It can be daunting to start a new school term, look at your teaching timetable and see that you are down to teach something that isn’t your main subject area. As of 2020, relationships and sex education (RSE) is now compulsory in all schools, meaning that you may be asked to teach it even if it is not your main specialism. As teachers, we might view these additions to our timetable in one of two ways: either as an inconvenience, or a chance to ‘phone it in’ for a lesson.
On the other hand, I have always viewed teaching RSE as an opportunity to venture slightly from the comfort zone of my main specialism, and use my own life experience to guide young people in what is possibly one of the most overlooked subjects, in terms of their social development and future relationships.
If you are feeling nervous about teaching a subject you are less familiar with, Beyond’s RSE Teacher Guidance category has some great resources, including an example of a KS3/KS4 RSE learning agreement, as well as an RSE calendar, which details all the RSE-related events to be mindful of.
RSE covers a very broad spectrum of topics, many of which we will have experience with from our own lives. For example, we may have experience navigating relationships of all types, including setting healthy boundaries, managing break-ups and spotting the signs of unhealthy or abusive relationships. We may have had to consider topics related to sex, such as contraception, our sexuality, and all of us will have dealt with puberty. Some of us even have first-hand experience of the slightly more sensitive topics, such as discrimination, stereotypes or prejudice, mental health or other health conditions covered in RSE, and/or LGBTQ+ topics, such as coming out or dealing with homophobia. Whatever our personal life experience is, as teachers we can use this in our lessons. This doesn’t necessarily mean sharing personal details of our own lives, but allowing our understanding of particular topics to positively impact the way we deliver content.
Some of my favourite resources include those related to specific events, such as Pride Month, RSE Day and Black History Month. These events allow us to examine topics within RSE from a different perspective, and shine a spotlight on inspirational figures from more marginalised groups in society, such as Black, LGBTQ+ and neurodivergent.
Although RSE may be considered less academic, it is perhaps one of the most valuable subjects for young people to engage with. Instead of just gearing students up for their academic and work lives (which, of course, is important), RSE tackles all aspects of their lives, and aims to guide them in understanding themselves and others around them. As a teacher of RSE, one of my main aims has been to make sure students come away with more information than I had as a young person, and call on this information to make the right choices for them within their lives and relationships.
For me, teaching RSE has been an amazing experience. It is an opportunity to engage with students who you may not teach in your main specialism, and have a more pastoral rapport with them. The benefit of teaching a subject that is less focused towards an exam is that you can make your classroom an open and safe space where students feel comfortable talking about their thoughts, feelings and experiences. My RSE lessons have been a place to test out a variety of different, fun activities and teaching techniques that I have lately incorporated into my main teaching specialism too. My advice, from one RSE teacher to another, is to embrace it and have fun with it, allow students to use their own opinions and create a different, more open classroom environment.