Students sprawled about the room, reading independently, and I sat criss cross applesauce, working down on the rug with a strategy group. Other than our low voices, there was no talking in the room. As I finished up, I sent my group members back to their independent reading, and the sound of intense, hushed conversation caught my ear. Looking across the room, I saw two boys, heads bent over a book, chatting urgently. I approached.
“What’s up, guys?” I asked.
“Mrs. Hogan! There’s an inappropriate word in C’s book!” blurted Max, who could be considered a budding classroom authority on such words.
I looked down at John, the consummate rule follower, and he nodded vigorously, eyes wide.
“What is it?” I asked, already considering the possibilities.
“It’s right here,” John whispered and pointed. I looked down at the page and sure enough, there was the offending word (not one I’d considered, but one I’d now add to my mental list). The sentence referred to “three bitches.” A quick glance at the context and the cover confirmed that the book was (thankfully!) about dogs.
“Oh,” I said, “you guys are right. That is a word that some people use inappropriately, but what it really means is a girl dog.” (And yes, in retrospect, perhaps I should have encouraged them to use context clues to figure that out, but in the moment, I went with nipping this particular conversation in the bud.)
“Oh,” they said and nodded in apparent understanding. John looked relieved.
After a second, Max’s nod slowed and he looked up at me, a slightly puzzled expression on his face, and said, “Son of a girl dog, you mean…”
What? It took a second for that to register, then…
Ack! No! That’s not what I mean!
“No, Max,” I said firmly, “just a girl dog.”.
“Oh,” he said doubtfully, “Ok.”