Everyday, right after recess and just before math, I have been conducting a sit-down with my students. We have been discussing what it means to be classy. In the past, I just threw ideas at my pupils in off-handed remarks. This year I decided to take a more proactive, purposeful approach.
I found a book at The Learning Express store, called “Being Polite: A few manners every kid should know”. This presents plenty of generic behaviors that adults take for granted, but kids need to be told. For instance, when you go out to eat at a restaurant or over a friend’s house, place your napkin on your lap and keep your eating area neat throughout the meal. This seems arbitrary and obvious. It is neither. Unless a kid saw someone do it, he would never put his napkin on his lap. This isn’t even necessarily the best practice. Do you know what it does, however? This tiny, simple action sets a child apart from others, as a classy individual. Keeping the eating area neat keeps you from looking like an ogre, not classy. It is like combing your hair.
When sharing the ideas from this book, I don’t stay stapled to the book’s parameters. It doesn’t have everything that I want to cover, and I disagree or embellish a few manners. Often, I will share stories as examples. This prompts my students to connect with their own experiences. Additionally, we discuss hypothetical situations.
Now, I come to the controversial part. A big part of being classy is word choice. The more robust the vocabulary, the more classy the individual. A couple of days ago, the Polite Pirates (my students and I) were discussing some public eating mannerisms. We got into chewing with your mouth closed, not talking while there was food in your mouth, and don’t take too large of bites. After discussing these and other classy behaviors mentioned in the Polite book, I summed it all up with, “In general, don’t be disgusting. It isn’t classy.”
This opened a whole new genre of behaviors. “What about burping by accident? What do you do if that happens?”
“What if you really don’t like something?”
“Take tiny bites of foods that you are not sure of. Always try new things. You never know. It could end up being your favorite food!”
“Yes, but what if you take a bite, and there is a bone in it?”
“Okay, okay. Use your napkin to produce a magic trick of wiping your mouth, when really you are spitting the food into it. Get a new napkin.”
Then, back to burping: “Can you burp and not make noise?”
“Sure, that is natural. Don’t be disgusting.”
And then, I saw that this hurricane had turned into a category four and wasn’t about to make landfall: “What do you do when you fart out loud?”
As an aside; There is a fantastic book with a wonderful message called “Walter the Farting Dog” that is marketed to young kids. Most third graders are familiar with it, and this has paved the way for the word fart to be marginally acceptable in elementary talk. The idea and word are still rather taboo, though.
As an additional aside; I grew up similarly to many of my suburban students, in a household of proper talk that frowned on potty language. For example, there was NO acceptable word for feces. My mother pretended the bathroom was used for bathing, only; Everything else was unmentionable. Since my youth, I have been liberated of these vernacular shackles. But, I want to respect the attitudes and expectations of the households of the students that I teach.
Back to my tale; With the cat out of the bag and every eye and ear focused on the question and my reaction, I tried to remain as rigid as land being assaulted by hurricane winds. Perhaps addressing this issue head on will cause the storm to break. It did, but we lost some shutters and broke some windows in the process!
“Alright, alright; If you accidentally fart out loud…” pause, breath, “Well…” think… “Just don’t.” Their eyes weren’t having it. I decided to come out from behind the podium a little: I became humanly honest with my students (and now, you). “When I was in school–your age–I was deathly afraid of embarrassing myself by farting out loud, so I trained my body to fart without making a sound.” This is true. I almost CAN’T make a sound, even now.
Knowing that my students will have to work on this for a while, and having witnessed most of them make obscene natural noises when adjusting their seat on the carpet throughout the year, I knew that I wasn’t really helping their immediate dilemma by telling them to “Practice, and someday it will be fine.” Their dilated pupils told me that this advice was not completely acceptable. They needed real-life, everyday ideas for dealing with this demon of digestive noise.
“Okay.” Lets try again. “When you feel like you are about to fart…” I actually said these exact words. “Prepare to make an even louder noise than the sound that is about to come from your body. Accidentally (wink, wink) drop a book or knock over your chair. Perhaps you notice (more winking) that it is snowing outside.” The whole class began to crane to see the snow that was surely not falling from the cloudless sky. “See, what just happened? (rhetorical statement) You didn’t even hear me fart, did you?”
Gasps!! If looks could scream, the surrounding classrooms would have heard my students.
To bring them all back to me, I suggested that I had another, slightly less distracting idea. “Just blame your neighbor.” A girl sitting on the periphery of the group blurted out that this was exactly what her father had told her! Some students told stories of giving this one a try. Hurricane relief efforts began with discussing whether it would be classy to blame someone else. Students made connections to the kid who was wrongly blamed for things. Little did I know that this calming conversation was but a respite from the fartstorm that had devastated my mannerly sit-down.
“What about SILENT BUT DEADLY farts?”
And we were off… Was this a hurricane or tornado?
Me: “If you feel like one of those are coming on, you ask to be excused. Go to the bathroom. Leave it there. Probably, you want to walk around a little. Shake it out of your pants. YOU stay until IT is gone.”
Ss: “But, what if you have a few? Do you go to the bathroom, over and over?”
Me: “No, go to the nurse. There is something wrong.” I am hoping that there isn’t something wrong with this conversation, at this point. How can I bring them back from this smelly tsunami? “Try to remember what you ate. Don’t eat that again… Blame your neighbor… I don’t know! Don’t fart. Don’t…” Okay, breath. These are just kids. They have their whole farty life ahead of them.
“You know what?” Relax. “Farting is natural. It happens. The most harmful thing that you could do is get all stressed out about it. Although blaming your neighbor would not be classy, and everyone knows the person who smelt it dealt it… Laughing it off and moving on is definitely the healthiest reaction to this unfortunately inescapable bodily phenomenon. And, healthy is classy. Basically, even when something happens that does not seem classy… like farting… the way you handle yourself demonstrates your class.”
Okay. I think I have them grounded, now. In conclusion…
“But, if you can, I recommend training your body to fart in stealth mode: no sound or smell.”
I just had to put that out there;)
Now, after teaching a slightly abbreviated math lesson, and finishing up the otherwise uneventful day, I waited to read the emails from parents about my “Fart Talk.” Would it be a trickle or stream? None.
The next day, I asked the kids if they had told their parents about out polite discussion from the day before. All but a couple raised their hands. The girl who had mentioned her father’s advice paralleling my idea of blaming a neighbor said that her father retracted ever telling her that! We laughed.
This story is extra relevant to me because I have been reading a barrage of comments condoning and also condemning a controversial blog about profane language being used in a college setting. (Warning: This blog is literature meant for adults to read. It is well-written, albeit with some swear words illustrating its point. The comments are less guarded.) The message of the text is that the college students seem to feel more engaged, respected, and therefore comfortable with this potty-mouth professor. His story suggests that the students who attend his higher-education literature classes don’t feel talked down to. “This is a guy who is on my side; who gets me,” might be some student sentiments that foster a more comfortable communicative relationship between prof and pupil.
The blog was a fascinating read, and the comments have kept me coming back for more thought-provoking perspectives concerning what I might consider the most appropriate persona a professor ought to project. It made me appraise my own breach of polite protocol when I talked to my students about farting out loud.
That discussion made me feel a little uneasy for a few reasons. One was that the word fart may not be kosher vocabulary for some of my students’ families. Was I using language that would be frowned upon? Through my acceptance of this word, did I bring it into mainstream speak. Sidenote: I did tell the students at the outset that the classy term for this topic was “flatulence”… But, then I proceeded to use “fart” just like them. Secondly, through talking about farts in a casual way, was I aligning myself to closely with the minds and attitudes of my students? Will they view me as a silly person, not to be taken as seriously as before the Fart Talk? I am passionate about my politeness lessons, teaching students how to be classy citizens of the world. What if they begin thinking that this mannerly talk is a bunch of hot (smelly) air? And finally, how will parents perceive my polite parameter podium after finding out that their children’s teacher is talking about farts? Perhaps their opinion of me will diminish.
I honestly, don’t know, yet.
If you are a parent, and would like to weigh in on this, please leave a comment.
What DOES a classy person do when he or she farts out loud??????????? We want answers!
Thanks for reading.
If you deny it, you probably supplied it.
Mountain Buddha. (2018, October 6). Potty-mouthed Professors: Why They’re the Best. Retrieved January 12, 2019, from https://journeyofathousandmiles.blog/2018/10/08/potty-mouthed-professors-why-theyre-the-best/
What’s a Fart? (n.d.). Retrieved January 16, 2019, from https://kidshealth.org/en/kids/fart.html