Just as you cannot expect to get along with everyone you meet, you cannot expect to be liked by every student you teach. However, when a simple personality clash becomes more personal and you are the victim of a verbal attack by a student, you do need to take it seriously.

Insults can range from the rude or cheeky, such as telling a teacher to “go away”, to those involving swearing, racism or derogatory com­ments based on the teacher’s appearance, gender, etc. Be aware: studies by teaching unions show that many teachers suffer a daily torrent of verbal abuse, foul lan­guage and personal abuse. You do not have to put up with it.

Make it known that you operate a zero tolerance policy on verbal abuse or bad language, and set definite sanctions for dealing with this behavior. Ensure that your classes are familiar with this policy and are clear what you will and will not put up with.

As when dealing with any unwanted behavior, keep calm and don’t react on a personal level, however angry or upset the student has made you feel. Verbal insults are usually a form of power-seeking or revenge-seeking behavior. The student may be testing the waters to see how far he or she can push you. Older students are more likely to use swear­ing to try to goad you into reacting.

Tell the student firmly that this kind of language or way of speak­ing is not acceptable and that you will not tolerate it. You may wish to request an apology, and if (a genuine) one is forthcoming, it is good practice to accept it and move on.

If the student does not show any remorse or if the abuse is escal­ating, continue to be assertive but not aggressive. Never stoop to the student’s level and respond with your own insults. If necessary, give the student a time-out to allow him or her to calm down. Give the student the opportunity to take responsibility for the behavior and amend it. Say that you need him or her to think before speaking, and that this language is getting him or her into more trouble.

It is important that verbal insults are punished, in order to enforce your zero tolerance policy. While you can tactically ignore many silly remarks or impulsive insults, be clear about what you expect from your students in order to encourage an environment of mutual respect and trust.

Remember: most verbal abuse and insults from students are off-the-cuff remarks and are not part of any deep-rooted resentment or hatred.

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