• Thu, Aug 21 - 1:00 pm ET

Suspending A Student For Saying ‘Bless You’ Is Obnoxious

sneezing-girlQuick – think of the most disruptive phrase a teenager could yell across a classroom. What did you come up with? Was it “bless you”? Because that’s the phrase that got high school student Kendra Turner suspended last week. According to her teacher, this little two-word benediction is a classroom disruption … because of course, nothing says “I don’t want distractions in my classroom” more clearly than kicking a student out of class for expressing a common polite sentiment.

“Bless you” is a small part of a list of no-no words in this classroom, as captured by a student’s smartphone picture. The list also includes “stupid”, “dumb”, and “boring”; along with harmless items like “hang out”, “my bad”, “I don’t know”, and the catch-all “other peer expressions”:

whiteboard-list-of-banned-words

As a former teacher myself, I think it’s reasonable to have rules in place to keep students from throwing words like “stupid” around at each other – name-calling and fighting can quickly turn into a disaster of a distraction. But trying to keep students from using “peer expressions” to talk like teenagers is a pretty big distraction all on its own – how are students supposed to keep their minds on spelling or science when they’re worried about being punished for minor infractions such as slipping a “like” or a “totally radical” into conversation? (That’s how kids talk these days, right?)

And telling the students that they can’t bless each other’s sneezes because you don’t want “godly talk” in your classroom is a great way to put your control of the classroom permanently off the rails. I can tell from the diagrams at the edges of the smartphone shot of the forbidden word list that this is a science teacher’s classroom, so let me say from experience: long before you open your mouth about evolution or how closely your DNA resembles that of a banana, students and parents alike are going to be gunning for ways to prove that you’re a godless, soulless demon who wants to replace all the dead Presidents on our currency with pictures of Charles Darwin flipping the bird. As it happens, all these things are true of me, but the other true thing about me is that I really, really wanted to teach my kids to love and understand science. And about the worst way to do that is to tell them the mere thought of religion is forbidden in my classroom. If teaching science distraction-free is really your goal in life, don’t start by forcing your views on students and setting yourself up as the enemy of all things religious.

From the sound of the story, the student in question may have yelled her blessing across the room to a sneezing friend. Yes, I suppose that is a bit distracting. But you know what would have been a lot less distracting? A classroom where dropping one of the most innocuous two-word phrases in the English language hasn’t been stricken from the vocabulary.

(Image: AnneMS/Shutterstock)

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  • shoey

    I wanted to suspend a student for sneezing one year. Seriously, it was the loudest, most obnoxious thing. He would sneeze with such gusto every damn day. It was on purpose to get laughs and attention. But how can you reprimand someone for sneezing? The little twerp would just proclaim “That’s how I sneeze!” Being a teacher I have witnessed every sickness in the book and NO ONE sneezes so annoyingly that it makes your ears bleed. Oh and the blowing of the nose…. you would swear there were geese in the room. Kids in the classroom one door over would giggle because it was so loud and gross.
    I wonder if this girl was just as dramatic with her “bless you” and the teacher had it.

    • wispy

      oh my god my mom SCREAMS when she sneezes. It is mortifying. I have never known if she does it on purpose or not. I sound like a cat when I sneeze though and people think I’m doing it to be funny but I’m really not, it’s just how I sneeze.

    • Bethany Ramos

      MY FIL DOES THIS AND ITS JUST NOT NECESSARY AND I HATE IT. (The scream)

    • wispy

      Being in public is the worst. It’s like Come ON!!

    • Spongeworthy

      My dad is a screaming sneezer. He’s been doing it my whole life and it still scares the shit out of me every time.

    • wispy

      ME TOO! My heart jumps every single time!

    • NotTakenNotAvailable

      I’m a screamer-sneezer. I really have no idea how it happens, it just…does. :(

    • Jennie Blair

      I have a very girly sneeze, it’s very high pitched and a bit ridiculous but that’s how it comes out.

    • http://fakegeekmom.com Aimee

      For me it was the gum-cracking students. I literally CANNOT stand that! I was saved from that one by the good luck of being a science teacher and saying “OH MY GOD! Did you just put gum in your mouth! This is a science room and we use [scary chemical names] in here all the time! There could be POISON on your desk that you touched before you touched that gum!”

      I have to admit I am a goose-nose-honker. I’m not proud. :(

    • brebayVadgeBadge

      Oh my god, gum-popping or even loud cud-chewing of gum is my pet peeve. It takes me from zero to death stare so fast. I about killed a girl when I took my SAT’s.

    • brebayVadgeBadge

      I actually got kicked out of class in elementary school for my very loud sneezing. My brother had told me your brain could explode if you held in a sneeze even a little, so I made every attempt not to keep ANY of it in. I still sneeze pretty loudly at home, it frightens my children on occasion, but it probably was pretty annoying, and I quite possibly exaggerated it for the attention. And I was already kind of a mouthy kid, so my teachers were probably at their limit. That’s the context we’re missing in this story.

    • PAJane

      I’m a multi-sneezer. It’s impossible not to sneeze at least 3 times in rapid fire, and I’ve gone as far as 8. It’s exhausting and annoying and I hate it so I instinctively try to minimize my sneezes and hold them in. My biology professor scolded me for doing so and told me it was a fantastic way to blast germs and such into my ears and get an ear infection. Which maybe explains my whole childhood. So yeah, anyway. I don’t don’t know about brain explosions, but stifling sneezes is not good for you.

  • CMJ

    Okay. I might get flamed for this….BUT…this seems a little suspect to me. She seems to have only been in suspension for the class period of her outburst but it also just seems like the kid was also being a bit of an a-hole. It seems she talked to her pastor about it and her pastor told her what her “rights” were in regards to saying certain phrases…and that kid just decided to be as loud and disruptive as possible.

    • http://overthecuckoonest.blogspot.com/ Wicked Prophet Kay Sue

      I just posted, but it is disputed. The principal denied the student’s account.

    • http://overthecuckoonest.blogspot.com/ Wicked Prophet Kay Sue

      You were responding to me as I was responding to you! ;)

    • http://fakegeekmom.com Aimee

      I think the kid probably shouted out “Bless you”, but the teacher is showing pretty dubious classroom management techniques by forbidding students to use such an innocuous phrase, along with “hang out” and “my bad” and other such “peer expressions”. That nitpicky list on the whiteboard suggests to me that this teacher can’t control the kids at all and is trying to micromanage them into submission, which is something I tried my first few months of teaching … it went about as well as you’d expect, haha.

  • wispy

    This is just so dumb. I’m not religious and “bless you” comes out of my mouth without even thinking. My grandmother hated when people said “bless you” though. She was extremely religious and was even a nun for a time. She said “You are NOT blessing the person, God is! We only say GOD bless you!” so after that I was scared to say anything really and just hoped no one sneezed lol.

    • Nichole

      When I was 4 my grandmother told me that when you sneeze your soul leaves your body and people say bless you so that it comes back. It scared the crap out of me, I sneezed when I was alone once and went crying to my mother that my soul was gone. Needless to say she was not to happy with my grandmother! My grandmother’s excuse was that she was trying to teach me good manners.

    • brebayVadgeBadge

      That actually is where it came from. I stopped saying it shortly after I heard that.

    • wispy

      wow I had no clue!

    • wispy

      ok now that is terrifying!!!

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  • Jen TheTit Whipper

    Do I think “bless you” warrants suspension? No. That’s dumb and a chat needs to be had with the teacher. Do I think yelling it across a room to prove a point in the middle of class and then arguing with the teacher is appropriate? No. I think having a discussion about why “bless you” is on the board is appropriate. Discussing what a right is and what that looks like in schools etc. etc. is appropriate. I think they both screwed up.

  • http://overthecuckoonest.blogspot.com/ Wicked Prophet Kay Sue

    This is actually disputed. The only side of the story currently being told is the student’s, but a popular blogger actually contacted the principal, who disputes the entire thing, saying the child never received an in-school suspension, she never actually was asked to leave the classroom (although she did choose to) and that the teacher admonished her for causing a disruption in the class, not saying “bless you”.

    • CMJ

      Yeah…this whole thing just reeks of Christian News Net propaganda to me.

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    • http://overthecuckoonest.blogspot.com/ Wicked Prophet Kay Sue

      I dug up the post. It’s by Herman Mehat, who blogs at the Friendly Atheist.

      So I called up Principal Peggy Dodds just a little while ago and got her side of the story before shit hits the fan in the conservative world.

      According to Dodds, Turner was not given an in-school suspension. She wasn’t sent out of the classroom, either — she chose to walk out. And, most importantly, she wasn’t punished by the teacher for saying “God bless you” — however, the teacher did admonish her for “disrupting the classroom.”

      I don’t know if you guys remember, but there was a bank teller a few months ago that told a similar story and made the news, only to have it come out that she was fired for cause, which involved a variety of offenses, not just saying “Have a blessed day” to a customer like she claimed.

      You can read the whole post by Herman here.

    • http://fakegeekmom.com Aimee

      That’s interesting – thanks for the link, KS! I do think it’s weird to have “bless you” on a list of forbidden phrases, though, and it opens the classroom up to getting muddled down in ridiculous tizzies like this. What’s the harm in a student saying “bless you” after a sneeze?

      I actually think the most harmful entry on the teacher’s list is “I don’t know”. I can’t imagine a situation in which I would want those words banned from my classroom as a teacher – if there was something I didn’t know, I showed my students how to find information we could learn from together; and if they didn’t know something I always told them to be upfront about that instead of BSing their way through an answer and staying just as ignorant about the actual information as they ever were.

    • CMJ

      I can totally see that…BUT I can also see a fed up teacher adding things to a list if kids are being total a-holes. (ETA: What if it was a list of most disruptive/repetitive words/phrases used in class)

      I’m not saying it’s right or wrong I just think there are two sides to every story and if the kid lied about the suspension who’s to say she didn’t lie about the reason these phrases were on the white board?

    • http://fakegeekmom.com Aimee

      It sounded like it was other students who produced the picture, but they could certainly all be buddies, too. I just think making a picky list like this (“peer expressions”? what?) is a horrible plan for managing a classroom – because then stuff exactly like this happens. If an undistracted classroom is what you’re going for, you can’t cut kids off every time they say “my bad” or … um … “Tumblr”? Or you’ll never get anything done!

    • CMJ

      Yeah. I totally get it…and I get why it would be a problem….I just still have a really hard time believing this kid without seeing any real context for the list.

    • brebayVadgeBadge

      Maybe like “Bless you and the horse you rode in on.” That’s totally something I would have done in school.

    • hbombdiggity

      It may seem like a horrible plan, but its often incredibly necessary. In my first years of teaching, I had to make it a rule that I would treat the phrase, “I wasn’t even doing —-” as profanity. Why? Every time I asked a kid to stop doing anything, that is what would get yelled at me. It didn’t even matter if the kid was talking as I asked him to please stop, that was always the response. It was disruptive and annoying.

      Two years in, I realized that if I made that the rule from day one. I always explained thatI have better things to do than invent things about them. I would always ask them if they understood why I considered that phrase awful (they always did). Problem solved.

      As a teacher, I’ve had to make hundreds of random “rules” that I did not foresee. Teenagers are very very strange

    • Rachel Sea

      Given that “bless your heart” is polite code for “you are an idiot,” it is possible that students were using “bless you” similarly. Without context the list is meaningless.

    • http://fakegeekmom.com Aimee

      I’ve heard “bless your heart” used that way, but never “bless you” – is that something people do too? /hopelessnortherner

    • Rachel Sea

      I’ve not heard it, but kids’ language is all over the place, and slang can be tightly regional. In my social group “your hair looks nice” is code for “we were just poking fun at you and you failed to notice” without knowing that context you would never know that it’s a friendly insult.

      Maybe the teacher refuses to allow the perpetuation of a centuries old myth about sneezes and demonic influence, maybe they hate religion, and maybe “bless you” is that student group’s code for “fuck you.” Unless the teacher speaks up we won’t have a clue.

    • Lilly

      there are still crazy schools though with weird policies and decision making processes:

      http://www.live5news.com/story/26319685/cops-summerville-high-school-student-arrested-after-writing-threatening-message-on-assignment

    • keelhaulrose

      Honestly, unless we know the dynamics of the classroom, we don’t know why the words are up there.
      When I was in high school I was in a class that picked up an annoying habit of saying “hi, there!” really loudly to anyone who looked in or walked through the door. Finally our teacher had enough and told us the next person or persons who said it would be getting detention. And when a couple guys did, that’s just what happened.
      “Bless you” might just be something the kids have used to be annoying, or used inappropriately. There’s not enough of the story to get the full information.

    • chickadee

      I will bet you a billion dollars that ‘I don’t know’ is banned by that teacher because it was being used by the students as a way of avoiding classroom discussion…student can’t be arsed to think of an answer, to apply himself, or to do any prep before class. I suspect this is true because I have done the same damned thing in the past, and will do again this semester.

    • A. Levy

      I wonder if Mommyish will issue a retraction if and when the teacher is exonorated. Doubtful, but hope springs eternal.

    • http://overthecuckoonest.blogspot.com/ Wicked Prophet Kay Sue

      That’s what’s bothered me the most about every single post I’ve seen on this, from this one to my local news yesterday–no one is willing to wait to hear what the school has to say, and there are people vilifying this teacher without knowing the story.

    • ted3553

      Since suspensions have to be approved by an administrator,not just handed out by a teacher, I have doubts that not only the teacher but at least one administrator thought they should suspend a student for saying bless you. This sounds very suspicious and more so after your comment

    • http://overthecuckoonest.blogspot.com/ Wicked Prophet Kay Sue

      Yeah, that was one of the first things that made me go sniffing around for more details, actually.

  • A. Levy

    She said she was kicked out of the classroom. She wasn’t. She said she was suspended. She wasn’t. This girl is a liar. Nothing else she says can be taken at face value.

  • Elisa

    I always say “Gesundheit,” but then, I spent my formative years in Germany. It just means “good health!”

    As to the rest, no comment. I do know if I were sneezing in a classroom, I would ask to be excused, as I sneeze a minimum of 5 times once I start. It’s annoying and I’m usually out of breath by the time I can stop.

    • http://fakegeekmom.com Aimee

      I too favor “Gesundheit”. It just feels so satisfying to say.

    • PAJane

      I also use “Gesundheit” and I also sneeze in multiples. You know what’s the worst? (You do, I know you do.) Having to sneeze when you’re driving. WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO?

    • Elisa

      I know, right? Nothing like having to pull over an a busy road because you’re about to spend a half hour sneezing…UGH

      I’ve actually had people get annoyed after the third or fourth sneeze. They’re like, “I already said bless you, you can stop now!” and I’m like, yeaaah, you are under no obligation to say ANYTHING for every sneeze, and since it’s me and I’ll be sneezing a while, just stop after the first one. I can’t exactly turn it off, ya know!

    • PAJane

      YES! My friends have learned to just wait until I stop. Sometimes people look at me funny and I’ll assure them,”I’m done!” Don’t have much of a choice in the matter, peeps.

  • momjones

    I taught in a Catholic school. Just going to say this: the amount of “God bless you’s!” in the middle of class when someone sneezed were incredibly disruptive, especially when lecturing or giving a test. And it wasn’t just one kid who said it, it was 5 or 6. I finally had to say before I gave a test, “NO GOD BLESS YOU’s during the test!”

    • http://fakegeekmom.com Aimee

      I was hoping you’d show up. :) My public school experience was that there were a few isolated bless you’s; although this was in Wisconsin and not Tennessee, so the situation is pretty different.

    • http://fakegeekmom.com Aimee

      Although we did have a mandated religious all-student assembly for Veteran’s Day, which was always, um, interesting for me. :/

    • momjones

      Even my colleagues in the Theology Department would tell them to knock it off. They also told them during prayer before class, that an intention such as “For XYZ, that she gets asked to prom” was inappropriate.

    • http://fakegeekmom.com Aimee

      Praying for prom dates is only okay if I can ask for intercession that everyone actually remembers to hand in their term papers on time.

  • http://facebook.com/guineverew Guinevere

    Well bless her heart.

  • NotTakenNotAvailable

    As a former writing teacher, I could see “banning” certain commonly used slang phrases as an exercise for students in coming up with fresh ways of expressing their thoughts. But this was obviously not the case here. And as an atheist who’s used “bless you” instead of “gesundheit” to avoid offending super Jewish family members, even I’m rolling my eyes that such a common phrase was considered offensive enough to merit removal from the classroom.

    Also, I’ve heard “far out” and “right on” used unironically in recent months by younger folks, so “radical” can’t be that far behind.

  • Williwaw

    As other people have commented, it sounds like the real story is rather different than the original article claimed, and the whole thing might just be clickbait. If the list of forbidden words on the whiteboard is real, though, how 1984. You can’t say “stuff” (i.e. “some green stuff is on my petri dish”)? Maybe they’ll forbid “goop” or “crud” next? What if a student said “I don’t know what is growing on my petri dish”, or “I don’t know how to light this Bunsen burner” or “I don’t know whether there is extraterrestrial life”?

    • keelhaulrose

      I think that’s just an attempt to get the students to be more descriptive. It’s pretty common among English teachers who are trying to teach proper language.

    • PAJane

      I had a teacher in middle school who took points off for each use of “get” in a book report, or any sort of cliche, unless it was a direct quote from the book. It has roughly a bajillion meanings and she challenged us to find a more descriptive alternative. As a grown-ass adult I’m allowed to use them now, but I still end up going back and finding a better word most of the time.
      But, ah, I don’t know what alternative there is to “I don’t know” if, you know, you just don’t know.

  • Holly

    My gut reaction here is that this was planned by the girl or the girl and her parents, etc so that they could report an environment that wasn’t friendly to Christianity or whatever. I have a hard time believing that a teacher could actually suspend a student for quietly saying “bless you” when someone sneezed. I don’t find the list on the board weird, either. Maybe the teacher is trying to get the kids to be more creative and assertive with their responses. Maybe the kids are on a “bless you” kick and all say it loudly together whenever anyone sneezes, fake or real.

    • arrow2010

      Yeah let’s pretend that the secular establishment isn’t on a jihad against Christians.

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  • KR

    As a high school teacher, I’m incredibly annoyed by the internet’s apparently insatiable thirst for any story which makes public educators out to be these awful people who want to punish any and all teenagers for everything they do–dress code, saying “bless you,” whatever the issue of the day is. Seriously, is no one aware that, occasionally, dramatic kids will distort things to make themselves sound better? I just don’t get this idea that teenagers are more credible than teachers.