Insulting Your Teacher, Middle School Style

It is finished.

The school year.

I survived. So did my students.

I will remember many things from this past year, including the students who – in hopes of a good grade – declared me “hotter” than Megan Fox. Sycophancy is alive and well, I’m happy to say.

I will remember a group of students finding an inflatable palm tree in my Student Council cabinet and blowing it up. Nothing like a blow-up mascot to entertain eighth and ninth graders in the final two weeks of school.

But there is one particular lesson from this year that I will always remember. We were doing a week long Introduction to Shakespeare unit. The previous day, I had given my eighth graders a handout of Shakespearean insults that the Bard had included in his plays (thanks to the Folger Shakespeare Library for creating brilliant lessons teachers can steal). Students had to take the word “Thou,” follow it with two adjectives from the list, and add a noun to create the best insult they could. That night, they had to memorize their insult and walk into class the next morning and sling it at me with gusto. It was worth a small homework grade. To score perfectly, they had to sound angry.

I’m pretty sure my students enjoyed this assignment. The next day, most of them walked into class, swaggered over to me, and spat out something like this.

Or this.

But I will always remember a student I’ll call Vincent, a boy who greeted me everyday as he walked into class. “Good morning, Ms. Shirtliffe,” he’d say. He’d never join the lunchtime fray in the hallway without thanking me for the class.

Perched on my stool awaiting the onslaught of more insults, I noticed that Vincent paused at the doorway, pulled a sheet of paper from his backpack, and practiced his insult in whispers. Always an honours student, Vincent once again wanted a perfect mark.

He dropped his backpack on his desk. He watched the remaining classmates insult me.

Then he edged forward.

Vincent channeled his inner actor.

He looked me square in the eye, pointed his index finger at me, and said angrily,

It was the slip of a single letter. A consonant blend gone awry.

In the pregnant moment that followed, students collectively inhaled while Vincent – eyes bulging, hands on mouth – stepped backwards.

“I assume you meant scut?” I asked.

And then I laughed. One of those head-on-your-knees, shoulder-shaking, tears-flowing, extended-mix laughs.

“I’m so s-s-sorry,” Vincent said.

I’m confident that – prior to that morning — Vincent had never sworn, let alone called a teacher a slut.

He sat on the floor, then crab-walked to his back-row desk.

Vincent kept apologizing. I kept assuring him it was okay.

Before long he too joined in the laughter.

What has made you laugh recently?


  1. says

    Me too. This made me howl. Lucky for me, my kids sleep through everything. Before that, it was my goofy dog bringing that sad, sad pentapus to try to get a game of tug with me. He’s ridiculous, and tenacious, and never fails to crack me up.

  2. Jo Mc says

    I am still crying with laughter! What a GREAT story – and one for Vincent to use to gain some good street cred one day when he’s having a few beers with his mates. “I called my teacher a slut in Middle School. And I didn’t get suspended or expelled for it”.

    A job well done Lee – hotter than Megan Fox AND a slut all in one school year. Now you definitely deserve a holiday. Bring. It. On.

    I’m gonna giggle all day on this one, brilliant!

    • says

      I laugh a lot with more students. Way more so than when I was a 23-year-old teaching seniors. I hope V remembers this memory fondly. I’m pretty sure he left the classroom a happy camper.

  3. says

    This made me laugh. And feel so embarrassed for poor Vincent!

    I LOVE that this was an assignment in your class. Your kids must love you.

  4. says

    This is delicious! How delightful that you had your students swearing, Shakespearean style. (Perhaps in Shakespearean sonnet, next?) And there’s nothing like a great frothy, milky-livered laugh in the gut!

    Of late, I’ve been getting my chuckles out of vintage Monty Python – much of which I hadn’t seen before.

    Might I mention the crunchy frog, or a Bolton cheese shop? Somehow, I imagine Sir John Cleese (and if he hasn’t been knighted, he ought to be) would be quite content with the mastery of your students!

  5. says

    Nicely done. My college students had a similar exercise last summer. It was fun.

    I once got mad at my 4th grade teacher’s son at a school picnic and called him a bastard. I knew it was bad, just not why Mrs Martin got soooo offended 😉

  6. says

    In Shakespearean times, I believe the word “slut” was short for “sluttern” which meant a bad housekeeper. See? He was correct after all!
    (No reflection on the state of your house!)

    • says

      I should have looked this up to check before I posted!
      The word I was thinking of is “slattern” which according to Merriam-Webster means “an untidy slovenly woman” and slut is apparently a derivative of the word.

  7. says

    Awesome! Bring back SCUT!

    Shakespeare really knew how to tell someone off…

    My heart goes out to Vincent in this moment. It reminds me of a very sweet (unsophisticated) boy I had in Sophomore Honors English over a decade ago.

    One day, he said he was confused by something he’d read in the newspaper during social studies and hoped I could explain. Then, in his most sincere voice, he asked this (in front of the class, mind you):

    “How come oral sex is illegal in some places when I see kids doing it on campus all the time?”

    Turns out, he meant kissing.

    Poor guy. I had told I would try to answer his question, but ended up sending him home to ask his parents.

    Not sure he’s forgiven me to this day…

  8. says

    This! And dear Vincent, I wish he were mine.

    By the way, what a wonderfully creative assignment. That is the kind of thing that gets my kids excited and involved but is way too rare in their classes. They would have spent hours creating something perfect.

  9. says

    That’s a fantastic assignment! Lucky Vincent has a cool teacher with a great sense of humor! I felt so bad for that sweet boy, but its sure to give him some great blog fodder someday! 😉

  10. says

    First of all, I am totally pirating this homework assignment. AWESOME. And secondly, thanks for the laugh! I can just imagine the kid’s face when “slut” came out of his mouth … Classic. Thanks for sharing your story! :)

  11. says

    I am a teacher of second graders. This past spring, I purchased 15 day-old chicks. As I raised my chicks at home, I shared photos, videos, and stories of their antics. One day after sharing a Chicken story, one of my young students said “you sure do love your chickens.”. “yes I do.” I replied. Then a boy student pointed his finger at me and blurted out, “You’re a chicken whore!” I was stunned, but he was right.

  12. says

    A teacher with a sense of humour! Makes going to school fun when the humour is shared with the class. I salute you for sharing this with us.
    Zech V B.

  13. says

    BEST EVER school story! Thanks! And FYI, The Stratford Festival gift shop (or quite possibly ‘shoppe’) sells a mug covered in Shakespearean insults. It’s awesome. I got it for my (then)16 year-old son, who loves the Bard more than I can fathom. I will pass on your story to him – he is hoping to become a teacher and will, no doubt, steal your stolen lesson plan! :)

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