Speak Up at School
Putting It Into Words
Grade-level responses to the use of pejorative or bigoted terms, or benign terms used with a pejorative tone or manner.
Community-building work at the beginning of the school year, including setting ground rules, can help educators deal with students who use hurtful language. Below are examples of age-appropriate things for teachers to say.
Tina, you know there are words that hurt, right? Words like stupid or ugly. Well, there are other words that are used to hurt people, too, and that’s one of them. That’s why we don’t use that word as a put-down or to hurt someone else. So promise me you’ll stop using it, okay?
There is no need to explore specific history or politics around the term being used. Simply place it in context for the student and move forward with a plan to stop using it, offering appropriate alternate language for the student to use.
Tina, that word carries more weight than you might know, and it can really hurt people. There’s a lot of emotion around that word. It’s been used to attack people, and I know you’re not meaning to attack anyone, but if someone hears it, they might feel attacked. And we don’t want that here. We want everyone to feel safe here. So let’s not use that word anymore, okay?
Depending on the setting and/or the maturity of the student(s), you may want to explore the basic historical context around the term being used. It may tie in with a social studies lesson or some other instructional materials. “Class, remember when we talked about words that hurt, well that relates to this lesson …”
Tina, I know that you know that word is hurtful, and I’m surprised, and more than a little disappointed, to hear you use it. It has no place in this classroom, or this school. You know we have an agreement here to not use hurtful language, and I’ll need you to honor that agreement and stop using that word.
Tina, that doesn’t fly here and you know it. I need you to stop it, or there will be more serious consequences.
In middle and upper grades, if you have classroom ground rules and they have been broken, follow through with agreed-upon consequences. If the student repeats the behavior, deepen the conversation and escalate the consequences—including meeting with an administrator or contacting the student’s parents. Tie such slurs or pejorative remarks to classroom lessons whenever possible, making historical context relevant and meaningful.