“Teachers are super heroes.” You hear that sometimes, people pointing out the important work teachers do, the important role they play in society, the challenges they deal with. People think about the struggles of being a teacher, the thankless nature of the work.
What they probably aren’t thinking about when they refer to us and our superpowers is the amazing ability to deal with all things awkward and handle them with tact, grace, or at the very least grim resolve. Personally, I think that is often our biggest superpower, especially for those of us who teach students going through the throes of puberty and early adolescence.
Yesterday, I achieved the highest super hero rank. I taught my 6th grade class all about reproduction and conception, while visibly pregnant. I stood up in front of 2 dozen 11 and 12 year olds and basically said “This is what you do to get this way, and this is exactly what I did.”
Ok, maybe it wasn’t that detailed. But it felt damn close.
Our district has a curriculum for grade 6 focused on human growth and development. All the things you should know as you transition from kid to teen. It covers nutrition, stress, puberty, and reproduction. The kids dread it and yet look forward to it, loudly complaining about it for a year prior and making a huge deal out of any reference to it. Usually we as teachers stay calm, grit our teeth, and get it done. It’s honestly not that bad, and in the years I have been teaching it I have gone from feeling incredibly anxious to not caring at all.
Until, that is, the timing of my third pregnancy lined up perfectly with when we needed to teach it. I don’t know who was dreading it more, me or them!
The day before THE lesson, as they all referred to the lesson on conception, a small group of students had volunteered to stay in for recess and help me organize the library. While we stacked books, one solemn girl I’ll call Marta turned to me and said, “I figured it out, you know. I know exactly what you’re going to teach us tomorrow.” She went on, “You told us about sperm and egg being needed to reproduce in the last lesson, but you didn’t say how they got together, so I know you’re going to tell us that next, and I already know how it happens because I thought about it and there’s really only one way it possibly could happen.” I told her that when we had the lesson tomorrow, I hoped what she heard confirmed her ‘theory’ as she had referred to it.
Then it got worse.
Other kids joined the conversation. I listened, reminded them I wasn’t going to really confirm or deny or answer anything because the full lesson with the whole class was tomorrow.
“It’s weird because we’re all going to be thinking about the fact that our parents did IT.” One pointed out.
“I think youngest children have it best because you know your parents never did IT when you were in the house.” One replied.
“No, only children have it easiest, because then they know their parents only did IT once!” Another argued.
Marta shook her head. “I don’t think it’s that simple. I don’t think IT works like that.”
One boy piped up “Guys, do we even know what IT is yet?” That was greeted with “Kind of?” “I think so.” and “I don’t want to know!”
(And yes, during this conversation they did stress the word IT that way, and yes, I imagined it in all caps, and yes, I did think of the scary clown.)
Then, IT GOT EVEN WORSE.
Marta turned to me and said, “This must be really awkward for you. It’s not just our parents we’ll be thinking about, it’s you. I mean, we all know you have kids, and we know everyone who has kids had to do IT, but with this right in front of us”, and here she gestured at my big ol’ pregnant belly, “we’ll all be thinking about what you did, and thinking about you doing IT.”
Outwardly, I was very calm and reminded her that this is a totally normal, scientific topic, and nothing to feel awkward about. My inner dialogue alternated between You have to run away immediately and never see them again, and screaming.
And that is why I am a superhero. A student told me the whole class was going to be imaging me ‘doing IT’, and I remained calm and collected. I can now accomplish anything. I have reached the highest height of Mt. Awkward, and nothing that comes next will faze me.
The next day was the actual lesson. The structure was this: Diagrams on the board of anatomical parts, me explaining what each part did and how the parts, ahem, got to each other, and the kids then glued a set of cards onto a blank chart titled ‘steps to conception.’ When the cards were first handed out, Marta immediately shuffled through them, found the one that apparently confirmed her ‘theory’, held it up, and yelled “Called it!”
After the lesson, kids anonymously submitted questions. Most were some variation of ‘Does THAT really go in THERE?’ To which I answered, yes. Yes it did.