet.
I thought that maybe I was finally getting so accustomed to talking to 13 year olds that I’d all but eliminated anything potentially offensive from my vocabulary. Today, I found out that I’m not quite as on the ball as I’d like to be.
Scene: Ms. Poulson’s class. Most students are working on an assignment with a partner while I pass back papers. One student stops me to ask me why he got marked down on an assignment.
Ms. P: Oh, you’re right. That shouldn’t have been marked wrong. My aide graded it, but turn it back in and I’ll give you the points back.
Student: Ms Poulson, why don’t you just grade things yourself?
Ms. P: Because that’s why I have aides.
As soon as I said it, I heard it. I assumed only I got the double meaning because the kid should have known what I was trying to say. Not so.
At that moment, all the students in the classroom, who 2 seconds before were talking to their friends, whom I can never get to all shut the talking parts of their faces at the same time, who do not listen to me when I am standing right in front of them, miraculously hear this comment from the far reaches of the room, stop, look at me, then explode into laughter.
Kid in the back: Ms Poulson has AIDS!!!!
I tried as hard as I could to not laugh, to not validate their obvious misinterpretation, but self control against laughing has never been one of my strong suits. Thankfully, class was almost over so I used that brief moment they were all focused on me to tell them to clean up and turn in their papers. All’s well that ends well, right?
*Clarification: I don’t have AIDS. That I know of.