Note: This post contains some squeamish conversation topics!
This year my school adopted a new schedule which include a 1-hour block of time for lunch (rather than 4 separate 20-minute lunches as we did last year). Students eat and also use it for attending teacher office hours and group meetings. Often students end up in my room, and I overhear conversations on a variety of topics; occasionally I am asked to chime in.
For example, these phrases have been uttered in my hearing:
- “How can I bring tampons to the Christmas dance without anyone noticing?”
- “I’m going to do a protest during the national anthem at tonight’s game. To protest, like, police brutality and stuff. Like…Trayvon Martin.”
- “I super miss eighth grade.”
- “Mrs. [Insert any teacher’s name here] hates me.”
- “I never swear…[friend launches Dorito at her face] get the f**k away from me!”
Earlier this week, I overheard students discussing whether or not girls bleed when they lose their virginity. I inferred it was because someone they knew had that experience, otherwise I’m not sure how this came up.
One of the girls realized I could hear, and turned to seek my view. Another hissed, “Shhhh,” like asking the married mother of two was a bad thing. Because clearly her 15-year-old peers had better information about sex.
For moments like this, I’m grateful I am here. Someone needs to speak into their lives who has better information than they are apparently getting! If they are not willing to discuss acts like this, they definitely should NOT be participating in them.
We had a frank conversation about sex. They didn’t even blush, and suddenly all their other dark sex questions burst forth. Can sex hurt? What is a clitoris? Is it where you pee out of? Can girls be circumcised?
Friends, I can’t make this stuff up. We talked about female biology and genital mutilation. I tried to emphasize why, oh why, they should NOT be having sex. Also why FGM is a humongous human rights violation and Not To Be Joked About. And no, a clitoris is not where you pee out of. Also ladies, please don’t have sex before marriage. It is a sin, over-complicates so many things, confuses your young brain, and has serious emotional, relational, and physical consequences. I tried to be non-judgmental but firm. Which is tricky when I myself am not yet 30 and have been a parent for all of 3.5 years. I have more worldly wisdom than these ladies, but not much more.
Nothing in my teacher educator training ever prepared me for conversations like these. I remember the freshmen horror at saying the word “sex” out loud when teaching the Odyssey. So what is my job in situations like this?
I have a poster in the back of my classroom that says #PornKillsLove, from the website Fight the New Drug. This organization is devoted to educating people on the dangerous effects of pornography on our society. Sometime mid-September each year, students who sit near that poster are confident enough in our student-teacher relationship to raise their hands and ask me about it. This gives me an in to discuss a topic that, while many of my kids may be shocked, teens today struggle with.
This conversation tends to also be the one that gives other kids the certainty that I can be relied to on to answer other deep questions they have. I’ve been privy to conversations about emotional abuse, teen pregnancy, alcoholism, and even worked with a student who took her mother’s bluff and moved out of the house. Thankfully my current position gives me the opportunity to pray with students, which is a hugely beneficial tool when having deep conversations with inquisitive teenagers.
Long story short, experiences like this one with my freshmen give me the reassurance that at least for right now, I am in the right place at the right time.