When a Simple Question Turns Into Something Much Deeper
Jessica Bagneris, MSW | BY-LA Health Educator
Walking into a classroom, you never really know what you’re going to get. Will the students engage? Are they listening? Will they care? Will the things we talk about really change their behavior? All of these thoughts and so many more cross my mind before I walk into a classroom and I wonder, “what kind of impact will I have today?” That moment when you see your impact, actually see the realization on the face of a young person you work with, that Aha Moment - it’s everything. You walk into your classroom thinking today is going to be like any other day, and then a student says something that grabs your attention and changes your lesson plan, for the good!
Imagine it plays out something like this. You walk into a class you’re teaching planning to discuss birth control. You’re in a room full of thirteen and fourteen year-old boys who feel that birth control conversations shouldn’t matter to them; as long as they know about condoms they’re good. It’s your job to get them excited and interested about birth control; to be open to discussions about it, assisting with costs for it, seeing the importance of it, etc. While having the conversation about who should be responsible for birth control (everyone), one of the kids says “Y’all trippin. I don’t want my girl carrying condoms. Girls who carry condoms are hoes.”
At that moment, you stop your lesson, and reassess. You have an opportunity here to change the narrative surrounding birth control and to change the stigma surrounding women and sex. You can’t just jump in with a lecture; you have to meet them where they are.
“So, why are girls who carry condoms ‘hoes’?”
“Because if you’re carrying condoms you’re looking for sex, and girls shouldn’t be looking for sex.”
Most people in the class chime in with agreement, but ONE kid disagrees from the back.
“Not everyone who carries condoms is looking for sex. Maybe they’re for friends, or they want to be safe if it does happen, or they know some people might not want to wear them and ‘forget’ them. They just want to be safe.”
This is beginning to feel like the start of your moment! So now it’s important for you to reinforce this amazing statement from your place of authority for the rest of the group.
“Exactly! People carry condoms for a bunch of different reasons and we can’t just assume we know those reasons.”
Then you really drive it home!
“Also, it’s not right to call people hoes, right? Would you call a guy with condoms a ho?”
Often there’s a pause filled with silence, then someone comes out and says “No! It’s different! Boys can’t be hoes.”
At this point you can’t lose them and the progress that you’ve made, so you have to finish strong!
“Why not? Why are girls and boys doing the same thing called something different?”
This is usually followed by silence and intense faces.
“Well… I guess that doesn’t make sense. You’re both tryna be safe. I guess it doesn’t matter who has the condom, as long as there is one if you’re having sex.”
And this is when you scream on the inside! YES! YES! YES! That’s the moment. During that exchange, you just changed some minds; you helped some minds grow. It’s the best feeling. Now you can get back to your lesson.
That moment, THIS moment, is the beginning of a change in these students. They are beginning to think more critically about the information they hear outside of this classroom. You can imagine the students changing someone’s mind about condom use once they leave your classroom. You smile at the thought of the future being a little brighter after this conversation. You begin to see potential change makers and future leaders emerging in your students. This is not because they now believe everyone should be able to carry a condom; this is because you witnessed a moment where they thought about their own beliefs a little more than normal. They questioned their previous thoughts for a second longer. They engaged with differing opinions and left with a better understanding of the world outside of themselves.