Anyways, after hearing students say the r-word multiple times and responding constantly with "do not use that word!" I realized that I say the same thing when students say "stupid" or "shut-up" and it is essentially ineffective. So, I did better.
Spread the Word to End the Word is a national campaign sponsored by the Special Olympics. I started with their website when looking for resources.
I left about 20 minutes at the end of class for our discussion about the r-word. I wish that we had spent the WHOLE time because it evolved into something more powerful than I could have ever imagined.
I gave each student a sticky note and told them to write down what the it means when they say "That's so (r-word)." They stared at me. I assumed they thought it was a trap, so I had to add the qualifier: "You will not get in trouble for what you write." The pencils scribbled down their answers:
I made my class clown look up the definition in the dictionary. Still, no reaction from the students. Then I made it personal. You see, we have a student in fifth grade with severe special needs.
"What would you do if someone called [Bobby] stupid, or dumb, or idiot, or ridiculous?"
Class clown's response? "They'd never walk again!"
Here we go! Now we've got some sort of emotion. "Wait Ms. S! Are you trying to say that we're calling [Bobby] stupid? Because you know we'd never say that!"
I never was able to respond to that question because they began to talk it out themselves.
"I guess we are kind of calling him stupid if we're saying the r-word means the same as stupid."
"What if [Bobby's] mom heard us saying that? I would feel terrible!"
"Who started to use that word as a bad word?"
When there was a lull in the conversation, mainly out of confusion because I had just blown their precious minds, I told them I had a couple of videos I wanted them to watch. The two below are the ones that we watched, but r-word.org has TONS of videos including some by celebrities.
Before we left, I wanted to really clarify what I meant by "don't use that word." I told the students that there are words that you should never use and there are words like shut-up and stupid that may be acceptable at their houses, but aren't school words. "The r-word is a word that you should NEVER use! It is now your responsibility to spread the word. If you hear someone say it on the bus, you have to tell them to stop and why they should stop. Remember, you didn't listen to me until we talked about why!"
We ripped up, stomped on, and threw away those sticky notes from the beginning of our discussion.
I can't remind the students of our conversation every day. I can't always be with them to help them make the right decision. However, I hope that if they say it or are thinking about it, I'll be that annoying angel on their shoulder making them think twice.