Sunday, March 31, 2013

Manolo Blahniks and Why Humor Helps

     Embarrassing situations in the classroom are just a fact of life for teachers. For those of you going into education, especially in sexuality, you better be prepared for the worst and get ready to feel successful every time you make it through class without falling on your face (figuratively and literally –  funny stories). Let me explain . . .
     Many of you know that I’ve been teaching sexuality as well as various other classes at the university level for quite some time. In that time, there have been quite a few situations that left me red in the face and sometimes bruised in other places. For example, in my first year of teaching general psychology I had a class of 150 students in a theater where I taught from a stage. Being my typically animated self, I was cruising across the stage. Unfortunately, I tripped on the trim, and went flying (literally) off the edge. I broke my ankle! More recently I was standing behind a podium in a particularly snazzy, yet ridiculously high-heeled, pair of shoes. I lost my balance and went down behind the podium. It was like a magic act. The students thought I had just disappeared. Of particular interest to sex educators occurred when I was teaching my first human sexuality course. I was explaining why anal sex causes feelings of pleasure and orgasm, particularly in men. That’s when it happened. A student who had said nothing all semester raised his hand. He asked “so how come I don’t have an orgasm when I take a shit?” It was the first time I ever blushed and had nothing to say (more funny stories).
     What do you do in those situations, other than have someone dial 911? Well, I’ve learned a few things from these experiences: 1) a self-deprecating sense of humor helps a lot, 2) thinking quickly on my feet, when I’m on them and even when I’m not, is a must, 3) making mistakes makes you seem more accessible and connected to the students, and 4) shake it off and just keep going (helpful hints). When I broke my ankle, two students propped me up, another called 911, and I kept lecturing until the ambulance arrived. When I fell behind the podium, I popped right back up, showed off my shoes, and asked if anyone knew the purpose, according to Triver’s Theory of Sexual Selection, of Manolo Blahniks. And, when I was asked that question, after I stopped open-mouthed gaping, I quickly considered how good of a question it was and the biological reason you don’t orgasm at that time.
     Using humor and having epic fails serves an educational purpose for the students and helps to develop a rapport with them. Sometimes college students think of professors as ultimate authority figures having gained a level of knowledge they never could. And, whereas some professors thrive on this reverence, it doesn’t help the students. Seeing a professor make a mistake and use humor teaches the students that you are like them and like you, they can achieve a high level of academic success. Research (develop rapport) also shows that when a good rapport is developed between the professor and the student, the students have a greater enjoyment of the topic and more motivation to learn. 
     So, while I’ll never forget those incidents, I try not to cringe when I think of them. Instead, I remind myself that those situations have prepared me to handle anything that may happen in the classroom. Every day I’ll put on my cloak of shamelessness and my high-heels and walk into that room. Some days I’ll feel like a success because the students learned something. Most days I’ll feel like a success because the students learned something AND I stayed upright (more helpful hints).

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Giving Parents the Skills

Honestly, I have struggled to know what to write for this blog assignment. However through this past week, and a national focus on the rape conviction of two teenagers, my email and social media have been filled up with questions about rape, consent, and teaching children/teens about healthy sexuality and personal protection. 

The best article I have found that addresses this is by the Good Men Project. It is full of concrete and practical suggestions for parents in teaching skills vital for healthy sexuality, consent (giving and receiving), intimacy, building empathy, expressing wants/dislikes, and protection. You can read about it HERE

Parental influence is powerful.  “Parents are regarded as the child’s first and continuing teachers and, as such, are natural partners in a collaborative relationship with classroom teachers” (Cushner, McClelland, & Safford, 2012, p. 334). As sexuality educators we can have great impact on the healthy education of children. However our impact will grow significantly when we include, involve, and empower parents to be the educators of healthy sexuality.

Cushner, K., McClelland, A., & Safford, P. (2012). Human diversity in education: An intercultural approach. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Let's Ask Ourselves a Question

By: Sarah Luebbert

“The challenge is to create within the traditional school building, during the traditional school day, with the traditional textbook and paucity of materials, a series of experiences that involve students doing real science, not pretend science.”
- Denis Dubay in "Letting Students Ask The Questions- and Answer Them."

When the idea of school was first brought to light about three hundred years ago, it focused students learning on three things: good handwriting, the ability to read, and the skill of doing addition, subtraction, multiplication and division in their head. Teachers told students how to do this and then they simply copied what the teacher had just done. This was the definition of teaching, as well as learning. There was never room for the self-discovery of an answer or what some researchers now call self- learning. At the TED2013 conference SugataMitra talks about Self Organized Learning Environments (SOLE), he says, “Schools produced identical copies of students, so much so that you could pick one up in New Zealand and drop them down in Canada and they would be instantly functioning. This system is so robust that it is still with us today.” The question is, are the students really learning?

The new and very important emergence of self-learning is changing the world of education as we know it. You can find examples of this here and here. Learning is a journey. It encompasses a broad spectrum of concerns, issues, and topics, rather than just a set of facts. Way to often teachers simply give students the answers without asking any questions. One thing that needs to be looked at more deeply is the idea that people learn most effectively when they are trying to answer their own question.When students have the ability to start asking their own questions, they feel more pride in their education and learning. It allows them to accumulate an understanding of the material, as well as create internal networks and connections on there own. 

So, where do the teachers come in? They are there for guidance. They are the ones who create the natural critical learning environment. (Bain, 2004) Bain also points out that teachers do this with lectures, discussions, case studies, role playing, and even field work depending on the learning objectives. Students need to learn how to tackle authentic and intriguing questions and tasks, to make decisions, to defend their choices, to come up short, to receive feedback on their efforts, and to try again. When questions, issues, or topics are authentic, in that the students came up with the questions on their own, they seem more important and the students are more willing to undertake them. So, how do we get our students to start asking questions, well that is an entirely different feat, but this may help you out. 

Bain, K. (2004). What the best college teachers do. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.