A Lesson I’ve Learned about Lessons I’m Learning

I have struggled to come to terms with how miserable my job can make me. I always tell myself, “I’ve done this before,” and then am amazed at how bad a really bad day can be. That is how I felt my entire first year. I would come home and just could not shake the residual dread and anger that I carried with me.

My sister told me I had to change my mindset. And I tried! I really tried. It’s one of those things that doesn’t just happen when you want it to. You can’t just tell yourself to be happy about it and then suddenly you are. It is a gradual process that must be attended to.

This year is different, and while it has been just fine so far, a new revelation is making it better and better.  I kept thinking, what makes this different from my other teaching experiences? Why is this so much more challenging than my experience in Indianapolis or the Navajo Nation? How were those experiences alike in a way that this experience is different? In my head I made a venn diagram of sorts: the socioeconomic environments in my prior teaching experiences were vastly different from one another, but between the two they covered the disparities facing my current community.

What I realized was that at my first two experiences, I went into them knowing that:

  1. They were temporary
  2. I was there as a learner

Boom. What I am doing right now is not forever. A few years is not forever. This is temporary (and you can be invested in something temporary). And goddamnit, if I don’t learn more every day at this school than I have learned in my years at college. These kids have taught me life lessons that my own life otherwise never would have. So, instead of thinking, “I am a teacher and employee. I am stuck here.” I am reminding myself that “I am a learner, and this is temporary so I need to make the most of it.”

How far I’ve come.

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Sex Ed: Questions from Teens, Misunderstandings from Adults

I grew up in Indiana. At public school, sex ed consisted of one week of “STD’s will kill you so just say no.” The health teachers treated sex like drugs, and taught that abstinence was the only safe choice.

Fast-forward some years, and now I am a teacher on the south side of Chicago. Recently, a whole bunch of teachers who are not licensed health educators decided to do some legwork to give our kids access to information vital for them to lead healthy lives. I would like to say that for kids who are already getting involved in physical relationships, we were FLOORED by the questions they had for us. There were some (basic, seemingly obvious) things that they really didn’t know. Even crazier? This week long health course was implemented school-wide, and some adults stepped forward and confessed that they really didn’t understand one part of the reproductive system until that lesson, or came to us asking if we could clarify something about their own reproductive health.

Weird! Crazy! But not altogether surprising, given the lack of resources and education regarding a topic that is so often taboo.

I tried to give my group of girls a perspective of personal sexual health that was women-friendly, empowering, and centered around choice, consent, hygiene, and understanding. I also wanted them to leave with tangible knowledge and with access to resources. They may not need to know where to find protection now, but but when they do they will know where to go.

Answering some of their questions was complicated, because I wanted to be clear that every person is unique and I never wanted to make these girls feel like they were wrong. Body hair is a personal choice- but their are pros and cons to having it or not. Sex may be hetero, homo, all of the above, or not at all, and that’s all okay! If someone is hurting you because it brings them pleasure, you do not and should not be in pain to please them. Above all else, you are in control of your body.

Some of the winning questions divided into relevant categories:

Man periods
Do men have periods? No. (They do have hormonal cycles, though.)
Why not? They don’t have the necessary organs.
Can men have babies? No, they do not have the necessary organs.
Can men take birth control? Yes, but they are weak.

Girl periods
Does it hurt?
Bleeding doesn’t hurt, but other physical pain may occur.
Can you get pregnant on your period? Yes.
How do you put in a tampon? Like this.
Will a tampon take your virginity. No. Explains the hymen is a thin piece of tissue, and how it may break prematurely due to active lifestyle, attempt to define virginity as a man-made concept in place to restrict women or shame them for their lifestyle… lost many students during this feminist impartment.
Do I have to use a tampon? No, there are also panty liners, maxi pads, and menstrual cups!
What is a period, anyway? That’s complicated.

Let’s talk about sex
What is sex?
 Sex is intercourse between a man and a woman. Sex is also sharing physical pleasure with a partner. Sex is a biological drive to reproduce. In the 21st century, sex does not need to end in reproduction. 
Does it hurt? It can, but it shouldn’t. Every body is different, and when it is time you need to figure out what works for you.
What is masturbation? See, “figure out what works for you.” A healthy understanding of what brings an individual pleasure is vital for a partnership where each person experiences pleasure.
Should I use two condoms? Never!
Where do I learn about/get birth control? Research and cross-compare every method imaginable at Bedsider. Learn more, and find safe, legal, and discreet access to what you need at Planned Parenthood.

Boob stuff
Why do my boobs hurt? You’re growing! Puberty’s a bitch.
Is it normal to have hair on your nipples? Yup! (But it’s not, not normal if you don’t.)
Should I shave pubic hair? That is your choice! Same goes for armpits and legs. For some women, removing hair helps maintain personal hygiene. For others, hair serves as a defense against lint and other outside contaminants.
How do I wash my vagina? Think outside, not inside. Wash around the outside of the vulva with gentle soap and hands. Do not put soap or wash cloth inside the vagina, it is a self-cleaning mechanism. 
How many holes does a girl have? If you watched that Orange is the New Black Episode, you should know the answer by now. Thanks Sophia! If not, take this quiz, and keep count! (We had our students label diagrams of internal and external male and female anatomy, so that we were able to use clear language and differentiate between parts of the body throughout these conversations.)

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