Dealing With Sensitive Issues
Many aspects of a health curriculum deal with sensitive subjects
that require a careful approach to teaching. The comfort level
of students, parents, teachers, and administrators with health-related
content must be addressed. The following will help you deal
with sensitive issues.
Review District Policies
While curriculum content and activities are carefully developed
for age and developmental appropriateness, it is a good idea
to review your school district's policies. Your school district
may have specific policies in place for topics such as areas
of family life, substance use prevention, and mental/emotional
health. Review these policies before beginning a unit of instruction.
Involve Teachers, Parents, and Administrators
If you foresee problems with health-related content, hold
a special meeting with parents and other family members to
introduce the content. Reassure parents and other caregivers
that their children's privacy will be maintained. Depending
on your district's policies, family members may request that
students be excused from some lessons. Develop alternatives
for these students that maintain their dignity and self-confidence.
As a teacher, you may also need to discuss your own comfort
level. Speak with colleagues about developing ideas for maintaining
Establish Classroom Guidelines
Classroom atmosphere is critical when teaching sensitive
topics. Establish classroom conditions and ground rules that
contribute to feelings of security, autonomy, purpose, and
personal competence. Try arranging your classroom in a circle
or horseshoe configuration to encourage interaction and open
Begin by having students establish class ground rules. These
Responding to Student Questions and Concerns
- Treat each other with courtesy and respect.
- Listen carefully to others.
- Allow others to speak without interruption.
- Be supportive of others. No name-calling or put-downs.
- No question is stupid or wrong.
- Students have the right to pass during any discussion
or activity that involves personal opinions, feelings, or
When students ask questions about sensitive issues, consider
Try phrasing questions and responses in the third person rather
than the first or second person, to distance students from personal
disclosure. For instance:
- What is the student really asking?
- Why is the student asking the question?
- What does the student already know?
- How much information does the student need?
Instead of: "Kathy, what would you do if you felt depressed?"
Say: "Class, what might a person do if he or she needed help
If you don't know the answer to a student's question, simply
admit it. Then introduce or reinforce ideas on how to obtain
reliable health information. Referring to reliable health
information sources is also a great way to deflect questions
about your own personal health habits or choices.
Handling Student Disclosure
If students begin to disclose information about personal
or family problems during class, tell these students that
you will discuss the situation privately with him or her.
Then immediately establish a time for this discussion. Follow
these guidelines when discussing students' personal concerns:
- Listen carefully; ask questions only to clarify information.
- Praise the student for telling someone about his or her
- Validate the student's perceptions.
- Reassure the student that it is not his or her fault.
- Encourage the student to talk to parents or other appropriate
- Contact parents or other family members about the child's
concerns, if appropriate.
- Be sure to follow district policy and state laws
regarding reporting the disclosure to appropriate authorities.