Behaviour: Sup B? Handling yoot slang

Weekly updates from Tom Bennett with advice and tips on behaviour and classroom management

The past is a foreign country. So too are children, not least because of their maddening ability to reinvent idiom on an hourly basis. There is a fleeting moment that flickers past you around the age of thirteen, when the words you use to express yourself are exactly and precisely current. When that moment passes, the children younger than your peer group will be inventing their own lingo and looking at you like suddenly, you’re the square, Daddy-o. This is the first moment when you realise that one day you will be dead. It’s sobering.

It presents an unusual challenge for the contemporary teacher, who will find that he appears to be teaching English As a Foreign Language not because of demographic variegation, but because ‘da yoot’ are different. So what to do?

Give up

This is ALWAYS good advice. Never try to compete with the language of your students. If you do understand what the words mean, you will merely look odd and awkward. The kids will smile, then laugh at you later as they ping each other. If you get it wrong, they will pity you. Either way it’s a lose.

Insist on standard English as a conversational and written default

This isn’t some kind of oppressive attempt to squash their culture and identity. It’s your job. Some kids are incapable of using anything but the language of their peer group, which helps to guarantee that they’ll stay in exactly the same social group. Versatility is a key skill in life. From my experience of hiring people in the waiting industry, there are a huge number of young people who really have no idea how to speak to anyone in anything other than their conversational idiom. This is tragic. It’s fine if they can use it, but when that is all they can use, it becomes a cage.

Stay reasonably current, for reference purposes only

Some kids will use jive talk in order to bad mouth you, as a way of escaping consequences. The first time a kid kissed their teeth at me, I presumed they had a turkey twizzler trapped between their upper incisors. When I found out it was a mark of disrespect, I treated it as if they’d flipped me the bird, even though, as an alien cultural signifier, it held little potency for me in terms of overt meaning.

Listen to your children; appreciate that their language can have beauty, and texture, and poetry encapsulated in the beats and rhymes of their home tongue. But make sure you have a lingua franca to fall back on. And if you run into trouble, Google The Urban Dictionary for help

Good luck



Tom Bennett is the TES adviser on behaviour and a teacher at Raines Foundation, an inner city state schoolin Tower Hamlets. He regularly supports teachers on TES through our behaviour forum and monthly newsletterson behaviour. Read more from Tom on our behaviour forum or on his blog or Twitter


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