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A Teacher Told My Daughter to Shut Up

January 10, 2016
(image via wikimedia)

Sometimes she doesn’t know when to stop.  (image via wikimedia)

My daughter’s math teacher told her to shut up a few months ago, and I just found out about it now.  At first, I was a bit concerned when my daughter gave me the short version.  “Shut up” seemed like an inappropriate response to a student talking out of turn.  “Please be quiet,” or “Would you please focus on your assignment?” seemed more professional.  Students have always talked too much in class, especially math, and teachers need to handle that without resorting to “shut up.”  At least that was my first reaction.

Then I asked my daughter for more details.  In these situations, it’s always good to get more details.  She said that the teacher was explaining something (she forgot what it was, she said), and several students were talking without permission, but it wasn’t her (yeah, right, I thought to myself).  Out of frustration, the teacher said something like, “You guys are making my hair go gray.”

Then my daughter blurted out, “What hair?”

The class laughed.  Her teacher told her to shut up, and everybody went back to work.

She claims he didn’t say “Shut up” in an angry way.  His face wasn’t red, and spit wasn’t flying out of his mouth.  He said it in a casual way and went about lecturing again.  My daughter was just surprised that a teacher would say shut up to her.

I’m a little ticked at my daughter for a couple reasons.  For one, my daughter broke my cardinal rule for in-school behavior: don’t be funny in the classroom.  Nothing good (except immediate gratification from a laugh) comes from being funny in class.  If you don’t try to be funny in class, you probably won’t get in trouble.

Plus, it was a hack joke, even for a teenager.  I expect nothing less than original material from my daughters.  Going after a male teacher’s baldness is too easy. I wouldn’t want a teacher to make fun of students’ pimples or weight issues or hygiene, so baldness should be off-limits.  I asked my daughter if this teacher made fun of any kids like that, and she said no.  In that case, she shouldn’t have gone for the bald joke.

I don’t remember many teachers telling students to shut up when I was in school, except an English teacher who’d get frustrated when kids talked during writing assignments.  He’d say “Shut up!” whenever a student complained about writer’s block.  I don’t remember if writer’s block was a term in the early 1980’s when I was in high school, but if students complained that they couldn’t think of anything to write, this teacher would say “Shut up.”  I can’t say that “Shut up” cured my writers block, but the quiet classroom helped me concentrate on my writing in class.

I also heard a teacher call a kid an @sshole once.  During a dress rehearsal for a musical in high school, my friend forgot his line.  Instead of ad-libbing, my friend stood on stage silently.  The other student-actors stood there too, waiting for my friend to remember his line.  After a moment, my friend hit himself on the forehead in a symbolic gesture.

“You look like an @sshole!” my drama teacher shouted from the back of the auditorium.

Technically, I guess the teacher didn’t really call my friend an @sshole, but my friend WAS an @sshole, and he knew he was an @sshole, so everything was okay.

Drama teachers probably have to curse at kids to keep them in line.  They have too many students running around all over the place, and there’s a show to put on, and the drama teacher gets fired if the performance isn’t any good.  When there’s a performance (and a job) on the line, the teacher should be allowed to curse.

The same applies to coaches.  High school coaches will say a lot of vile things to get their players fired up.  “Shut up” might be mild for a football coach.

I’m surprised teachers don’t say “shut up” (or curse) more often.  It’s probably not professional, but most professionals don’t have to stay locked in a room with kids all day.  The door might not be locked, but it probably feels locked.  When I was a student, the doors felt locked, so maybe teachers feel the same way, except they get paid.

I think my daughter is proud that the teacher told her to shut up.  She’s a good student and probably has a reputation of being a goody-two-shoes (outdated term).  Getting told to shut up by a math teacher probably gives her a little street cred (updated term).  If I remember correctly, it’s good to have a little bit of street credibility so that you don’t get messed with too much.  Street credibility is good, but I hope my daughter doesn’t try anything else crazy to get it.  And she’d better not get herself called an @sshole.


What do you think?  Should teachers say “Shut up!” to students?  What are some other things that teachers have said to you?  If you’re a teacher, what do you say to students to keep them in line?

From → Dysfunctileaks

  1. He, he! when I was in high school it was always hilarious to hear a teacher swear. Mostly the fresh from Uni teachers, we had one drop the F bomb then run from the class in tears. She was a Maths teacher. We also had a Maths teacher who was so easy to get off track, I don’t think I learned a thing in year 10. She lived with the band Powderfinger back in her glory days, so all you had to do was mention them, even just quietly to yourself, her ears would prick, and the whole lesson would be filled with her boring stories. Our Manual Arts teacher was a safety control freak (a good thing of course when working with machinery), he would physically grab students and shake them if they were doing the wrong thing. High School teachers and Nurses, two jobs that require a uniquely special person.

    • I didn’t know who/what Powderfinger is/was, so I looked them up. YouTube is great for stuff like that.

      Did her stories make students hate Powderfinger?

  2. In middle school, I had a teacher that was high strung and not good at maintaining order in the class. Kids would take advantage of the situation. One day when the bell rang a couple of kids blocked the door so no one could get out. The ones behind started pushing, and suddenly a huge power struggle escalated between those blocking and those pushing. It was all in fun, but it was also wild-ass, out of control, and probably pretty dangerous, in hindsight. The teacher dove into the fray and kind of pushed and swam himself to the front. He found the main instigator, who was also the best at pushing the teacher’s buttons, and who the teacher had had it with. He wrapped his fingers around the kid’s neck. He was all red in the face and spitting mad at this point. All the kids went silent, in shock, waiting to see what was about to happen. And then the teacher said…

    “You’re cruising for a bruising, mister.”

    Everyone exploded with laughter. I feel sorry for that teacher today. I heard things didn’t get much better for him in the years after.

    • Yeah, something like that can ruin a teacher’s street cred (I guess teachers need it too).

      It might have been better for him just to thrash the kid and find another job (not that I condone thrashing kids, unless they’re your own and only in certain situations.).

  3. Sean permalink

    My math teacher, a former minor league catcher, was an expert at firing an eraser and hitting the loud mouth in the forehead. Having chalk marks on your forehead was a badge of honor. He held no grudge. Everybody loved him.

  4. aubreysbooknook permalink

    Haha! I have been in classes where the same thing has happened to me. I think in a professional environment like that, the teacher should use professional language, but he was provoked and it didn’t seem to be hateful. I think the age of the students has to also be taken into consideration (that would not be okay in a Kindergarden classroom, but in High School… it’s common).

  5. Considering that your daughter was interrupting the class and making fun of the teacher’s appearance, I’m 100% behind the teacher here.
    And since your daughter is proud of being told to shut up, I think it’s a win-win situation here.

  6. sonicspenny permalink

    when I was in 3rd grade, my teacher called me something that closely translates to “someone stupid but offers to present anyway” because I made a mistake. she said it in our dialect and it scarred me for years. I never volunteered to do anything for her after that. I hate it that the one place where you can show your abilities might also be the place you’re forced to hide it.

  7. This was entertaining to read. I think if the students are of an age where they understand why they’re being told to shut up (e.g. teenagers) then hell yes! Teens are a nightmare to teach. I usually teach children who are way younger and wouldn’t dream of hurting their sensitive little devil hearts by telling them to shut up. 😛

  8. I’m not sure how any teacher makes it through the morning – let alone a career – without telling at least one kid to f**k off. Some kids are absolutely, totally hideous – and even the ones who aren’t are very trying.

    Teachers aren’t allowed to hit kids in the UK now, though they were when I was at school. My son finds that whole idea shocking. Teachers are taught special holds for when kids get really out of hand and have isolation rooms for persistant offenders.

  9. Not a problem as long as it’s not done all the time, but reserved for those situations when students just won’t get with the program. BTW, what about those parents that didn’t teach them manners? That when you are in the position of listening to a speaker, you should be polite and do so. Church is good for that.

  10. The only kid I currently teach is my own. And I brought to swearing at least once a week and I love the little … I mean, and I love him.

  11. abishta permalink

    I’m glad you got the whole story from your daughter. I’m a teacher and there have been times when I’ve been “unprofessional” but of course I never go to work thinking – I’m going to curse somebody’s child today, not even when you know it’s a class that has students that really push your buttons. In fact, I believe when a teacher is having a bad day and is aware they might be more intolerant, they are even more careful to try to keep it together. I am amazed at how some parents forget that teachers are human beings (capable of losing their temper, just as they may), not machines.

  12. It is confusing. In 5th grade, they get in trouble for saying “shut up” to each other, so surely a teacher couldn’t say that. By 6th grade, my son and his friends had called each other the most vile curse words imaginable, in English AND Spanish. I tell him to shut up all the time. So I don’t care if a teacher does. I don’t care if the teachers tell them to shut the hell up. They should. We live in a world where students rage into classrooms with guns to try to deal with their mental issues. Shut up is the least of our problems.

  13. Anyone who’s being unjustifiably rude, without provocation, should immediately be told to shut up. One person has the right to defend themselves and the other the right to be put in their place and therefore learn from their mistake(s).

  14. I hated school from kinder garden on. When I was five, I wouldn’t get in line to go into the school. The teacher told me to get in line or go home. I choose to leave although I didn’t go home immediately. I went to the play ground and waited until school was out because I didn’t want my mother to know what I had done. I also used to get to school late and make faces at the other kids in class. To say the least, I wasn’t my teacher’s favorite student and she didn’t hide it anymore than I did. Oddly, I was a very shy person, but also somewhat defiant. In first grade, I never got in trouble for talking, but in reading circle once, when it was my turn to read, I couldn’t. My teacher accused me of not paying attention and wouldn’t believe me when I told her I didn’t know the word. Today, I don’t remember which was true, but when she continued to refuse to believe me, I got up and left the school. I stayed outside and waited for my bus and then went home.

    In second grade, I was the only girl to be publicly spanked. I and the three other student’s were looking at a book about American Indian’s. In the drawing, the Indian’s were wearing only loin cloths and I laughed. Two wacks with a paddle. Another time I received another spanking. I don’t remembering why. Whispering to another student I suppose. Two years later my sister had the same teacher and shared my fate only she was spanked only once. She had talked out of turn.

    When I was in college I substitute taught high school students who often at first thought I was a new student since I really didn’t look much older than them. Keeping them quiet was impossible. Once I had to get physically between two students to stop a fight. A black boy sitting behind a black boy were arguing which wasn’t too bad until the black boy called the black girl a nigger. She jumped up, shoved the chair between them aside and was ready to kick his ass. I got between them and managed to push her back in her seat and then the boy sat down. This was an odd experience since the use of the word nigger caused such a violent response even though both student’s were black. I was also shocked because it was a word I had never used and have never used other than to discuss the changing use of the word which once was so offensive and now I often hear friend’s call one another (including my son’s) nigga or my nigga as a term of friendship. My son’s have explained that “Nigga” is not like “nigger”. They will even call their black friend’s nigga but not nigger and their black friend’s refer to them the same way.

    The worse problem when I was substituting and sent a student to the principal for misconduct, I don’t think they were reprimanded since they usually came back laughing. Eventually, I found it better to yell at them to sit down and shut up which seemed to catch them off guard and got a better result then sending them to the principal for an official repprimand

  15. Honestly, my teacher sometimes told me to shut up at high school but I totally deserved it. It let me know I was out of line and I learned from it. I now teach at a university ( a special foreign kind where students behave like high-school stiudents) and I have used ‘shut up” about four times in six years. I’d already asked the student(s) in question to be quiet politely several times. They ignored me so I told them to shut up. I got the usual nonsense about the lack of respect etc. but they were the ones lacking respect by ignoring my polite requests. I know parents like to think their children would never ignore a teacher’s instructions but everybody should try being in a teacher’s position once in a while.

  16. trueconfessionsofbrendan permalink

    I live and work in South Korea as an ESL teacher in a public elementary school. I’ve told students to “Shut up.” several times. Never had a problem before, but I was told by my co-teacher — today — that a parent complained.

    So now I’ve been ‘shut up’ from using the phrase “Shut up.” Ironic.

    I feel as if I use great judgement most of the time while teaching. I don’t think my use of the phrase, “Shut up.”, was out of order. Unless your name is ‘Donald Trump’, you have to be careful about what you say. If parents complain, it’s a problem.

    I enjoyed reading your article. Made me feel better. Thanks!


  17. Anonymous permalink

    she had it coming

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