Memoir, Teacher

“Yes, Max, there IS a word worse than the F-word.”

I knew it was too good to be true. My grade 5 students were diligently working on their writing in a manner befitting the Writers Workshop model in which I had just been trained. Each student was in a different stage of writing: some were still brainstorming, others were in the throes of getting their ideas down on paper, and some were editing and revising with a friend. The classroom had the electric buzz of learning echoing throughout.

I was working one-on-one with a student at the computer, practically spraining my shoulder patting myself on the back for coordinating such a great lesson, when suddenly, young Max piped up from the opposite side of the room. Max was (supposed to be) editing his work with his classmate, Gord.

“Mrs. H!” he stage-whispered.

I ignored him. He knew the rules. We don’t shout from across the room. Besides, I made it clear that students were to be working independently while I was conferencing with a student. Unless you are on fire, don’t bother me.

“Mrs. H!” he said, again, obviously missing my hand signals and eye daggers. “Gord says there’s a word that’s worse than the F-word.”

“Shut up, Max,” Gord said, pushing him.

Yes, Max, shut up, I thought.

“Don’t say ‘shut up’, Gord. Are you on fire, Max?” I asked, looking over at him. “No, it appears not. So, do your work, please.”

I tried to refocus. The Writers Workshop leader had said that students would work independently if you set the proper environment. She obviously didn’t have Max and Gord in her class.

Short pause.

“Gord says it starts with “k”,” he tried again, this time a little louder, obviously annoyed that I wasn’t giving his question the attention it deserved.

“Enough, Max!” I said more firmly. “Ignore, Gord and do your work.”

Gord smirked at Max and shrugged his shoulders.

The class had slowly gotten eerily quiet as this exchange had gone on. I was secretly pleased that they were all working so diligently and bent back to the student I was conferencing with.

Max tried again.

“He said it was really bad.”

I ignored him.

His voice boomed through the air, blocking out every other sound within 10-mile-radius.

“He said the word was kunt.”

The word hung in the room like smoke from a nuclear bomb.

Every set of 10-year-old eyes turned from Max to me and then back to Max, who just looked at me, pleased to finally have my attention.

Gord put his head down on his desk and shook it back and forth.

Time moved in slow motion as my brain scrolled through the possible appropriate responses to this situation. And yet I knew instinctively that this hadn’t been covered in any of my education classes. I stood up and walked to the centre of the room.

“First of all,” I began slowly. “It’s the “c-word”. That word is spelled with a “c” not a “k”.”

Deep breath.

“Second, I would have to say, that Gord….” I glared at Gord, who had just lifted his head off the desk and was trying not to laugh, “…is right. Many people would say this word is much worse than the f-word.”

“Why?”

The question came from one of the sweet girls who sat at the back of the room with her twin sister.

“Why is it worse than the “f-word?” she asked again. “What does it mean?”

She reminded me of Cindy-Lou-Who when she asks the Grinch why he’s talking their Christmas tree…why?

Sweet Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

“Well,” I began again, trying to figure out what I could say that would bring this line of questioning to a merciful end. “It refers to a woman’s private parts and it’s considered to be a very, very rude word. It’s insulting to girls and women and you really don’t want to be using it.”

There was silence.

Then the boys in the class exploded with laughter, holding their sides, some falling out of their seats. The girls, on the other hand, were indignant. They went after the boys with the fury only a gaggle of 10-year-old girls can muster.

“Ewwww!”

“You guys are disgusting!”

“That’s so gross!”

“You are so immature!”

As the chaos ensued, I motioned for Gord and Max to join me in the hall.

Max was white as a ghost.

“I didn’t know what it meant,” he said. “Am I in trouble?”

“You may not have known what it meant,” I said. “But you did know that it meant something that wasn’t appropriate. So I will be telling your mother about it. You and she can have a little discussion about school appropriate language. Now go back inside.”

As he walked back into the classroom, I turned to my potty-mouthed culprit, who was still trying not to laugh.

“You, my friend, ARE in trouble.”

Without a word, Gord turned and marched himself to the office. He knew what was coming but he also knew it was totally worth it.

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