In September, I was given a new tutor group. To begin with, I tended to fend off any attempts to drop in guest speakers from other members of staff. I wanted to get to know my sweet angels and spend as much time as possible with them by myself so that I could mould their learning journey tenderly.
By the end of January, I would have allowed a convicted murderer to take them through the finer points of corpse dismemberment if it gave me an hour to do my other 5,000 jobs. Luckily for me, we have two wonderful workers from the sexual health outreach team who come in for a full week around Valentine’s Day to deliver sessions on STIs, condoms, consent and relationship issues.
In a scene reminiscent of an action thriller, I threw Chlamydia Cath into my classroom as if she were a grenade, and then ran away. I was asked not to stay as it might mean that the students wouldn’t open up and be honest. I knew that wouldn’t be the case: they tell me everything, whether I want them to or not. But I took the opportunity to leave them to it, knowing that they would fill me in on all of the gory details anyway.
I should stress that Chlamydia Cath and Condom Karen are self-christened – I don’t make a habit of just adding a vague description of someone’s work to their first name.
Sex education in colleges
I’m allowed to call them that because I was once Condom Kirsty. Any pastoral teacher will know that throughout your career various responsibilities are tacked on to you like you are some sort of educational Buckaroo donkey – for me, one of these was delivery of the C-card programme.
C-card was an initiative which involved giving young people free condoms, and it’s been instrumental in reducing teenage pregnancy and STI infection rates. After a day of training, I was issued with a plastic "condom demonstrator" – which was not a dildo, no matter what the students said loudly in the corridor as I walked past – and about 1,000 condoms, from flavoured and ribbed to extra safe and extra small and everything in between.
It was my job to show the students how to put the condom on the "demonstrator" and send them away with a conspicuous blue plastic bag full of condoms. Some would come back the following day for more. Whether it was an attempt to impress me, or whether they were filling them with water and launching them at cars, was not my business.
This role had its challenges. The students came to think of me as someone who would assist them with all of their sexual problems and also randomly inspect body parts. One day, while I was talking to a senior manager, a young man approached me and lifted up his shirt so I could see his infected nipple piercing. “I don’t think we pay you enough,” was my manager’s response when I recounted the tale.
I agreed and waited for the pay rise to kick in. Instead, I was given another job to do: chlamydia testing. I would dish out testing kits to students, who would then hand them back with now-full jars of urine. These would then be put in the post, much to the annoyance of the post-room staff. In order to encourage students to do these tests, I would frequently be given a stand in the foyer with a big sign saying “Love is Infectious”.
'She shows us how to put condoms on'
But that part of my life was over, now I had Chlamydia Cath and Condom Karen to step into the breach. Or so I thought.
One day, Chlamydia Cath said to me: “It would be great to be able to show the students what the text message looks like that they get, telling them their results. How do I do that?”
I told her that we needed to do the test ourselves, and then show them the text on our phones when we get our results back. Easy.
Fast-forward to the next parents’ evening when an excited young student introduced me to his mum. “This is Kirsty – she shows us how to put condoms on and she hasn’t got chlamydia!”
They definitely don’t pay us enough for this.
Kirsty Walker teaches at a college in the North-West of England