If you’re teaching ESL to adults, can discussion of language get you fired?
According to this article, a Northern California ESL teacher was fired because he explained some common swear words to his adult students, including contexts in which you shouldn’t use them, and why it’s important to carefully pronounce the vowel sounds in words like “sheet.”
He was teaching an adult school class, which in this area is part of the K-12 (public school) system, which may have something to do with it. And it’s possible that we haven’t heard the whole story, or what he’s saying happened isn’t accurate.
It certainly sounds like it was badly handled, at best. Any trained ESL teacher is an applied linguist of sorts. Linguists are supposed to be able to talk about language. There is a significant and (usually) clear difference between talking about taboo language and using taboo language, as occasionally pointed out at Language Log. If the instructor’s story is accurate, it should have been clear to the administration that he was talking about taboo language, not using it. (And either way, the students in question are all adults!)
This is not something that most instructors want to build into their curricula, but I think it’s the kind of thing we have an obligation to address, if possible, when students have questions. I think it’s crippling to send language learners out into the world with no understanding of any topic that makes language instructors uncomfortable. Sometimes I have to keep talking even though my face is turning red, but it’s better than causing my students humiliation later!