The Trouble with "T&A"

I had a student in class last week ask me toward the beginning of the hour if he could ask me a question. I looked at him carefully. Although he seemed sincere enough, this is a student who will look for any excuse to get out of working. And– since his friend was whispering to him, “Don’t ask! I think I know what it means– don’t ask!”– I told him that I wasn’t going to answer anything until he got his work finished for the day.

Toward the end of the hour, when there were a couple of minutes left, he asked me again if he could pose his question. Against my better judgment, I said, “Sure-go ahead.” So, here it is…

“Well, someone in our class last hour told another kid that his mom had won a T&A contest. What does that mean?”

I immediately wanted to start banging my head against my desk. I suddenly had 15 pairs of ears and eyes tuned to my every word, something that just doesn’t happen throughout the course of the day. My problem was, despite the obvious, that he was completely sincere in his question. He honestly had no idea what the phrase “T&A” meant and thought that I could tell him. Three thoughts went through my mind. My first thought was, “Can I get fired for answering this question?” Followed by, “If I don’t answer this question, how big a deal will they make of it?” (There’s a similar experience here involving the phrase “S&M” and a computer lab which I was drawing from.) And, finally, “How much integrity will I lose if I avoid this issue all together?”

So, with a moment of careful consideration, I formulated my answer…

“Well, ‘T&A’ is a really not nice way to refer to a woman’s top and bottom parts. And it’s an extremely rude thing to say.”

There was a general murmuring of “ohhhh…” across the classroom, followed by a few, “I still don’t get it”‘s. Yet, overall, the topic was quickly forgotten and the students haven’t brought it up since. I still wondered if I had done the right thing. Did I give them more information han they needed to know? Did I help to pollute their already too sullied minds? There’s such a fine line in working with teenagers. I’ve always believed that as an adult working with teens, you need to be honest. I’ve found that it’s a credibility issue for teens, and if they think you’re just trying to spin something, or hide something from them, then you lose your ability to interact and work with them. On the other hand, if you try and be too much like them, go into BFF mode, you lose your ability to really teach and minister to them. You have to earn their trust, yet be the responsible adult at the same time.

In the end, I feel good about my answer. I don’t know that this conversation would have taken place in many other classrooms, but that’s o.k. And, of course, I will be taking fewer questions from the peanut gallery!

Blessings and Peace,