Needs Focused Teaching

Classroom Management Strategies: Dealing with Swearing and Abusive Language in the Classroom


Teachers need to be very clear about the consequences of the use of bad language in their classroom. If there is no school policy or effective classroom management strategy already in place then create your own – and stick to it. That way they will eventually learn that they cannot get away with it.

The oft-quoted classroom management strategy of staying calm applies equally well here. No matter how profane the offense (and you don’t need me to tell you how creative they can be), try not to lose your temper. Let your chosen consequence do the job for you. Calmly state ‘that’s a minute you owe me’ (or whatever your sanction is for this scenario), mark it down, and carry on with the lesson. Don’t raise your voice while doing this as that can be read as the emotional response they are probably trying to trigger.

If swearing is a regular occurrence the consequence needs to begin quite small. That may sound like double-dutch but if the air turns blue every two minutes in your classroom you can’t dish out final-tier punishments for every offense – if you begin with ‘okay, that’s a detention!’, you are limiting your options for a follow-up (as well as risking having an entire class in detention!).
I once took a teaching post in a residential EBD and was stunned at the liberal attitude some staff had towards swearing in Y10 and Y11 groups. I had worked in very strict EBD settings prior to that and I decided that despite most of the teacher’s liberal attitude to foul language, I wasn’t having it. It took me a few weeks but eventually, there was no swearing in my class.

There was one classroom management strategy that I used which allowed me to achieve this: I was totally consistent (making sure every incidence of swearing was addressed) and by making time to build up strong relationships with the boys in the group. I spent time with them after lessons – played football and other games with them at break, helped them with their work at lunchtime and after school, went out on evening trips etc. I know what you’re thinking and yes, it did involve a lot of extra work for me (something that I admit teachers have enough of) but the results justified it. It meant I only had to say “Oi, pack the language in” and they would comply – they respected me because they knew I cared about them. Eventually, it ceased to be a problem at all – and these kids were the roughest of the rough!

Here are some other classroom management strategies to manage swearing and abusive language:

Classroom Management Strategy 1: Host a discussion session –

Teachers must give students an opportunity to discuss the issue of swearing and set their own ground rules. Let them discuss what they would or would not find acceptable, and what they would do about “offenders”. Discuss with the class how you convey respect. How you speak conveys respect or disrespect, care or disdain etc. What message is it sending when we use foul language? How should we speak and why? What impression would others have of us if we used foul language in public – for example in a restaurant with our girlfriend/boyfriend? Is that how we want to be viewed? What would be the advantages/disadvantages of being viewed negatively by others?

Classroom Management Strategy 2: Refuse to be drawn in –

Students will say “Oh but we use this kind of language all the time.” “My Mum and Dad say that” etc.

The teacher’s response:

“Maybe so but we do not speak like that in this class. I don’t use that kind of language with you. I don’t expect you to use that kind of language here in this classroom. Okay? Thank you”.

Classroom Management Strategy 3: Don’t make a big deal about it –

Remember this student is probably trying to provoke a reaction from the teacher and the rest of the class. Rather than show your disgust, first ensure the other students are occupied then take the offender aside calmly and deal with them out of earshot of the rest of the class.

Classroom Management Strategy 4: Set up a ‘swear box’-

You can’t take their money but you can hit them where it hurts by depriving them of merits, time, computer use etc. For each offense put a token of your own invention in the box (or chart), with sanctions taking effect when the pre-arranged threshold is reached.

Classroom Management Strategy 5: Engage support from parents –

Try to encourage parents/guardians to follow up at home by encouraging polite language and discouraging swearing. As their child’s teacher, you could suggest that ‘The Sopranos’ probably isn’t the kind of family drama they should be watching but probably better to just explain that the incidents of inappropriate language are a problem in lessons and will become more of a problem for the student in future if they aren’t checked.

I hope that those classroom management strategies help you to but an end of swearing and abusive language in your classroom.

Remember: be consistent!

Want more resources to help you achieve Classroom Management Success? I offer three main resources for teachers:

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