Monday, August 11, 2008

Handling Sensitive Issues in the Classroom

The other day on my personal blog I talked about what I would do if I had to work with someone closely who had really bad breath. One of the comments mentioned having a teacher who had bad breath and it made me think about my own experiences with my own teachers and started to wonder about my students. This also made me think about how I handled this as a new teacher and I remember not even wanting to think of things like this when I first started, much less knowing how to handle them. Here are some ways I addressed certain sensitive issues in my class. (I have to be honest and say all of these have happened to me.)

Bad Breath: I remember having teachers who had bad breath and I would rather not know how to do something than ask them for help. So, I try to make sure after lunch that I have a breath mint. If I’ve eaten something really strong (I really love things with garlic!), I warn the class about it and tell them I will try not to overwhelm them with my breath if they need help. I even tell them if it is so bad, I will let a peer try to help them.

Unzipped zipper: During the first week I tell my class that this happens to everyone and if they see me with my fly open on my pants, to PLEASE tell me about it. I do not want to go through the whole day like this and realize that no one told me about it. I also will do the same to them and hopefully none of us will feel too embarrassed about it. I would rather a momentary embarrassment rather than wondering how many people saw me like this!

Inside out clothes: I once wore a solid colored shirt inside out and didn’t find this out until lunchtime when finally another teacher asked me if that was a new style. Again, I mentioned this to the class and asked them to let me know.

Static Cling: Have you ever gotten something out of the dryer to wear and didn’t know that there was another article of clothing clinging to it? Then you wear it all day with that “hitchhiker” along! I wore a pair of washable pants with a clingy sock hanging out of the pants leg and didn’t notice it until it finally fell off at the end of the day. I ask that someone just tell me! Everyone knows how mean kids can be so save me from the hallway snickering and giggling please!

Wearing shoes of two different colors: I have this style of shoes that I really loved and bought two pair: one black and one blue. I didn’t want to wake my husband up since I get up so ear ly and I got dressed in the dark. Luckily I saw them before school started and called my husband to bring me another shoe. Of course he asked me which one and I told him that it didn’t matter because it would match either one. I couldn’t believe I had done that. Unfortunately I had to wear the mismatched shoes to first period so we had a lesson in observation. We played a five minute observation warm up. I gave them 60 seconds to look at me and then put my coat on as I sat behind my desk. I asked the to write down everything I was wearing. We turned this lesson into using descriptive words and observing details. Finally I stepped out from my desk and took off my coat to show them the two different shoes. We all had a good laugh about it too and I also stressed about when getting dressed, make sure you look in a mirror before you leave home!

I’m sure these are only a few of the stupid things I’ve done but it definitely helped my relationship with my students. They had an opportunity to see me as a human being and I was able to model how it could be handled. These things happen so it is important for a teacher to have a sense of humor and be able to laugh at themselves.

Can you think of any other “sensitive issues” that a new teacher should be prepared for?


Dan Callahan said...

Having a bad day:
I've found it's always worked out very well when I'm having a bad day to be right up front about it with the kids, and asking them to be on their best behavior because I might say or do something that I would regret. My students have always been extremely respectful of that, since I'm generally so nice to them.

theColonel said...

Good post. Thanks for the ideas. I have two main rules:

If someone looks like they need a hug, give them one. And if someone offers you a breath mint, take it!

Alan (the Colonel, middle school computer teacher, and also Glynis' dad!)

Cathy Jo Nelson said...

Great ways to handle awkward issues.

I have always used the acronym "xyz" for the zipper--examine your zipper. I would announce it and everyone would look at themselves LOL.

I think teachers should also tell kids how to drink water after eating to sort of rinse the mouth out and get food stuck in the teeth removed. Brushing and flossing are best, but in a crunch a nice swish, rinse, & spit can go along way.

When I was in the 10th grade, I had a monthly accident. I had a guy classmate tell me. I was so embarrassed, but he was such a trooper about it, just taking my windbreaker jacket and tying it around my waist as he told me. He saved me from further embarrassment, but it was a blow no less. I will never forget his act of kindness.

Anonymous said...

Bad breath is the only really sensitive one there. The rest are easy handled by mentioning it and ignoring it. "Hey Jim, check your fly and your sweater and your shoes. What do you think we should do about this crazy related rate calculus problem?"

Bad breath or body odour might not be something fixable so mentioning it might just make people feel bad. I never mention it except if it's my family so sometimes I have to endure a really smelly individual.

M-Dawg said...

I think by admiting to these sensitive issues, we admit to the kids that we (heaven for bid) are HUMAN! What a concept! :-)

I've done the different shoe thing this past winter. It was casual Friday and I was wearing my jeans with these great pair of boots. Except I didn't notice until I got home that day that I wore one brown and one black boot. The style and height of the heel is similar. Ugh. :-(

Linda Fox said...

Realize that MANY kids are sensitive about their hair. If they walk in wearing a hoodie (not allowed in most schools), I tell them to take a comb or brush, and do what they can - I'll excuse the lateness. They always appreciate it.

Also, sometimes, kids get emotional. I silently give them the pass.

loonyhiker said...

dan: You are so right. Kids like to know that their teachers are human. Being honest with them shows that your respect them and they in turn will show you more respect.

loonyhiker said...

Alan: my parents always taught me that too - if someone offers you a mint, there is a reason! LOL Thanks for reading my blog!

loonyhiker said...

cathy: I love the rinsing the mouth lesson. And thanks for sharing your own personal story! I remember embarrassing things that happened to me when I was a teen and thought it was the end of the world!

loonyhiker said...

TS: Thanks for the reminder that bad breath and body odor might not be something fixable. It might be the cause of a health problem and you might talk to your school nurse about it.

loonyhiker said...

m-dawg: Glad I'm not the only one who has done the shoe thing! My hubby still doesn't understand how I could have left home without checking!

loonyhiker said...

linda: You sound like such a caring and sensitive teacher! I bet the kids love you! Thanks for sharing.