Everyone has done at least one embarrassing thing in the classroom. Most of us have done more than that.
It’s September 2007 and my classroom is the departmental showcase for the annual parent’s open day. The event is critical – it’s where local parents come, look around, and decide whether they want to send their child to us when they move into secondary school.
I teach citizenship and PSHE, and am very excited that we’re being given a ‘room’ for the subject. It’s our first chance to be taken seriously. In response we’ve created a ‘healthy eating’ area where the kids can make smoothies, a display of children’s presentations from last year about environmental issues and have students on hand to talk about their Model UN work.
We have also decided to showcase sex education. This is risky for our community. Super-conservative and largely muslim, several years earlier a parent-led campaign had raged to try and stop sex ed in the school altogether. It was only years of negotiations with the local religious education board that got us back on track.
We therefore wanted to share what we were doing in sex ed, but needed to not terrify parents. I made the decision to display one of our ‘sex ed kits’ – a bright red plastic briefcase that included examples of IUDs, images of STDs viruses, leaflets of advice. BUT to save everyone’s blushes I decided to remove the condom demonstrators, which – to be blunt – looked like a bright blue penis. (See picture right).
The event starts well. Parents and children are merrily making smoothies and reading the children’s work. No one is spending too much time with the sex ed kit, but no one is offended either.
A parent notices a book I have on the windowsill about supporting children with literacy. We chat. She asks if I can write down the name of the book.
No problem, I say, and dive into the top drawer of my desk to grab a pen.
Only, the drawer is messy and I can’t see a pen. I first remove my keys, flinging them on my desk … and then I remove the bright blue penis-shaped condom demonstrator I have neatly stowed in there which, for some reason, I continue holding in my left hand while I root around with my right.
It is only when I look back up and see a somewhat red-faced parent looking wide-eyed at me, and another parent double-taking, that I realise I have spent the past 20 seconds waving a phallic object at them. An object which appears to normally live in my top drawer.
My mortification is obvious. Cue a red face, masses of apologies, a throwing of the penis back in and shutting the drawer quickly. I then, inexplicably, decide to get the demonstrator back out again and show how it fits the gap in the sex ed kit, before realising that the best thing to do was to get the darn thing away as quickly as possible before any children see it.
It finally goes back in the drawer; my embarrassment is complete.
Thankfully, the people who noticed were very understanding. I vaguely remember writing the literacy book name down, laughing with the parent, and then slowly (very slowly) regaining my composure.
I spent the rest of the evening convinced a complaint would be made (none ever was) while my very understanding boss laughed it off and calmed me down admirably. It was an honest mistake and completely explainable. But it did mean I never again hid a condom demonstrator in my top drawer. I recommend you follow that lead.