Good Idea?

GoodIdeaThe majority of the students I worked with came from less than desirable family backgrounds and many lived at or below the poverty line, so being a compassionate educator I tried to help provide services and information that these students would not have access to if they were not in my program.

One such “service” was in my secondary health class. Knowing the family histories and the kids most of my students hung out with I knew they had very little rational, reasonable and accurate information about their physical bodies, sexuality and physical relationships.

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Now you must keep in mind that I taught in a self-contained social, emotional, behavioral disorder site program with middle and high school students who had been removed or expelled from their home schools. District policies on what could or couldn’t be taught were somewhat of a gray area for my program. In fact, if I wanted to teach a subject or topic contrary to district policy I could just write it into the student’s Individualized Education Plan and I had federal law on my side!

So, when planning the sex education curriculum for my kids I started thinking about what they really needed to know. After all these were not just young and impressionable minds; many of them were confused and disturbed minds. All of a sudden a brilliant idea came to me. I’d create a “Questions” box and place it outside my classroom door. The brightly colored inviting container would welcome student questions in an anonymous format. No names were required or even recommended when a question was submitted.

On the first day of Sex Ed class (a class that my students rarely missed, unlike most other academic classes) the room was full. I held up the impeccably adorned box and announced that the locked container was for questions about physical maturity, physical relationships, dating, sex or whatever questions a student had about moving into adulthood. I let them know that they were not to put their names on their questions. I did not want to know who submitted a question so they would be free to write true questions on issues they wondered about or needed help understanding. I explained that in the last five minutes of each class period I would draw one question from the box, read it as written, then answer the question as best I could.

In the beginning, as I suspected, the questions were slow to come and very shallow so I stuffed the box with a few of my own such as, “what exactly is a French kiss?” and, “will a girl get pregnant every time if protection isn’t used?” I laid these questions on top then opened the box knowing I’d be choosing them.

It’s interesting. Once the students realized that the questions truly were anonymous and that I really would read and answer whatever question they asked, the box began to fill rapidly.

I will guarantee the students in my health classes received information that will never be presented in any other high school class. In fact my Q&A session became so popular that several faculty and even the principal sat in regularly to hear the question and answer of the day. I actually had students try to repeat the course.

While the suggestion box was a big hit I learned quite a bit more about some students then I would have ever learned in a face-to-face conversation. Having worked with most of these students for a significant amount of time I knew their handwriting, spelling and grammar so the vast majority of the time I knew who wrote a question, although I never confessed this.

I used this suggestion box for two years then rotated schedules and never taught health again. I believe the Q&A sessions were helpful and positively impacted many students’ lives, but such an activity can open kids up and you get a far deeper look into some confused and disturbed minds, which can affect your personal psyche in the end.