Welcome back, Roosevelt Middle School faculty members! As we get off to a new school year, I’m snatching the opportunity to remind everybody to think before they spurt out thoughtless words, lest you distract your students from the important work of learning.

Above all, avoid the following words and phrases, which time and time again have blown classroom focus to smithereens.

Uranus: It’s a planet, but you don’t have to mention every last one. Say, “Earth, Jupiter, Saturn, Venus, Neptune, Mercury, Mars, and so on.” References to moons also might inspire your students to recall that time Rudy behaved like a celestial body that orbits a planet after the football game.

Anyone named Dick: Nixon, Clark, Tracy, Moby. Be especially careful about Dick Swiveller. That character is doubtless why The Old Curiosity Shop is rarely taught in school.

Titmouse: Little gray birds are hardly the most important creatures of earth and sky. Talk about robins, crows, turkeys, pigeons, anything but titmice. If you utter the words “tufted titmouse,” you have no one but yourself to blame.

Robin Redbreast: On second thought, forget the robins too, unless you’re confident you can avoid pointing out their rosy you-know-whats.

Woodpecker: Yet another dangerous bird, especially if you have an undercover snorter in your class. One almost inaudible snort can bring down the whole seventh grade. (Mentions of Woody Woodpecker, Woody Guthrie, and Woody of Toy Story are discouraged. Forget altogether YA author Richard Peck, and as for London, meaning Jack: off the table.)

Breastworks: A temporary fortification, and you’ll need one if you speak this word to a co-ed group of 12-year-olds. The boys will leer; the girls will die of embarrassment. If you must teach, for example, the Battle of Hastings, say “a bunch of logs, fence rails, and other stuff.”

Bosom of Abraham: I’m looking at you, music teachers. Rock your soul on your own time. Inside a middle school, anybody’s bosom is unmentionable. And the similar word “bosun” also is tricky; if for some reason you need to mention a ship’s petty officer, say “Boatswain” as it’s written, not as it’s pronounced. They’ll learn eventually; they don’t need to hear “bosun” at this age.

Buttocks: Often used during drills by you phys ed teachers, this word never fails to send a ripple of snickers around the gym. Save yourself time and aggravation by saying, “Tighten your rear,” “Line up your backside with your shoulders,” and “Stop pinching people there, Derrick.”

Cocksure, cockatiel, cockatoo, cockpit: Only very young teachers make the rookie mistake of using these words in any context. Those who slip up once won’t be so cocky the next time.

Ejaculate: This word is never used to mean exclaim anymore, with good reason: Because as early as 1856, 13-year-olds who came in their knickerbockers to school found it hilarious. Learn from history and forget this word exists.

Intercourse: “Intercourse” should never be employed as a synonym for association or dealings. If you must refer to the village in Pennsylvania—or for that matter, to Horneytown, North Carolina, Hooker, Oklahoma, Spread Eagle, Wisconsin, Cumming, Georgia, or Climax, Michigan, try to make it as close to the end of the school day as possible, because your students will go off like a rocket, then be flaccid and useless for the rest of the day.

Other seemingly nontitillating words to look out for: Congress member, contagious, headstrong, finger stick, and French Lick, Indiana.

And when you screw up, don't go limp. The best of us have been there: teaching with confidence, avoiding obvious boobytraps, and then our subject turns to the Adenas’ erection of the Mounds, and it’s all over. Don’t take it hard. As a longtime educator myself, I know it’s not us. It’s definitely them.

Here’s to a great school year! Go deep, Rough Riders!

Mr. Dillon Dempsey
Roosevelt Middle School