“I don’t get this word.”
I was teaching a seventh-grade class, and we were reading the John Steinbeck story “The Red Pony.” The students had to do a certain amount of reading on their own, but since many of them struggled to read at grade level, we also did some reading in class.
“What word are you talking about, Eduardo?” I asked.
“Umm, this word,” he says, pointing. “Gel-ding.”
“No, it’s JEL-ding,” Samantha corrected him.
“Actually, it’s GEL, with a hard G,” I said. “But Samantha, do you want to explain what it means?” If she knew, that’s fine, because I liked to have the students instructing each other.
She shook her head. “I don’t know what it means. But my brother said he thought it had a juh sound.”
“Okay, well, a gelding is a young male horse that’s been, uh, castrated.” Suddenly I realized the mess I walked into when I answered the question because you know what the students asked next.
“What does castrated mean?” This question came from a group of boys who looked VERY interested. One added, “Yeah, I’ve heard the word, but I don’t know what it means.”
Wow, this was not what I wanted to explain to a group of 12-13-year-olds. I thought frantically to try and come up with a generic answer, but I knew it wouldn’t work and would just provoke more questions.
I took a deep breath. “Castration is the process of removing the horse’s testicles to –“
Just then the principal walked into the room. She stopped when she heard the word “testicles” and turned her head toward me expectantly. I, um, kind of trailed off.
In my defense, I wasn’t doing anything wrong, as I kept pointing out to her later when she told the story to the entire teacher’s lounge at lunch. I was imparting knowledge. KNOWLEDGE.