Wednesday, May 23, 2007

SexEd Ambiguity

In 2002 I was working for Clinica Sierra Vista as a ‘Sex Ed Teacher’. I have always said it was one of the most fulfilling positions I have ever held, and would do it again if it paid better. I was hired due to my experience leading the junior high group at my church, and my solid personal goals. The other two in class teachers were more than twice my age. I was really excited to do it because I thought the piddley $13.00 per hour would allow me to work fewer hours and get some more college courses completed.

Junior high kids reacted really well to me, and I liked working with them. Most people do not realize, or cannot remember, what an odd and confusing experience being a preteen is. I always try to keep it in the forefront of my mind because it gives me perspective for today. Your body is growing at an alarming rate, hair is growing is funny places, and the girls that you used to chase suddenly start letting you catch them. I think the kids mostly liked me because I said the word penis in class so much. In fact, I used to start the very first class after the teacher introduced me by letting almost a minute of silence go by, me staring at them and them staring at me, both of us blinking the uncomfortable minute away, then muttering the ‘penis’ in a very low tone. After giving them another 10 seconds to realize what just transpired, then say it again with a little more confidence. We would start the first day by yelling penis, vagina, scrotum and breasts over and over again.

What makes someone qualified to teach sex education? I am still not sure, I think it has more to do with being able to handle the performance anxiety than anything else. It also could have to do with the ability to deal with the smell and maintain order in the class. I don’t know any nice way to say this… Junior high kids stink to high heaven. Their hormones have just kicked into high gear. They run around for fun and play all kinds of sports. They are usually too young to know what deodorant is and usually had my class right after a recess. They are stinky, unkempt little whelps, and I loved them for it. As for keeping order, I had an ingenious system of pitting them against each other military style. Right at the beginning of the class I would pick out the smart mouthed trouble makers, and take pride in making the class hate and disdain them. Well however I was qualified, I loved it!

We did classes for 6 weeks at several schools. After completing the first program, I was feeling good. I got to the second school and ripped right into the material with the kids. In the second week of the program something happened that pretty much changed me forever. I was fielding miscellaneous questions from the class, and in my usual style letting the kids do most of the answering to see how much they had absorbed.

One kid in the last seat of the center row had been real quiet for the first two weeks. I could tell that the kid, with a very round figure, budding breasts, and chin length jet black hair, was one of the outcasts of its class. In a very short encounter with the kid I realized that its breath was repugnant, and it had extreme body odor. As a life long do-gooder my heart leapt with the chance to help the kid look smart when its chubby hand reluctantly swayed up into the air to ask a question. I pointed to the kid, “YES you! Little lady in the back row.” A slight chuckle rolled through the class. The reluctant junior higher asked, “Mr. B…Why are vaginas so wet?” I replied, “Very good question!” Since the class had not covered the topic yet and I did not want to give another kid in the class the chance to demean the kid with a smarmy response I answered it for the class. I rattled my answer out quickly with clinical information, and a little joke at the end. Then to seal my fate I said, “Thank you for that question miss… What was your name?” The kid looked infuriated and stifled laughter started fill the room. ‘Little Miss Backrow’ stood up from its chair, face fierce red, arms locked at its side, hands balled into fists, and face puckered with anger and embarrassment, and half shouted, “My name is Jaime, and I am a boy!”

Chaos ensued. I was almost knocked off my feet. I wanted to reply, to do something, but for almost a minute I just swayed on unsteady legs in front of an out of control class. The insidious laughter was deafening. I glanced to my left at the Phys-Ed teacher at his desk, newspaper drooping and saw the same shocked expression on his face, wide eyed horror to be more exact. The kids were not just laughing at Jaime, they were also laughing at me. One thing I have learned about the evil junior high mind is that it loves to see authority figures fall flat on their faces.

It was only the second week of class. I had to spend 4 more weeks with this class and with that pour little kid that I just insulted in the worst way. Later that day after lunch, and before my next class Jaime came to see me. We both sat dejected on the rot iron steps to the P.E. bungalow. I said, “I am so sorry. I would never have done that on purpose.” Apparently Jaime had been doing some soul searching too and said, “I told my mom I did not want this hair cut. I wanted a cool surfer cut, but she really wanted me to have this. I think they call it a mushroom.” As the other kids played on football field, we just sat there in silence.

I saw Jaime one year later at the county fair. He shouted, “Mr. B!” across the crowded lane of people. I recognized him immediately, but he had floored me once again. He got his surfer cut alright! He also grew several inches, lost 30 lbs, put on some muscle, and had a girl on his arm to seal the deal. We chatted a bit, and he told me how my mistake in class had given him the motivation to stand up to his mom, and try out for the football team. All of this in the name of asserting his manhood. Sometimes good stuff comes from our mistakes.