Merely Vulgar or Is It Insulting?
Which matters more, who says it or how it is said? Many of our students treat us with love and affection – or at least grudging respect. But some do not. We teachers (at times) are subjected to all kinds of insults and vulgarities. In my last post, The Old Rugged Cross and the ’N’ Word, I wrote about the students’ constant use of the word ‘nigga’ and how I was repeatedly told, “We can say it but you can’t because of your color.” I warned that, although I was not advocating the use of vulgarity, making such a distinction because of race was a dangerous and outdated concept. But what about student vulgarity in general? When is it simple-minded, low-class behavior and when is it insulting?
I have been called just about every insult and/or compliment you can imagine. I’ve been called an asshole, a buster ass mark, a fool, a sycophant, Jubal E. Harshaw and Dad! My looks have been compared to every bald guy with a mustache from Dr. Phil to Sean Connery (I have no problem with this last comparison!). The most shockingly vulgar insult I have ever heard from anybody came from the mouth of a second grader (I’ll spare you the vulgarity here because it isn’t necessary to quote it to make my point. If you really want the prurient details – write me at my contact page). But it really bothered me when I was called an old bald eagle. Why?
To examine if a word or behavior is insulting, I posed the questions earlier, does it matter who says it or how it is said? Let’s look at this symbol of honor used as an insult.
The Bald Eagle
I was sending Jamal to the office because of his disruptive behavior. As he was leaving the classroom, he turned to me and angrily spat, “You old Bald Eagle!” I took offense. Not at the words but at the disrespectful attitude.
Many kids just do not think ahead. Insulting the teacher the week before Back To School Night can be risky practice especially if Momma is going to be visiting the teacher.
I told Jamal’s Momma about the exchange and she was not pleased. She scowled at Jamal. I explained, “The bald eagle is one of my favorite animals and I like it as both an animal and as a symbol of freedom. If I ever get reincarnated I’d be happy to come back as an eagle. But…” Then I gave Jamal my most withering ‘Dirty Harry’ stare as I said, “I seriously doubted if Jamal meant calling me a Bald Eagle as a compliment!”
Jamal was busted but he started to quietly laugh. I even had to flash a grin at the absurdity of it all. Momma was still not pleased.
So, which matters more, who says it or how it is said?