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In an effort to help new teachers and to give a glimpse of what happens in the classroom, we are going to highlight one teacher’s experiences in a charter school. 

Recently, the Philadelphia School District has decided to provide many of its schools with condom dispensers due to what they call an epidemic. An impetus for the initiative is due to 25% of all new HIV infections being teenagers. Last week on my way to my 6th period class, I happened to walk past a young lady I taught the previous school year- her freshman year. I didn’t notice her until she screamed an obscenity to one of her peers and as I turned to tell her about herself, I was speechless when I saw her stomach. It took me back to my high school days and I reflected on the numerous classmates who attended school pregnant. My heart became exceedingly sorrowful because I knew what that young lady was up against; I myself have a 1 year old so I know some of the challenges of new parenthood. I was unable to shake the shock and disappointment from my face and my 6th period seniors noticed. They knew I saw the young lady, and next I was told that the young man who was the expectant father was a gentleman in that very class. Knowing that I still had to teach, my brain was churning in an effort to figure out what, if anything there was that, I could do to address my students and impress upon them the need to refrain from sexual activity and the importance of making informed decisions.

One of the more mundane of tasks of my workday is monitoring students during their lunch. I could be getting real work done, but I digress. There is a table of junior young ladies who sit near my table while I monitor the students and due to the close proximity of the table, they sometimes ask me questions about guys and/or how they should deal in their relationships. In a number of conversations with that table over the past couple of weeks, I’ve learned that a number of those young ladies are engaged in sexual activity. As a teacher, you never try to enter into such conversations, but if you allow yourself to be a resource of information to students, homework assignments aren’t the only thing they’re going to ask you about. Frustrated and saddened that many of our students are having sex; some of it unprotected, I took my concerns to my principal.

Moment of the Week

After telling my principal about my concern, she decided to sit down with some of our students and discuss the dangers of having sex. I decided that I needed to do a bit more “discussion” with some of my students—my principal sought to scare the students; I wanted to have a conversation with them. I decided to speak with my juniors and my seniors; I teach 1 section of juniors and 1 section of seniors. The conversations went well in both classes, but when I spoke with my seniors it was very intense. My seniors knew I was serious and the tone in the classroom was one where all eyes were on me. As a teacher, you crave for those “all eyes on me” moments when students know that the next thing that comes out of your mouth is going to be life-changing for them. In the Black Church, as soon as the preacher stands at the pulpit and begins his sermon, the entire church looks to God’s “mouthpiece” to hear a word from the Lord. No way do I compare myself to a preacher, but I’ve been blessed to have a few of those moments in the classroom where my students were waiting to hear what thus sayeth Mr. Miller.

When we get those opportunities to touch our students; the moments when we briefly pause from the curriculum and deal with life’s teachable moments, we have to seize them as times for us to plant seeds in our children. Whether we realize it or not, teachers are mentors, guides and directors in the lives of the children we interact with. For some of my students, the teachers in my school may be one of the few voices of clarity they come in contact with daily. I don’t take those moments for granted; they are precious and where I can help impress upon my students the importance of informed decision making.

“Lesson” of the Week

When I spoke to those seniors, it was like a sermon. I had an ‘amen corner’ all because in my plea for good decision making, I spoke to their experiences and I spoke to their hurts and fears. In our conversation, one thing that came out was that my seniors wanted to know my approach and my thoughts on the subject of sexual activity and what time was the most appropriate to engage in such activity. When you have these sorts of conversations, you invite the opportunity for you to offer your opinions, beliefs and values. This can indeed be a ‘no-no’. However, if framed in the proper context, you can provide your twist on an issue of social concern without impressing your attitudes or personal beliefs on your students. My answer to the question of when to have sex was “when you are ready.” Of course, the follow up question to that was, “How do you know you are ready?” I took a President Obama pause… As I was about to answer, the bell rang. A President Obama pause is indeed a life saver. In order to answer the question properly, I had to stop and think and in order to make the right decisions in life, we must pause and think. I was reminded of that in that moment, it is a lesson needed for us adults as much as it is for our children. Indeed, the best way to get your students to follow your instructions  in the classroom and in life, is to practice what you preach. I hope to continue this into the next week.

Rann Miller is an educator and freelance writer based in Southern New Jersey. His Urban Education...

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