I'm a firm believer that everything is a teachable moment.
I'm a teacher. I teach. It's what I do.
I don't mind if a kid has a good question that's only sort-of-related to the topic (or even off-topic). If he's interested, I'll do my best to cover it or investigate it at an appropriate time.
I'm also fairly unafraid to tackle topics that others might shy away from.
Today, while on my conference period, I popped into a fellow teacher's class to check on his substitute because I had heard she was having some issues. Not surprisingly, I spent pretty much all period with them. As I was helping a group with its project, two boys started giggling and pointing secretively at a textbook.
Junior high kids -- boys especially -- have no finesse with the art of subtlety.
Naturally, I take a quick peek and see this phrase, "your a fag".
Now, understand this, I've never seen a set of textbooks last more than a year without some serious graffiti, and I don't think it's just our kids or those books. It just happens. I can't even tell you the number of terrible penis drawings I've had to erase or white-out in 14 years. A few times I couldn't decide if I needed to send these boys to the art teacher for a lesson or to a doctor (because if that's what they were seeing, they might need to consult someone).
But I digress...
I realized that this was, in fact, a teachable moment. I knew they didn't write it, and the offender wasn't there to hear my lesson. It didn't matter; there were willing and captive ears. We talked quietly about how offensive that word is, and I compared it to a few other slurs that they themselves would not tolerate. I talked about how unfunny someone else's pain can be -- even just from words. I asked them to think about how far our nation has come in just a few decades and how far we still had to go when it comes to accepting others. I talked about how that person (I hoped) was probably just trying to be rebellious and shocking. I didn't make it a whole lecture; I just wanted them to think and possibly even resist the vandal's urge one day.
And then I pointed out that "your" is a possessive pronoun, and this idiot actually needed the contraction "you're" for "you are". Good grammar never takes a vacation, even in vandalism.
I mean, if you're going to be an intolerant jackass, at least be an intolerant jackass with good grammar.