“That’s a Swear Word?”

Woman With Swearing Talk BubbleWARNING: This post uses profanity

Last week it looked as if the United States of America was going to end up in a war with Syria.  This week, thanks to an off-handed remark made by John Kerry, it seems we may be able to avert the entire ordeal.  Things such as this happen in the classroom, too.  You look and look for the solution, sure there isn’t a win-win in sight, and then, out of nowhere it appears. This is what happened with Ginger.

I’m sure many of you have had the student in your classroom who doesn’t seem to know that certain words are inappropriate to say in a public setting. Actually, you probably know adults with that same issue.  In the past three years, Ginger has been in my class and for the first two years, used all kinds of colorful language.

In the 6th grade, she would say things like, “This is stupid.  I’m not doing this shit,” when she didn’t like an assignment.  She would often call me stupid, or worse.  She would cuss out other students using lots of inappropriate language.  When she would lose pay on her Time Card in the No Bull 5-Tiered Level System© used in our classroom, she would swear even more, exclaiming, “Yeah, right, shit is in-ap-pro-pri-ate to say!  That’s bullshit!  You are so stupid, Ms. Brown.”  These tirades often went on for several minutes.  She would always tell me that her dad used that language at home and nothing was wrong with it.  When she was finished, I would dock her pay and explain that while her father may have used that language at home, it was not appropriate to use in a public setting.  Then, she often would say, “What’s the point?” in a very disrespectful tone of voice.

She refused to accept constructive criticism from authority figures.  She continued to tell adults that they were dumb or stupid.  She would flip other students off, make an “L” with her hand and put it by her face, saying “Loser” to the other students.  Yet, she would get extremely angry when they would do it back to her.  She did not understand that she was teaching others how to treat her with her disrespectful actions.  After Ron, my sweetheart died, she told me, “I’m glad your fiancé died this summer because you deserve it. You’re such a fucking bitch.”  She didn’t think anything was wrong with this sort of statement; later, when we talked about it, she said if anyone would have said that to her she would have hit them and would have probably broken something.  However, she continued to maintain that it was perfectly fine for her to say things of this nature to me or to anyone else who met with her disapproval.

The baseline data collected over a period of three weeks indicated that she used inappropriate language on average 27 times in a 55 minute period.  As the first year went by, I couldn’t seem to figure out what would be reinforcing enough to get Ginger to change her behavior.  We continued with the No Bull 5-Tiered Level System© with some success, but I never felt like I had really zeroed in on the best solution to the problem.

Communicating with her mother brought out the admission that her father, in fact, did use that language at home.  I told her mother I understood, but that we needed to teach Ginger that a public setting was not the appropriate place to use that sort of language.  Note, I never told Ginger to not swear or use inappropriate language; I told her not to use it in a public setting.

As a result of Ginger’s choices, she remained on the two lowest levels in the No Bull 5-Tiered Level System©, with the lowest level being the most common, for the remainder of the year. I felt like a failure. After searching for most of the school year and coming up with very little that Ginger found reinforcing enough to create a change in her behavior, it finally dawned on me that she tapped on the desk almost as much as she used inappropriate language.  I had always considered this behavior to be annoying, but I didn’t realize it was guiding me to the solution all along.  When I asked why she tapped on the desk all the time, I discovered she LOVED music-specifically, Pink Floyd!  My wheels started to turn at a fast rate.  That afternoon, I called her mother and discussed sending Ginger to school with a school-appropriate CD and player.  I would provide the batteries.  That night, I worked late developing a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP).  Ginger showed up with a CD and player the next week and we went to work training her about how she could earn time at the end of each day to listen to music.

She was able to earn up to 14 minutes per day of music time, depending on the level she was currently on in the No Bull 5-Tiered Level System©.  This new change in her BIP helped Ginger make better choices and we started to see a significant change in her behavior.

Come back next week and see what Ginger’s BIP looked like to help her be successful.

Be kinder than necessary, be grateful, and create a peace-filled week,

Ms. Brown

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