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.