You can’t prepare for everything
By Dave Meyers
I’m in the second or third year of my career (teaching grade 5 at this point) and we’re just kicking off a unit the teachers call “Puberty and Reproduction” and the kids call “Sex”. We begin with what I think is a very healthy–and clear–talk about expectations and ground rules: We’re all here to learn, no one’s talking about others’ bodies, we’re going to respect privacy, etc. We all sign a contract saying that we’re going to help each other live by these ground rules. I nod approvingly as the students add their names to the sacred document; I’m feeling like the Kid Whisperer.
The discussion ends and a student–Moises–blurts out, “How come people make so much noise when they’re having sex?” It’s kind of cute actually. It’s like he’s had this question bouncing around in his head for years, and he finally sees an opening. I can respect that. But that doesn’t mean I’m not totally flustered.
Before I can think of an elegant way to respond, another student–perhaps thinking he’s saving me–declares, “Oh, that’s only in movies, Moises.”
To which Moises responds–again, before I can react, “So how come my parents make so much noise?” Of course, there’s giggling and kids falling on the floor and outbursts and blushing, and then gradual silence–with all eyes on me. And I realize, they’re waiting for my answer. I’m young (that’s a fact) and progressive (or so I think) and hip (in my head), and I feel like I’ve got to show them that this really will be the safe space where they get answers.
So I flounder for a moment, digging around in my inner recesses for a way to answer the question in a manner that is a) factual, and b) won’t get me fired or featured in the newspaper.
And here’s what comes out:
You know how on the last day of school, the final bell rings and SOME kids burst out the doors and tumble down the steps into the schoolyard–and they’re jumping and screaming and hugging and throwing their papers around?
Kids nod, seeing it.
But then there’re OTHERS who are more mellow, just walking down the steps with a big smile, quiet, observing, enjoying?
More nods–and quick self-assessments to determine which kind of reveler they are. And, oh god, are they wondering which kind of sexual being they’ll be?
That’s it. Everyone’s feeling the same: they’re happy, they’re relieved, they feel accomplished, they’re looking forward to whatever’s coming next. Only, each person expresses it in his or her own way.
That’s the answer to your question.
My response seemed to satisfy the students at that moment (and I did not get fired), but I’m dying to know what happened in the hours, days, and years afterwards. Was this the topic of dinner table discussion that night? Do the students remember the moment the way I remember it? These former students are now in their mid-thirties. Has that classroom discussion crept into their heads at awkward moments…?
What do you think?
Dave taught elementary and middle school for 11 years and is insufferably geeky when it comes to teaching and learning. Today Dave designs products and learning experiences that give teachers the tools and techniques to get their students engaged with even the most complex tasks. Working together with teachers in their classrooms, they craft ways to ignite their students’ natural urge to communicate their ideas and experiences–clearly and convincingly.