Teachable Moment: Language

CCNY Alum, Wendy Curtis reflects on some teachable moments in her class:

Creating positive language in the classroom can be quite the challenge, particularly when students are accustomed to street vernacular.  Helping students learn to ‘code switch’ is an important step in their learning process as well as a necessary step to creating a positive classroom environment.

Think about how you would address the following situation:  Taia, a fashionable and opinionated 6th grader tells another student to ‘shut-up’. I remind her to please use, “helpful and not hurtful language”.  She responds, “Everyone says it and it’s not your job to teach me how to talk, I can talk however I want.”

I think for a moment and then respond, “You are absolutely right that you can talk however you want, however, if you don’t learn to code switch it’s going to be very difficult for you to succeed in most academic and job settings.  I believe it is my job to help you work through language and I also strongly believe in creating a safe space for students to create art and we need positive language for that,” I pause slightly, ” I can keep going if you like?”  Taia smiles and shakes her head, no.  By this time the class had quieted down and my point is crystal clear.

Want more resources? Check out Teaching Tolerance for great free educator tools for creating safe spaces in schools.


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