Thursday’s Huffington Post featured an article about an Idaho teacher who is being investigated for using the word “vagina” in a Sex Ed class. There seems to be much to-do now about Sex Ed in schools, and what may or may not be appropriate to say. As for me, having been in a similar situation once, I say good for him. It’s OK for a group of tenth graders to hear parts called by their proper names. I don’t get the controversy.
What I do understand is how difficult it can be for a teacher to cover a blushworthy topic in a no-nonsense way. Faced with a group of young people who have been raised with calling their parts “hoo-hoo” and “willie”, sending the message that “it’s ok to call things what they are” can be a challenge.
Before I was a doula, I worked with a program through the state of Texas that taught social topics for at-risk teens. We covered subjects like anger management, conflict resolution, gang prevention, and, yes, human sexuality. “Call parts by their proper names” was the first lesson of the first day of this particular course. The goal was to eliminate the embarrassment and awkwardness right out of the gate, so that then, the kids would be able to really listen to the information that was being shared.
I was a brand new teacher, and this was my first out-of-office assignment for this program. I was in the school as a guest, in a classroom that wasn’t being used during this class period. I was nervous, but as ready as I’d ever be. My lesson plan had already been laid out for me clearly. “Start by writing PENIS on the whiteboard in the front of the room,” my instructor had said. “Make it really clear and visible – use uppercase letters that are a good foot high.” Then, I was to invite the young people to think of every word they knew that meant this word. “Go ahead, have a good giggle, get it out of your system”, I said, “And now, in my class, we’re all going to agree that the word on the board is the only word that will be used here. It’s not a word we’ll need to giggle about. This is the proper name. It’s the only word for this body part that that Mrs. Smith and I will be saying.”
While actually leading the lesson, I’ll admit that my palms were sweaty and my hands shook a little, though I don’t think the students noticed. They were too shocked by the writing on the board to pay me much attention. I was only a few years older than most of the students in this class. I was trying to ooze confidence from every pore, but I’m sure I was trying harder not to blush than most of them were. I had no idea at the time that, one day years later, I’d be talking about body parts every day as part of my normal routine. I’m not exactly sure what the students learned that day. I hope that they got something good as a takeaway from the class. The biggest lesson that day, I’m sure, was my own.
I learned that before writing PENIS on the whiteboard of a borrowed classroom, you must first be completely certain that the marker in your hand says DRY ERASE on it.
Because if you don’t, somebody is going to have to call the janitor before the next class period starts. They might even have to take the board off the wall.
I hope the teacher in Idaho is having an easier time than I did.