New Teachers

appropriate or not

I am a student teacher and recently I was "called out" for talking about date rape drugs with my 8th grade science students. One of my students asked how the nail polish works that changes colors as an indicator of the date rape drug in a drink. I thought it was a good opportunity to explain how the scientist at NCSU discovered and patented this nail polish. I also answered questions that followed about how to guard against becoming a victim (covering drinks, lids, etc).  Evidently a parent complained about me discussing this and talked to the principal. I was told this was not something that I should have talked about and avoid any discussions of sensitive material in the future. 

This bothered me a great deal, I felt it was relevant to science, helpful, and something useful for 8th graders to know. What am I to make of parents telling me what is and isn't appropriate within the confines of what is within policy? I can certainly understand not talking about religion, morals, politics, and such. I saw this as both a realworld science topic and helping students to be aware of dangers. I do not want to teach in a system where I have to alter my lessons to what different parents think is appropriate and not-appropriate. If we talk about meat protein in diet, are vegan parents going to tell me I can't talk about meat? How far does this go? How much is this a real stress for teachers? Should I consider private over public? Please advise.

I am currently student teaching and would appreciate your advice.

Thank you!


Mark McLean
Mark McLean
30 Activity Points

Hi Mark-

I applaud your gumption! That is not an easy topic to discuss with students, but I agree that it's great information for them to start learning. Clearly your students are already aware of sensitive topics (hello information age), so why not keep them accurately informed?

Based on my experience teaching, I would say that you will encounter situations like this one no matter what school you are at. There will always be parents going to your superiors with complaints, both valid and irrational. And you will always have to take that feedback into account in some manner. Yes, it will cause you stress, but you'll learn to take it in stride as part of the role.

Don't get discouraged. Keep teaching topics you find valuable. You will help so many students and touch so many lives during your career. This is a minor setback in the bigger picture. My recommendation is to write down positive stories, such as a fun comment from a student or good feedback from a parent or supervisor. Looking back at those memories will help you stay energized and passionate.


Bo Cheli
Bo Cheli
50 Activity Points

Hi Mark,

Thank you Bo for that thoughtful answer. There is no hard and straight line for dealing with/avoiding parent complaints they happen. It does get better when you have your own classes of students from the beginning and can build trust with them as well as the parents over a longer period of time. It is also my experience that sensitive topics in science are unavoidable and there will always be parents questioning content. Science is often the intersection of heated topics and feelings come up; evolution, GMO's, vaccines, diet, fossil fuel use, and definitely sex ed are a few hot topics. Depending on your grade and district they are part of the curriculum you will teach.

Sex ed is a particularly sensitive topic in the districts that I have taught in because of the various religious backgrounds of my students. Parents have the right to remove students from class on the days the sex ed lessons are taught. We send home permission forms to the students any parent informing them of the days that the lessons and Q & A sessions go on. We typically teach the sex ed lessons toward the end of the year in 9th grade. This had frustrated me in my first couple of years because I felt the students should get the information as soon as possible but in retrospect it much better to teach later because at that time of the year the students know me and I know them and there is a higher level of trust with them as well as with the parents. One strategy that I have used is to defer discussions about any sex ed topics to those days or refer them to the school nurse for those questions. It seems really restrictive but it gives the students an understanding that you draw boundaries in general and of what you will discuss in the lesson and this minimizes misunderstandings about appropriateness. It is also good to remember that you are dealing with young minds that tune in and out and are sometimes selective about what they here and report to parents, which is another good reason to leave sensitive topics to designated days.

Thank you for posting about your concerns here. I think this is a very relevant topic for teachers entering the field of science. I would love to know other teachers strategies for handling sensitive topics.

Amanda Wolfe
Amanda Wolfe
16260 Activity Points

I applaud you for bringing this up. It's a fine line that we must walk in order to educate children. When students have asked about things that I feel can be misinterpreted by the parent, I ask the child to discuss it with their parent. It is not worth losing my job over. I agree that the more students know, the more they can protect themselves, and your heart was in the right place. We live in a litigious society that is scrutinized through social media and everyone is sitting in judgement. It is better to be safe than sorry. Oh, and I don't know whether or not you have children of your own but, as a parent, I always ask myself if I would want my child to be taught something that I feel is better taught at home.

Pamela Dupre
Pamela Dupre
85346 Activity Points

There's a big difference between teaching Science and getting into Moral issues in a Science class.
Especially sexual moral issues. Even more so with 8th graders.
Sometimes kids will bring up extra issues to divert naive teachers away from a lesson, or deliberately
try to create trouble.
As an experienced Sub/Regular teacher, I wouldn't touch this one with a ten foot pole. I suggest this
especially for a Student teacher. Keep your eye on your goal. Get the Certificate. Skip the controversies.

Harry Mazurek

Harry Mazurek
Harry Mazurek
60 Activity Points

I am not sure what to say about this. I disagree that it is a sensitive moral issue... in the way that talking about sex in general is a sensitive moral issue. This is an issue that is pretty clear cut. Drugging somebody so that you can abuse them is illegal and immoral. There is no question about that. The science piece is interesting. The societal piece is disturbing. This conversation would likely upset some middle school kids (as well it should). I agree with Pamela on trying to have a parent perspective on it. Also, with sensitive issues I would encourage them to go home and ask their parents. The parents would appreciate that you wanted them to know that the kids were talking about it. I might even follow the conversation up with an email to parents so that they know you were not intending to circumvent their parental authority. When kids want to discuss things like this, sometimes it is an indication that something is happening in their peer group that they find concerning. I would stick with the science piece and a very direct message that people who put things in peoples drinks are criminals who should go to jail.... then you can have a school counselor come in to talk about specifics if you want. That is not really your area of expertise and it has to be handled with care. The conversation might devolve into simply talking about how not to be the victim of a crime, which might be interpreted as blaming the victim.

Also, when a parent complains about the way you are talking to students and what you are talking about you need to take it seriously. In an argument about whether you should or should not talk about ways to not be a victim of rape... you are going to lose that argument. Oh... and definitely do not talk about the fact you were told not to talk about it because a parent complained.

Daniel Carroll
Daniel Carroll
18550 Activity Points

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