A little more than a month ago, I was teaching my blogging class at UT. It was the first class of the semester, and it was going just as planned. After class, I sent the students a copy of the Power Point presentation I used.
Less than an hour later, one of my students replied the message, saying they thought I was great and definitely qualified for the class, but that if my “profanity” was going to continue to be a part of the class experience, then she wanted to withdraw and get a refund.
Immediately, I felt TERRIBLE. Of course I don’t consider profanity to be an integral part of my course. I thought back to my class and tried to remember what I’d said that was so offensive to this student.
I replied to the student apologizing, and said that it was not a part of my course, and I would keep things clean for the remainder of the semester. I thanked her for letting me know, and tried to sleep.
But that was nearly impossible. I couldn’t remember exactly what I’d said in class – was I that big of a piece of trash that I couldn’t remember what cuss words I said just a few hours before?
I spent the next 24 hours really thinking about cuss words, and how they fit into my life. I know it sounds a little silly, but once I started thinking about it, I realized that I’ve been allowed to say whatever I want for most of my life.
I cuss around my friends, parents, coworkers, and have honestly really never had a job that’s said anything to me about the words I choose. And that’s just it – I think words have the meaning we assign to them, and I’ve definitely had people say things to me that were offensive and hurtful but didn’t contain any curse words.
The morning after I replied to the student, she wrote me back and said thank you and that she would see me in the next class. I felt relieved, but I also knew I had to do my best not to say anything bad, and it may sound easy but I’ve really never censored myself.
I tossed the scenario around some of my friends and family, and they thought it was all silly. The class is all adults, and you never know what you’re going to sign up for, and as long as you’re not calling anyone a bitch, then what’s the deal?
Well yes, I agreed, but I also know that cussing can come across as unprofessional, and I didn’t want anyone to complain to UT and have me lose my job because of it. I wondered if I should apologize to the entire class, because if one student felt this way, possibly more did? NO, everyone told me to just keep things clean and move on.
A few days later, I was taking a dance class, when the instructor told us that she considers it her personal policy to not play songs that have cuss words in them during her classes. What?
Don’t get me wrong, I understand where she is coming from, but I also don’t believe in editing art, and not every song has an edited version – so that means there are songs out there that we’ll just NEVER get to dance to, provided we keep taking her class.
I wanted to laugh at how crazy the timing was on this, but I wondered if it wasn’t just another case of the “summer of the shark” – that I was paying more attention to these types of things since The Incident with my student.
The following week, at class, the student I’d been emailing with arrived a few minutes late, and only stayed for about five minutes before leaving for the remainder of class. I still kept it clean, and I actually didn’t cuss at all for the rest of the semester.
The student? She still dropped out after emailing me asking what time class started, and then emailing me the following week to tell me she was dropping out.
The rest of the semester with my remaining students was great. And I get it, everyone is offended by their own things. But I also think it’s important to pick your battles. I know I’m not a very good public speaker, but it’s also not my job to be one. I’m an informal course teacher – which means I’ve never been trained on how to teach, I just have a passion for something that I want to share with others. If I drop a few bombs during it, then sure, I’ll apologize, but I can’t apologize for just being me.