Funny Moments at School

An Excerpt from They Call Me Mom

You have to be prepared to fill so many roles when you work at a school, particularly when you are an elementary teacher. One year the school nurse (in an age when schools had school nurses) asked if I would take on the job of sex education teacher for the 6th-grade boys. The nurse said that she would take my 6th-grade girls but preferred to have a male do the boys’ presentation.

She must have caught me at a weak moment because I asked her what the job entailed. She gave me the lowdown. I would be showing the boys a movie about the changes that take place with boys and girls during puberty and then have a discussion with them and answer their questions. I could preview the movie ahead of time before I committed. I remember taking it home and watching it. It seemed to be tastefully done, and I reluctantly agreed.

Sex education was not always looked upon with approval by parents. They had time to review the materials with the nurse if they wanted to see what the kids were going to learn. Parents had to be notified ahead of time and give their consent. If they did not want their child to participate, the kids went to another classroom during the presentation.

From previous years, I remembered the kind of nervous excitement the kids had on sex education day. I’m sure they were experiencing a lot of different feelings when this day finally arrived. Most of the kids got permission to attend, but there was an awkwardness for the kids who didn’t receive permission. The nurse departed with the girls, and I suddenly was left with the mixture of sweaty and smelly guys who thought they were going to learn about the secrets of girls from their experienced and nervous teacher.

One of the things I had been instructed to do by the nurse was to leave a can out on my desk with an opportunity for the boys to put in anonymous questions for me to address following the movie. The can remained empty in the days leading up to the presentation. Who really wanted to be the kid who came forward and submitted an inquiry when everyone else would know it was his question? I’m sure there were a mixture of kids who wanted everyone to think they knew everything about this subject already, and those that didn’t want to come across like they were some kind of pervert by asking questions in the first place. There also was a segment of boys who probably had little interest in this topic yet.

I was also instructed to give each boy an index card and have him jot down any questions that he might have during the movie. The kids who didn’t were told to write I have no questions on their card.

After the movie I was to lead a discussion about hygiene. I did this presentation three years in a row, and what usually transpired was that there was dead silence in the room unless one student was brave enough to ask a question. I would then go through the index cards and the majority of them would say, “I have no questions.” I’d finish looking through the cards and realize there were thirty more minutes before the girls were scheduled to return. (The girls’ sessions always seemed to go much longer than the boys.) With little discussion taking place, it was only logical to end it and ask the boys if they wanted to go out early for physical education. Of course, they did! They had survived the dreaded sex education day and got extra P.E. as an added bonus.

The last year I did the boys’ presentation, it was considerably different. As I looked through the index cards, there were a couple of them that were loaded with questions. I don’t mean just any questions either. These were the type of questions that I was turning five shades of red just reading. There was no way that I would or could even attempt to answer some of their very specific sexual questions.

After this experience, I decided it was going to have to be someone else’s job to educate my boys because their teacher wasn’t up to the task. The girls came back to class at the end of the day feeling equally embarrassed, as if they had just learned some deep, dark secrets. It was at that moment I decided my sex education teaching career was over.

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43 thoughts on “Funny Moments at School

  1. I am not surprised at your closing words, Pete. We used to learn about such things in a superstitious and furtive manner as sex was not an open topic. Now the kids have access to Youtube, books and movies that are quite blatant about sex. Two series that come to mind are “How I met your Mother” and “Friends”. My sons knew things about sex at about 9 years old that I only knew as an adult. I don’t know if it is better now or not, but I also would not want to teach kids about this topic.

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    1. petespringerauthor January 6, 2020 — 9:52 pm

      I found this whole experience rather comical, Robbie. I think the reason I shared it was to describe the many roles a teacher is asked to take on in America. When I became an educator, I anticipated teaching math, science, reading, writing, social science, and even physical education. I taught necessary skills such as taking responsibility, working hard, and learning to work with others. Teaching sex education was not something that ever crossed my mind when I was studying to become a teacher.

      I generally feel that it is best to be educated as long as what is taught in school is age-appropriate. I think that sex education does need to happen somewhere—whether that is at home, school, or someplace else is debatable.

      While a teacher can be a role model and even a trusted friend to his/her students, one of the many challenges of teaching children is that all of your students come to school with diverse backgrounds and home lives. Some have the best home situations, while others are surrounded by dysfunction. Somehow a teacher is expected to take all of these circumstances and teach. It was the most rewarding, challenging, and stressful job I ever had.

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      1. You are right, Pete. It is a very tough job and very important. Teachers here are not paid nearly enough given how important their role in society is. I am not sure about pay in the US but, somehow, teachers and nurses always seem to get a poor deal. My sons have sex education at school too so some poor teacher has to undertake this task in their schools too.

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      2. petespringerauthor January 7, 2020 — 12:44 pm

        I’ve heard the sentiment that teachers are underpaid (my opinion also) expressed for the last forty years. I expect this opinion has been espoused far longer than that. Yet, nothing significantly changes. I would say the job of being a teacher became harder the longer I was a teacher. Now that I’m retired, I think that teachers probably have it tougher than at any time in history. I say this so that people don’t assume this is a “poor me” attitude.

        The reason I think it is tougher is that the resources are fewer, and the challenges are more significant. Classroom teachers have taken on more and more responsibilities in schools that formerly were handled by someone else. There are so many more high-risk children coming from dysfunctional situations. How are parents who can’t manage their own lives supposed to be role models to their children?

        Yet, teacher salaries don’t even rise with the cost of living. Year-long salary negotiations often result in minor raises, (sometimes 1% or less). I met very few educators who got into the business to make money or that thought it was a cush job with summers off. None of that is true.

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      3. The reason is simple and obvious, Pete. Teachers, nurses and similar jobs don’t make money for corporate and people who are already mega rich. As a result they don’t earn a lot. The people who earn the most are those who make money for the corporates like those in the banks and corporate finance. I know this is true because I am in that industry. It is a factor of our lop-sided and greedy society. We are starting now to pay the price for this with a dysfunctional society and global warming. Sorry for being so cynical but this is true.

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  2. What a complicated topic–and decision. I got my kids through it and I too am retired. Let the next generation figure out the answers to this question.

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    1. petespringerauthor January 7, 2020 — 12:50 pm

      Too much of the time, teachers continue to take on more tasks because we see a need or are asked to take on something else. I worked for some outstanding administrators whom I had great respect for. Sometimes it’s hard to admit you’ve reached your capacity. I loved my career, and I would do it all over in a heartbeat if I could, but I also would TRY to do some things differently. I would definitely invest more energy in self-care and learning to say no.

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  3. My husband attended sex ed with my oldest in fifth grade. He came home reporting the they’d discussed quite a bit. Two years and another son later, the e-mail announcing the sex ed very SPECIFICALLY outlined what would and would not be discussed. 😀 Word is the teacher wasn’t supposed to go into certain topics that had been asked about.

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    1. petespringerauthor January 7, 2020 — 12:55 pm

      It’s a “treading on thin ice” area. Ideally, I think sex education should be handled by the child’s own family, but what if the family isn’t educated or doesn’t possess the ability to educate their children? If the world was filled with perfect parents and perfect teachers, it would be a lot easier. Unfortunately, none of us reach that standard.

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      1. True. Parents aren’t addressing a lot of issues. Were they in the sex ed meetings you held?

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      2. petespringerauthor January 7, 2020 — 4:23 pm

        The parents could view the materials that were going to be taught ahead of time, but I don’t think they were invited to attend that day. I guess that makes sense as I’m sure most kids that age would feel embarrassed if their parents were there.

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      3. That’s funny. My husband’s always attended with our boys, and my mom was at mine.

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      4. petespringerauthor January 7, 2020 — 5:55 pm

        If other parents attended, then I’m sure it wouldn’t be a big deal for kids. They mainly feel embarrassed when they think they are the only ones, whatever the activity may be. It’s probably smarter on the part of the school to include the parents as no one could accuse a teacher of overstepping their bounds.

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  4. Saddest is that it appears middle school and older boys are getting the majority of sex ed from porn. The emotions of sex are as alien to them as they were to us as kids. At least we weren’t watching porn.

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    1. petespringerauthor January 7, 2020 — 4:26 pm

      I think my “education” was pretty limited. I do remember having a short unit of sex education in high school, but most of my limited knowledge came from my friends who probably didn’t know much more than me. That, in a nutshell, is why education is essential.

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      1. We sure passed around a lot of bad information as teenagers.

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  5. That made me laugh; when mine were in junior school parents could go and watch the actual film the children were going to see. I thought it was very good and wished I had seen it when I was their age.

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    1. petespringerauthor January 8, 2020 — 6:23 pm

      The one for the boys was pretty good. It mostly discussed hygiene—an important thing to cover at that age. A classroom full of sweaty boys gets pretty rank.😜

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  6. It’s a big responsibility – and a topic that’s still one that makes many parents blush talking to their kids about. I have many friends whose parents didn’t even have “the talk.” I remember the nervousness of the day that you felt in the kids on the day that we were told some details on sex ed day. You’re great with memoir writing, Pete.

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    1. petespringerauthor January 7, 2020 — 6:06 pm

      Avoidance is a skill that children can learn from watching their parents, just as they can learn when they see role models facing a situation head-on. If parents treat the subject as taboo, then children are going to associate sex with “dirty.” My feeling is that when parents instinctively feel a child is ready to discuss real-life situations, they should talk openly. Another example is the drinking and driving discussion. It is much healthier to create a trusting environment with your child.

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  7. What an interesting experience. I remember that class (the girl’s version) vaguely. It wasn’t about sex. It was about menstruation and pregnancy. Very little about sex actually.
    It’s such a squeamish topic in our society, despite how it’s everywhere and so graphic as well as make-believe in its presentation. The physical “how-to” seems to get more attention than the “why” and the emotional choices that go along with it. I don’t think parents do a good job of sex ed (at least mine didn’t) and the poor elementary school teachers… saddled with the job in a classroom of prepubescent horrified kids. Not ideal at all. Lol. Thanks for sharing your experience, Pete.

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    1. petespringerauthor January 8, 2020 — 9:28 am

      Well put, Diana. I didn’t adequately explain what the girls’session was about. Many parents don’t sufficiently address this topic.

      When I taught sixth grade, I felt like I should put up a flashing sign outside my room that read, “Caution, you are about to enter the hormone zone.” 😎 Many of the boys had yet to discover deodorant, which I’d subtly address at some point. One time I intercepted a note (kids were practicing their writing skills 🤣) that read, “Will you go with me until recess?” I didn’t read it aloud or humiliate the kid, but inside I was dying of laughter. How exactly do you “go” with someone in the middle of class?

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      1. Kids, gotta love them. 🙂 Growing up is hard.

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  8. I remember being part of the girls’ group like it was yesterday. Afterwards, a small group of us, boys AND girls, were talking together about what we learned. It was more like a discussion after science class. The lunch ladies were horrified and told our teacher, who told our parents. We couldn’t understand what we did wrong. Still can’t! Hats off to you for teaching that class!

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    1. petespringerauthor January 8, 2020 — 9:53 am

      The horrified lunch ladies—that image brings me a smile—I’ve seen it before. I’m convinced one of the hardest jobs in an elementary school is to be in charge of the cafeteria. I watched many administrators, and lunch ladies try to deal with the excessive noise level. (The teachers ate lunch at the same time in the staff room.) Kids who have been relatively quiet in a classroom have all of this pent up energy. They start talking, and the volume gets increasingly louder because there are so many voices talking.

      The lunch ladies would get frazzled from all the noise. Whistles were blown, and supervisors would yell at the kids in frustration. The kids would get quiet for a minute, and the whole thing would start over like a volcano about to blow.

      One thing they tried with limited success was to play music. If the music wasn’t popular, the kids would soon drown it out. Periodically, a supervisor would get the idea to hold a contest and make a chart showing which class was the quietest. There usually was some privilege attached, but kids aren’t dumb. If they saw their class was far behind, there was little incentive to try.

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      1. A huge group of mixed-age children without teachers is guaranteed to be loud and rowdy. All the efforts of administrators will fail without the presence of a teacher. Does that sound terrible? Of course the lunch ladies were frazzled!

        I am reminded of a wonderful story. You always bring out the stories in me, Pete. This one comes from The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. Cuban cigars are the best because of the precise rolling of the tobacco. So, how do you keep a roomful of workers, in terrible conditions, interested and doing a good job? La Lectura was the answer. He stood on a soap box and read aloud every day to the workers for three hours. Three hours! The hours were divided into news, books, and classical reading. I think this sounds like the lunchroom with a reader-aloud. 🙂

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  9. Yep… Not the easiest of subjects to tackle… Especially in this day and age.

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    1. petespringerauthor January 8, 2020 — 12:50 pm

      This day and age—isn’t that the truth? I’m a naturally affectionate person, and many kids need a daily hug. That makes for tricky territory for a teacher, but I opted for the hugs anyway. It’s an issue most teachers have to wrestle with.

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      1. I agree. For me it would be a definite, ‘no go’ zone due to the risks and stigma involved even though my heart may say differently.

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  10. funny recollections; I can’t imagine having to try and get through such a lecture. my guess is kids today are much more knowledgeable about such an issue than kids from 50 years ago (and perhaps even more knowledgeable than I am at t the age of 62…) 🙂

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    1. petespringerauthor January 9, 2020 — 9:49 am

      They are introduced to a lot of things that I knew nothing about when I was their age because it is all around them. I’m reminded of a story one of my colleagues used to tell. Her student was trying to gather information about rabbits. The kid had googled “bunnies,” and the next thing you know was at some porn site. (Those filters aren’t foolproof.) The teacher was horrified when she looked up, and several of her students were gathering around gawking at the computer screen.

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  11. This is a tough job, and one I never had to face except with my own kids. I can’t believe that they are teaching sex ed to young children – and to what end? Sixth grade is fine but there are some places they start in kindergarten, for heavens sake!

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    1. petespringerauthor January 11, 2020 — 4:31 pm

      I think sex education started in either fifth or sixth grade when I taught. I don’t think it’s changed much since then, and the material was mostly pretty mild, focusing on puberty and hygiene. I think it was appropriate for the age level. It was the questions on the kids’ minds that I wasn’t going to touch with a ten-foot pole. The fact that these were my regular students added another layer of complexity to the whole situation.

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  12. You were brave to take on the role and keep it for three years, Pete. Well done. I’m sure you did a good, if difficult, job. Thankfully, I’ve never been in that position and probably failed as a parent too. Hopefully, I did a bit better than my mother did with me. I guess I’ve survived anyway. Most of us get over the embarrassment and find out for ourselves at some stage.

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    1. petespringerauthor January 12, 2020 — 9:38 am

      Just because we’re parents doesn’t mean we always get it right. Hopefully, we improve as teachers and as parents over time.

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      1. That’s always the aim. 🙂

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  13. Such a controversial subject Pete. Perhaps in grade six it may still be up to the parents to educate? I should think that sex education should be brought forth in school better suited at say, grade 8? Sadly, there are still parents who don’t wish to bring up the subject. I know I was definitely one of those kids who knew nothing from my parents on the subject. My mother didn’t even bother letting me know what menstruation was and when it hit, I was petrified there was something seriously wrong with me. I write about this is my upcoming book. Good on you for trying. I don’t believe it’s the teacher’s job! Certainly though, something offered by the school would be nice. We had an option to take a ‘family health class’ in high school as part the of physical education curriculum. Better than nothing! 🙂

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    1. petespringerauthor January 13, 2020 — 7:23 pm

      Yes, it’s hard to develop any type of one size fits all approach. I’m for the parents educating their children, but realistically I know that isn’t always going to happen either. Your situation was hardly unusual. It puts the teacher in a tight spot, especially when you’ve already formed normal teacher/student relationships.

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  14. Oh my! I can’t even imagine! I remember being in 6th grade and seeing the movie and still not really understanding anything. I never thought what it must have been like for the teacher. Thanks for the enlightenment and chuckle.

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    1. petespringerauthor March 9, 2020 — 4:25 pm

      I was so out of my element. I have a list of about 500 things that I did as a teacher that the teacher prep program never prepared me for. As long as a teacher makes his/her classroom a safe and caring place, a lot of the rest of the stuff will figure itself out.

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      1. College didn’t truly prepare me for my job either. I’m a High School Guidance Counselor. You learn so much on the job. Thank goodness for caring professionals who show us the ropes! But, you’re right, creating that safe environment is the most important thing you can do!

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