have to cuss
| | | |

I Just Have to Cuss

Share our stories on social media:

Introduction: This event occurred over 20 years ago, but I’m writing it now because I was having lunch with my twin grandchildren in celebration of their 15th birthday. They were discussing how happy they are that it’s summer. Not that they don’t like school, but “everyone needs a break.” I told them how I understood and how much I needed vacation when I was teaching at GSC because of the difficult lives my students endured which often caused behavior problems. This led to my telling them my story about Liz and the cussing. They were incredulous; no such thing would ever happen at Howard High. Danielle said, “Grandma this is the best story ever!” Joshua said, “Grandma, you should write this story.” And so, here it is.

I was sitting at my desk waiting for the bell to ring for next period when Liz came storming in. “Errrrr!” she grumbled as she stomped around the classroom. The school is a residential treatment center for emotionally disturbed teenage girls. It was the third year of my first teaching job. However, I was not a youngster. I went to college as an adult and graduated when I was 48 years old. As a single mother, I had raised two children. Angry teenagers were nothing new to me.

“Liz, what’s wrong?” I asked.

“I…I … I just … I just have to cuss!” 

“Well, maybe we can find a more appropriate way for you to express your anger,” I suggested hopefully.

“NO! I mean it, Mrs. Miller. I really, Really, REALLY need to cuss!”

By this time, the other girls had entered the classroom and were staring, wondering what was going on. Only two of my ten girls were ignoring the drama and getting out their notebooks to start the drill.

I could tell I wasn’t going to get anywhere with Liz, a smart, usually pleasant, engaged student. She really did need to vent. “Okay, here’s the deal,” I said in an even tone. “I’ll give you 30 seconds to cuss, BUT at the end of 30 seconds, you have to settle down and get to work. If you can’t, then I’ll have to send you to the time-out room. Would that work for you?”

“Oh, Mrs. Miller, I promise, I’ll stop when you tell me to. I REALLY promise!”

“Okay, BUT, but there’s one more thing: this stays here in our room. If administration finds out about it, I’ll be fired, and I like working here.” 

“I won’t tell. I promise,” Liz said with pleading eyes.

“Yes, well, that goes for all of you,” I said looking at each of my students in turn.

“Ooooo, Mrs. Miller, can I cuss too? I been havin’ a really bad day,” said Aisha. Without bothering to correct her grammar, I said, “Okay, if you need to cuss, you can too, but just 30 seconds, hear?” 

Other girls chimed in, “Can I cuss too?” 

“Me too, I need to cuss.”

Oy, I had opened Pandora’s box. They all promised and swore to G-d and crossed their hearts and hoped to die that they wouldn’t tell anyone outside of our room. I was taking a chance, but somehow I knew it would be fine. 

“Okay, 30 seconds. Three, two, one, go.”

“Oh, man, I HATE this F*****’ place and these F*****’ teachers.” Liz started. “I hate takin’ shit off anyone, and here I am bowing and scraping like a f*****’ prisoner, which I am!” I had a hard time hearing this trash emoting from her beautiful mouth. That 30 seconds seemed more like eternity. Plus, the others carried on with similar diatribes. I was starting to be sorry I had made this decision. 

Amazingly, two girls were sitting quietly doing the drill, and Aisha turned to them, “Why you not cussin’? Mrs. Miller lettin’ us,” she pointed out, incredulous.

“I can’t cuss in front of Mrs. Miller,” was Shawntavia’s reply. Julia shook her head in agreement. I smiled to myself. Well, that’s something.

When the 30 seconds was finally up, I called for quiet. They settled down fairly quickly, and I asked, “Is everyone okay? Can we start our lesson now?” I was thinking if Liz couldn’t pull it together, I still might have to send her to the time-out room. But they all nodded and began the drill, even Liz. The rest of the lesson was wonderful and productive. Who knew? When the bell rang, Liz waited until the others had left and said, “Thank you, Mrs. Miller, it really helped me that you understood.”

“I know Liz, but this was a one-time deal. You need to work with staff to find more appropriate ways to curb your anger. I can teach one way to do it when we go into our writing unit in two weeks. Are you willing to let me help you?” 

I could see the tears starting to well up in the eyes of in this tough young woman who stood at least three inches taller than I. She choked out, “Okay,” leaned over to give me a quick hug (which is frowned upon at the school) and made her escape. 

Read more by Linda Miller.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. That was awesome and why before Trauma Informed care. You allowed them to get it out so they could focus. That was a forever lesson for her I am sure!

  2. This is a great story. It demonstrates to me what a great teacher does to help her students. I also enjoyed how you told this story.

  3. Talk about thinking out of the box. A clever and well done way of allowing your students to deal with their anger issues and still allow them to focus on their class. Another fantastic story Linda!

  4. I have a 90 year old friend. Every time she needs to cuss she says “cussword”. I’ve only heard her say sh!t one time. It cracks me up…oh cussword!

  5. I wish all teachers could be like you. I surely wasn’t; but, I taught little kids. No cussing that I could hear anyway.
    Great story, Linda.

  6. I’m sure those girls will never forget that 30 seconds, the time that an adult just empathized and let them just let it out. That was a gift. As usual, you wrote about it so eloquently.

  7. I LOVE that you allowed these girls to vent by cussing.
    As a child and young adult I only said one curse word one time.
    But, boy oh boy….I won’t lie…. my nursing jobs demanded I curse, demanded it!
    I can tell you nearly every nurse says the one word multiple times, usually during one shift.
    I bet I’d remember that day if I had wanted to cuss in school and was given the opportunity with parameters set.
    I love that you handled the situation as you did…. very open minded.