HCMC Dining Guide

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

"What's a condom?"

Arguably the most entertaining moments of teaching come when someone, either the teacher or a student, says something highly inappropriate. Usually, such occurrences are accidental; for example one of my fellow teachers was telling a story about a friend that got stuck in a riptide, and had to swim back to shore "doggy style," instead of doggy-paddle. Or, they may be a statement made by an innocent Vietnamese child that becomes much more in our twisted Western heads, such as when a student in another friend's class proclaimed, "Teacher! I can't scissor my sheep!" during an activity that involved cutting animal pictures out of a book.

The other day, though, such crassness was completely intentional in one of my classes. Unsurprisingly, it was in my weekday afternoon class with just four students. I've written about this class a few times, but allow me to recap: there are two girls and two boys, one of the girls is very good at English, but pretty innocent, while the two boys, Lucas and Bill, are brilliant and evil. Bill, in particular, has no control over what he blurts out, so I shouldn't have been surprised when he yelled out, "Mike, what's a condom?!"

Actually, let me backtrack a bit. I was talking to Lucas about movies, specifically epic action movies, and he mentioned "Troy". This led to a discussion about the Trojan horse, which prompted Bill to interject with "TROJAN CONDOMS!! HAHAHAHAHHA!" I stared at him, taken somewhat aback, and asked where he had heard of such an item. "In a movie." Oh, right, Western movies are such a great influence on kids!

After that came the, "Mike, what's a condom?" question, which I tried to avoid at first. "Just ask your parents, that's not appropriate for me to answer in class." (I should mention that Bill is 9. The other three are 11.) Sadly, Bill can't take no for answer, so for the next half hour I was repeatedly interrupted by yelps of "MIKE, WHAT'S A CONDOM!!!! Is it a glove?" (If you're reading this out loud, pronounce "condom" the British way - the second "o" sounds like the "o" in Tom, not a "u".) I kept refusing to answer him, although I did say that it's a bit like a glove, but not for your hands. Eventually, Annie, one of the girls, asked me too, mostly because she wanted Bill to shut up. So, I finally relented and went with this definition: "Well, it's something a guy puts on his penis (Lucas: "OHHHH GROSS!!!!!"), to prevent the girl from getting pregnant. It's a form of birth control."

10 seconds of silence, followed by: "Mike, what's birth control?!"
"Umm, it's basically a way to decide whether or not a woman gets pregnant."
"So how is a condom birth control?"
"OK, there's no way I'm going into that much detail, if you can't figure it out yourself, ask your parents."

Lucas then cut in with "Mr. Mike, I know what birth control is, 'cause I'm a man, like you."
"Great Lucas, then explain to Bill what birth control is."
"It's when the little things inside of a man..uhh...I don't remember what they're called."
Me - "Sperm."
Lucas: "Yea! Sperm. They go inside the woman and into her egg, and they control it to turn it into a baby."
Me- "Ummm, no, that's actually the complete opposite of birth control."

Bill wasn't satisfied by any of this, so he kept asking what birth control is, and how a condom is a form of it. He always brings a dictionary to class, so I told him to look up "condom". Unfortunately, his dictionary had the most useless definition possible: condom (n) - A contraceptive sheath.

"Bill, do you know what either of those words mean?"
"Well, a contraceptive is something that prevents a woman from getting pregnant."
(Here's where things get really good):
"But how does a condom do that?"
"I'm not explaining that! Stop asking me!"
"Ah! Mike, wear one to class tomorrow, and I'll see what it looks like."
To which I reacted with a look of utter horror and revulsion, and replied - "God no! Bill you have no idea how disgusting and inappropriate that would be, don't even say that again! And seriously, stop shouting about condoms, you're going to get in trouble with someone. After the break, I don't want to hear the word again."
Bill, finally understanding that this wasn't a conversation to have in the classroom, relented, with a reluctant "OK."

The rest of the class was uneventful, at least by the standards of the first hour. Bill asked me about condoms a couple of times today, but he seems to have gotten the message that I don't want to explain them to him any further than I already have. I was probably more uncomfortable than I've ever been in a class after he told me to wear one, but in hindsight it's pretty hilarious, and makes for a great story. I still have a little over a month left with this class, so chances are I'll have at least one more post's worth of stories to report.

In order to end on a more wholesome note, here are pictures of me with my two classes of 7-10 year olds that ended recently. I loved these classes, and I miss the kids already. Never had to field any questions about condoms from them...


  1. Checked out your blog, as promised, and this post is freaking hilarious. Makes me think I should get a teaching job just for the comic material.

  2. Glad you enjoyed it...teaching certainly has its moments.

  3. I couldn't stop laughing when reading this post, especially about Bill's questions.
    I'm teacher, too so I understand how lovely and angry moments the students bring to us. :-D

    Looking forward to reading your next post.

    Dung Nguyen
    Vietnamese Language Teacher.