Can you keep it clean in the classroom?

It's easy to forget where you are and let fly with an oath or two. But don't let your unguarded comments become a curse, writes David Ogle

Remember the first time you accidentally swore in front of your class? Maybe I know a particularly foul-mouthed bunch, but many of my PGCE colleagues unleashed an expletive or two during their first teaching practice.

My own dice with indecency came after I absent-mindedly wandered from a flip-chart, where I'd been writing in permanent marker pen, to the whiteboard. As I carefully scribed in curly teacher's writing, I realised these marks wouldn't wash off. "Bugger," I muttered quietly and involuntarily. But not quietly enough to avoid another permanent mark - because the front two tables of Year 4s creased up.

It is for this faux pas that I will be remembered at that quiet little country primary school. The next day, I let out a "fuck!" when I walked into a table in the corridor. This time it was a bunch of Year 6 girls who heard me. They shouldn't even have been there because it was playtime - but I felt on rather shaky ground admonishing them.

I'm not alone. Just before Christmas, a friend had carefully crafted a wordsearch puzzle. She had just finished running off 30 photocopies when she suddenly noticed the c-word, running horizontally and in the right direction slap bang in the middle of the grid.

Another friend was polluting the staffroom over some kids who had been giving her a hard time. There was a knock at the staffroom door, and she managed to rein in her tirade - temporarily. A couple of children needed a key for the wet-play games cupboard. The trouble was, they felt that as they'd knocked once, they didn't need to knock again when returning the key - and so walked in to witness effing and blinding that would make a sailor blush.

After my own two incidents, and a rather cheeky present of a bar of soap and a toothbrush from a learning support assistant, I managed to leave my bad language at the school gates.

But the problem is still out there...on the box. While the likes of Heartbeat and Where The Heart Is are mostly expletive-free, turn to anything of greater critical acclaim and you can't move for bad language. So you have to tell a seven-year-old that he can't say "crap" during speaking and listening sessions, even though they say it on The Simpsons at 6pm. And shows such as South Park only fuel the fire of your cheekiest boy's love of "fart".

Despite the example set by some parents, children know they're not supposed to swear, and they love to dob each other if someone has turned the air blue in the playground. And that can lead to its own problems. I had one statemented Year 4 boy who had trouble identifying letter sounds in words. When he rushed up to me and my affiliated teacher one playtime to tell us, "Danny said the fuck word", my colleague was so convinced he'd said "f-word" that she congratulated him on identifying an initial phoneme and packed him off on his way.

At least the younger ones don't know the meaning of the words they're using. One day, a pair of Year 3 boys who spent all their time together started to get teased. In hurt tones, despite obviously having no idea what the word really meant, one complained: "People are saying we have sex at lunchtime." Then, even more indignantly: "And at playtime."

They soon learn, though. While a Year 2 boy was upset at being called "queer" at playtime, the name-caller clearly had no idea what the word meant, let alone its homophobic nature. But when I set Year 4s the task of writing definitions for words of their choice, I was surprised to read one that read: "Gay - when a man loves another man."

My affinity with the language of the gutter made me worry for a while about whether I'd fit into teaching. I'd observed at a few primary schools and was put off by the prim staffroom conversations about recipes and weight loss. I come from the tradition that says that you're not really friends with someone until you've let out a four-letter word in front of them. So it was nice to meet fellow students who appeared to have the same problem.

Now we're rapidly becoming old hands in teaching, the foul mouths are pretty much licked. But one friend admits that she has so many swear-words boiling up inside her that come the weekend she explodes like a foul-mouthed Vesuvius. As Chris Evans used to say: "TFI Friday."

David Ogle is a PGCE student at Bath Spa University


* Let it all out at the weekend - maybe you'll drain your supply of profanity. But don't do it in the pub where lots of parents drink.

* Remember that you're not safe in the staffroom. The walls may not have ears, but the doorway does have a habit of harbouring nosy kids.

* If you do hurt yourself to the extent that a four-letter word escapes your lips, try to do it out of earshot.

* Check wordsearches - it's where the worst expletives tend to creep in.

* Just because angry parents will happily swear at you when complaining about homework, don't imagine that they'll understand that you're human too, and that you might do the same.

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