For Educators > Classroom Name-Calling


Everyday we hear names echo down the corridors of our schools and explode in our classrooms. Maybe it's happened to us, maybe it hasn't. We certainly can sense the pain and humiliation of the children, and sometimes we can see their anger.

Insults take many forms. They all hurt. Racial, ethnic, and sexual slurs are particularly abusive because they reflect a history of oppression. Therefore there is more power to inflict damage with such slurs. Do children need to be reminded that they are members of a denigrated class?

Sometimes slurs don't even get recognized as being hurtful and may be considered socially acceptable. Many young people use these terms because they know the effectiveness of their hurtful nature. The use of slurs attacks another's self-esteem and teaches young people that hatred of one group is condoned by our society.

As educators, it falls on us to create a cooperative learning environment where students are safe to express themselves in all their diversity. It is also the responsibility of educators to teach children that diversity is something to be celebrated rather than ridiculed.



Even without a Code of Discipline, name-calling can be controlled within the classroom using the following exercise:

  • Have students brainstorm names they have heard or have been called.
  • List all suggestions on the board.
  • Discuss the following categories and categorize names accordingly: racial, ethnic, sexual, gender, or religious bias.
  • Make students aware that all name-calling involves prejudice and is equally bad.
  • State that none of the listed names are acceptable in your classroom.
  • Make it clear that you will not tolerate any form of name-calling.
  • Explain why and discuss consequences for failure to adhere to this rule.

You can control behavior in your classroom by responding immediately to any transgressions. This will help students feel safe in the classroom.



  • Name-calling, which has one basis in poor self-esteem, has the spiral effect of further lowering self-esteem, making it difficult for learning to take place. 
  • A systemwide Code of Discipline will assist in controlling name-calling when this behavior is addressed directly. 
  • A phrase in one school's Code of Discipline defines the unacceptable behavior: "Willful obscene, abusive, or profane language or gestures (including racial, religious, ethnic, gender, disability, or sexual slurs)." 
  • This definition is followed by specific consequences for transgressions. 
  • With systemwide support and commitment a discipline code is very effective in eliminating name-calling not only in the classroom but also in the hallways where it is most prevalent.

*Taken from Name Calling, Equity Institute, Inc. Box 458 Amherst, Mass. 01004


Visit the American Civil Liberties Union for more information

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