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What to expect when teaching the new RSE curriculum

Preparing for the new Relationships and Sex Education curriculum is a good plan, says Maria Vogler – as long as you accept that there will always be surprises in store…

Maria Vogler
by Maria Vogler

Teaching RSE can be a bit of a rollercoaster. For example, in ‘that lesson’ where the condoms come out, we all know there absolutely will be a student who asks, “Shouldn’t you wear two to make it safer?” or, “Miss, why doesn’t a female condom get lost… inside?”

Nonetheless, these are sessions that most of us have been delivering for a while; we are well prepared, and always have a backup bank of smart responses to keep the learners calm and informed.

This year, though, I’ve been doing my best to introduce lessons that are a little more in line with the guidelines that will be coming in next year; getting ahead of the game, and giving us a chance for review and alterations before the real thing.

My lessons on porn and consent were a success; discussions students had about healthy relationships were a joy to watch! But I thought it might be more useful to share with you some of the things I’ve learnt from the less smooth aspects of the ride so far…

Students do not know what a clitoris is

Maybe this was my mistake; it’s something I assumed that they’d have been taught when learning about the body in science, or even at primary school when getting to know the body parts. Apparently not. The confused boys and slightly embarrassed ‘I know I have one but am not entirely sure where or why’ looking faces of the girls stared back at me when I asked about it in a quiz one day. Have your explanations ready folks; and have a diagram ready as well, because sometimes, words just are not clear enough.

Snapchat is the devil

We all know this. Pastoral staff especially know this due to the bullying, sexting etc that goes on there. What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was having to explain about penis growth after Snapchat Facts supposedly posted that a man’s penis gets bigger during anal along with, “That’s why guys want to try it, isn’t it?” Don’t get me wrong, I had taught about how erections happen, I just didn’t realise I needed to clarify between different types of sex.

Not laughing is sometimes so hard

In order to breed the ‘ask me anything atmosphere’ which is vital in these lessons, you have to reiterate how there are no silly questions. Which there aren’t… but sometimes there are some seriously funny ones, mainly because they take you by surprise (eg “Miss, I once heard that you can swallow clusters of genital warts during oral, is that true?”) My favourite kind of questions though, are the ones that are just sweet and remind me how innocent our students are: “You can’t use a tampon until you’ve had sex can you?”

Language matters

Train yourself to speak in an LGBT+ friendly way, every lesson. It needs to be a part of our language when teaching RSE. I’ve found this easy enough to do through scenario questions and using the phrase ‘partner’ rather than gender specific acronyms. Yes, sometimes it is easy to slip into old habits but students are usually pretty good (and enjoy) calling you out when you aren’t being LGBT+ friendly enough.

Be prepared

In teaching, sex questions can come up at any moment, in any lesson, at any time. I guess once you’ve built that atmosphere where students feel comfortable enough to ask, they just will, whatever the subject; like when I was teaching about budgeting money and a pupil working out his weekly shop asked, “Miss, how much is a box of condoms?” I just embrace these kinds of questions; it’s all education.

So there it is. I don’t know if sharing some of my challenges will help you shape your lessons. But as long as we know we’ll probably never be quite prepared enough for everything that will come up, then I reckon we’ll get by just fine.

Maria Vogler is a PSHE lead, head of department in drama and English teacher, who can be found on twitter at @mariarosevogler.

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