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Saying the "S" Word

by Chick Moorman

"I won't accept that kind of language in my class." Those were the words that one of Austin's sixth grade teachers used, immediately following his utterance of the "S" word in class.

Austin doesn't typically use the "S" word, the "F" word, or any other word that has to be abbreviated with capital letters. He knows better and he usually acts accordingly. But on this day, he reached into his backpack, realized he had left an important paper in his locker, and without thinking about possible ramifications, let the word flow into the classroom atmosphere. A classmate overheard him, informed the teacher, and continued the string of events that would lead to Austin's only (so far) school detention.

"Did you use the "S" word?" asked teacher, Sally Geuder. "Yes," replied my eleven-year old grandson, owning his behavior. "I won't accept that kind of language in my class," Mrs. Gueder continued. "I know," said Austin. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have used it."

What followed next is critical. It is the language and behavior that separates extraordinary teachers from those that are average. It reflects a way of looking at life and the teaching/learning  process that is positive, nurturing, uplifting and inspiring. It is the way of Spirit Whisperers.

"Thank you for telling the truth," said Mrs. Geuder. "I'm glad you admitted it. I will be writing you a detention notice for using profanity in the classroom. Your grandfather will have to sign and return the notice to the school office and you will have to serve a detention after school one day next week."  "OK," Austin said, reluctantly.

The detention notice that Austin brought home that day was simple and straightforward. It contained his name, the date, the class, the teacher's name, the time, and the infraction. A place was provided for my signature. As detention notices go, this one was pretty ordinary. It was the note that accompanied the detention notice that was special.

"Austin really reacted positively to the detention," the note began. "He didn't try to argue. He admitted it quickly and owned up to it. He readily accepted the consequences of his behavior. He's really improving in this area."

Mrs. Geuder's note touched on all the positive aspects of Austin's behavior. It informed us of all the things he had done well. It focused on his strengths and the improvement he had made since the beginning of the year.

What is important to note here, is that Austin's teacher did not make him wrong. She did not make him bad. She did not make him awful. She did not make him a troublemaker. She simply made him someone who got a detention. She knew where the boundaries of appropriate behavior in her classroom were, made those lines clear, and did it in a way that helped him see the positive side of his behavior. What a positive way to handle a negative situation!