This afternoon, I sat in on a lesson the school counselor was giving to my mom’s class of 3rd graders. They learned to be a “friend to some, kind to all.” They learned how to use “I Messages” when they had conflicts with their friends, and how to respond when their actions accidentally hurt someone.
The class played a role playing game where the counselor gave a scenario, and with a partner, they had to play out how they would respond using the I Messages and Responses they had just learned. “I felt upset when you said you didn’t want to play with me. Next time could you please be kinder?” “You were mad when I said I wouldn’t play with you. But it’s because this game only has 4 players. Next time you can switch with someone to get a chance!”
One year ago, I was helping the English teacher at my French school lead a very different kind of role playing game. This class of CM2, or 5th graders, was also learning about conflicts and how to respond to bullying. Their teacher wanted them to write skits in English where one student would play the bully, one the victim, one the witness, and one the adult or authority. The goal was to show that it wasn’t only up to the victim to stop bullying, but the bystanders also have a role in reporting it or stepping in, if they feel comfortable.
With a devilish glint in her eye, Christèle told the class, “I think Anne can help you to translate your insults!” And before I knew it, I had a classroom full of kids asking me to translate their curse words and put-downs!
They were a bit shy at first. One brave student, Lily, tentatively approached Christèle and I at the front of the room.
“‘Ow do you say….. errrrmmm… Can I say it maîtresse?? ‘Ow do you say………..putain?”
At first, I felt a little uncomfortable and nervous explaining the level of vulgarity of different phrases (I find French vulgarities to be much less crude in general than English ones, so it can be tough to translate). But before I knew it, Christèle, nearly fluent in English herself, was chiming in with appropriate (or inappropriate, as it were) translations as well!
The kids were absolutely DELIGHTED that not only were they suddenly allowed to shout colorful phrases that would never be allowed at school, but their teacher was actually encouraging them to do so! Plus, there’s a very freeing sensation to cursing in a foreign language, when you have no cultural concept of how the words sound to native speakers’ ears, making the whole experience absolutely surreal for me!
My face burned with embarrassment and laughter in equal measure as I listened to a roomful of French tweens calling each other idiots, morons — and several more suggestive names — in their heavily-accented and emphatic English. Maybe even more amusing was how slyly the words made it around the classroom. After overhearing one group drop the S bomb in one of their skits, one mischievous boy whispered to his classmates “mais, c’est quoi shit??” and then eagerly scibbled it into his own scene.
Perhaps my favorite skit though, was written by the group that somehow missed out on the fact that they could ask the teachers to translate profanity, and whose most scathing insult was “You look like a tomato!”
In the end, I’m not sure how much the kids really retained about what to do when you encounter a bully, but they did leave the classroom speaking more English words than ever… And you can be sure they won’t soon forget that lesson! So, as far as my job was concerned, I’d call it a very successful day! ❂
Slice of Life is a daily writing challenge during the month of March hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Visit their blog for more information about the challenge and for advice and ideas about how to participate.