You are a new (or experienced) teacher, walking in to the classroom on the first day of the Human Sexuality / Family Life unit. You are excited, anxious, and a little apprehensive. You know you are teaching a topic that many people consider private or controversial. You open the door to the classroom, where you see a room of 35 angels anxiously and excitedly awaiting your instruction. You enter the classroom, shut the door, and think “Oh my gosh… WHAT am I going to do with these people?!”
The DO’s of Teaching and Classroom Management
YOU are the Leader of the Pack
The National Education Association suggests getting everyone’s attention before you begin teaching (Foley, 2014). This can be accomplished by walking into the room, or starting a conversation with a few students. Wait to start until you have everyone’s attention. Revisit this as needed throughout the class duration, when you are teaching all eyes and attention should be on you.
Set Ground Rules and Group Norms
Bruess and Schroeder (2008) say, “…establishing ground rules or group norms is invaluable for the sexuality education experience” (p. 169). Setting ground rules allows you to protect yourself, and gives the learners a clear picture of what the expectations are for this learning experience. Some of the ground rules you might want to establish include respect, confidentiality, assuming goodwill, using “I-Statements”, avoiding side conversations, and avoiding personal questions (either to you as the leader or to peers).
In many cases you might be a temporary teacher. Maybe you are from an agency that sends out educators, or maybe you are educating a group outside of school hours. It is important to set the consequences for breaking the ground rules/ group norms early and to stick to them. It creates a safer more controlled learning environment when the learners know there is structure, and know the consequences for breaking the rules.
The National Education Association (NEA) suggests using proximity as a way of managing unruly students (Foley, 2014). Sometimes just standing next to a student, or moving closer to them, is enough to snap them back to attention. The NEA also suggests using the student’s name to begin a question about the material just covered. For example, “Lee can you please explain to me two of the hormonal birth control methods we just discussed?” (Foley, 2014).
Inevitably, you will have students who push the boundaries and don’t stop pushing. In these scenarios, it is important to have a set plan for how and when to give learners warnings and make sure the learners know where the boundaries are. For example, writing their names up on the board or quietly saying to the student “first warning.” It is important to follow up with the consequences, as it maintains your position as the leader of the classroom, and also makes the classroom a safe place for other learners.
Keep Lines of Communication Open
With students you want to keep the communication clear, friendly, and professional. You NEVER want to ridicule a student or make them feel ashamed for asking a question. It makes the learning environment uncomfortable and unsafe which will have a negative impact on student learning. Instead validate the questions, ask for clarification if you need it, and answer the question clearly and succinctly. Under no circumstances should you ever give a student false information. You will discredit yourself if you do so. There is no shame in saying to a student, “You know, that is a GREAT question, I am so glad you asked it. But I am not sure what the answer is. I will look it up and get back to you when I know my answer is correct.”
Overall you want to send positive messages about sexuality, and avoid fear or shame based messages (Hedgepeth & Helmich, 1996). A study on contraceptive use found that the participants who were more positive and comfortable with their sexuality were more likely to use contraception effectively (Hedgepeth & Helmich, 1996). Your goal as an educator is to help your students feel more comfortable with themselves, as well as to educate them on means to keep themselves save. One of the best ways to do this is to keep lines of communication open, and make sure the information you are giving your students is accurate and relevant.
Meet Learners Where They Are
As Frances Clark said, “Meet the student where they are, not where you are, and not where you want them to be, but where they really are” (Glennon & Pennington, 2013).
One of the most important parts of teaching is meeting students where they are, not where you think they should be. Imagine, walking into a class ready to teach softball and learning that your class can barely throw the balls. Would you continue full speed ahead? Or would you back up and teach your class the skills they need to be successful? It is very easy to paint a picture of where the learners SHOULD be, but that is not always the case. It is more important to meet them where they are and move them forward than it is to continue full speed ahead. In sexuality education this could mean many things. Maybe you have to resign yourself to using slang before you can move the class forward using more accurate terms. Maybe you have to stop and review what happens during puberty – even though the teacher/agency last year should have covered it.
Teaching sexuality education is an exciting endeavor, you are covering a topic most learners are curious about but may or may not have access to accurate information. This is a topic that will follow your learners for the rest of their lives, be wise in how you teach it!
Bruess, C.E., & Schroeder E. (2014). Sexuality education: Theory and practice (6th Ed.). Sudury, MA: Jones & Bartlett.
Foley, D. (2014, January 1). 6 Classroom Management Tips Every Teacher Can Use. Retrieved February 3, 2014, from http://www.nea.org/tools/51721.htm
Glennon, A., & Pennington, R. (2013, October 4). Clavier Companion – 5 Frances Clark quotes that will change the way you teach. Retrieved March 9, 2015, from http://www.claviercompanion.com/blog/71-5-frances-clark-quotes-that-will-change-the-way-you-teach
Hedgepeth, E., & Helmich, J. (1996). Teaching about sexuality and HIV. New York, NY: NYU Press.