Hormones Are Not an Excuse

Being a sixth grade teacher is weird in so many ways. The one that I’m reflecting on today is the fact that I deal with a group of people who need my help because they lost a tooth, and need my help because they have their period. It’s a strange sense of vertigo to realize that these two milestones that literally mark the end of childhood and beginning of adulthood happen simultaneously, often to the same person.

And as I write this I’m realizing that as strange as it is for me, it’s even more poignant for them. So I guess I should say that being a sixth grader is weird. Again, in so many ways!

Last year we had them watch THE MOVIE, as they all call it. All about puberty and changes and all that fun stuff. This year we went over it in even more depth, with even more overly scientific terms, and cartoon images that were even more graphic and detailed. Plus the added bonus of discussing conception and fertilization. Last year was a one day lesson. This year’s spanned four days. A colleague referred to the curriculum as “Girl parts, boy parts, how they go together.”

Last year I felt so proud of myself for getting through it without too much awkwardness or discomfort on my part. Last year was nothing. After this year, I don’t think anything will ever make me feel uncomfortable again. Until you’ve showed a detailed model of sperm fertilizing an egg to a group of 11 and 12 year old girls, you haven’t really lived. Some people go sky diving to get a rush. This is a lot cheaper.

(My favorite part of this was when one girl yelled “Woo, that worm is the winner!” when the first one reached the egg.)

One thing that came up a lot in our long, ongoing, and incredibly detailed discussions was that for a lot of the questions (Why do we get acne? Why do we have crushes? What determines when puberty starts? Why do you get emotional around your period?) the answer was ‘Hormones’.

Yesterday I met with a student about her behavior on the bus. For the past few weeks, she’s been having some ongoing issues with another student. She freely admitted she hadn’t been as nice as she could have been. “Ok, I’ve been mean to her.” I asked her why.

She was reluctant to give the reason for the original argument, but did let me know this bit of info: “Well, I got my period today.” I waited for her to explain more. I stared at her. She stared back at me. “Ok, but this has been going on for a few weeks, right?” I asked. “Yeah, well, my period!” She said happily. More staring.

“I’m confused how you getting your period today made you mean to her three weeks ago.” “Well, hormones, you know.” She informed me knowingly.

Sixth grade, everybody.

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Ant Problems

We had a class breakfast last week, and in the ensuing chaos of twenty-three 12 year olds eating and drinking, some juice was spilled. Multiple kids attempted to clean it up, but only ended up smearing it across an even greater surface of the counter. Within an hour, sugar ants were busily crawling across it. We cleaned it up, but by then the damage was done and a line of ants kept scurrying across the counter.

That afternoon we had reading buddies, and the second graders of course noticed the ants. One little girl quickly pointed out that I could just poison them. I explained that they were there for the spilled juice, and that I didn’t want to use poison if we could just do a better job cleaning up the juice.

“You could put the poison in the juice bottle!” She suggested enthusiastically.

“Well I really don’t want to use poison, and the ants won’t be able to get the juice in the bottle anyway” I replied.

The little girl looked meaningfully around the table at each of the sixth graders she sat with. “It’s not for the ants.” She said to me. The sixth graders looked at me and each other, but the little one was already back to her book, head resting gently on her very alarmed looking buddy.

After the second graders left, my students asked “Did she suggest you poison us because we didn’t clean up the juice?” “I think she did.” I answered. “But I promise not to poison any of you.” Nonetheless, the juice was thoroughly cleaned up after that.

I’m Back! And I’m Tired.

Turns out having a baby really eats up your free time. Who knew! After a long hiatus, I’m officially back. I’ll write a longer post soon, but here’s a quick one.

One thing I like about teaching older kids is their ability to be a bit more tactful. I’m the type of person who looks tired even when I’m not (thank you, genetic predisposition to under eye circles). When I actually am tired, it’s really bad. Kids, of course notice this, and comment on it. Their responses change based on their age, though, as both empathy and tact develop.

Third Grader- “Are you tired? You look terrible.”

Fourth Grader- “You look really tired, are you ok?”

Fifth Grader- “You know, if you wore more make up, you’d look less tired.”

Sixth Grader- “I notice you look really tired, which is totally understandable! Some under eye concealer might help with that, and some light colored eye shadow on the outer lid.”

Later that day I found a note on my desk with a list of concealer brands.

How I Know I’m a Grown-up

When I started teaching, I was 22. In my first week at work, a custodian yelled at me not to run up the stairs, and was mortified when I turned around and he saw I was not a kid. A student once told me “Sometimes I think of you like a grown-up, but it doesn’t last long.”

I am no longer the youngest teacher at school. Several of my colleagues now have the dubious honor of being yelled at by custodians, and staff in the parking lot who tell them high school parking is on the other side of the campus. I’ve passed on the torch.

Since then, I have hit a lot of adult milestones. I went to grad school, got my masters, travelled all over, payed off my car, bought a house, got engaged, got married, had a baby (almost, anyway! One more month!).

None of these are the reason why I can now truly say “I am an adult.” No, that statement hinges solely on one reason- I watched THE MOVIE and handled it like an adult.

THE MOVIE refers to the human growth and development video we have the kids watch at the end of fifth grade. It can be summed up the following way: “Feelings. Hormones. Wash yourself real thoroughly or you’ll stink. Menstruation. Nocturnal emission.” The kids start talking about it in fourth grade, and the lead up to the movie itself is fraught with sweaty palms, awkward laughter, and red faces.

The teachers handle it much better, of course. Except for me. Awkward situations make me even more awkward. If the kids are laughing and know they shouldn’t be, I am most likely busting a rib trying not to laugh with them.

In my second year working with kids, I student taught in fifth grade. When we watched THE MOVIE, I went with the girls. (We split the grade by gender, and have each watch their own movie one day, and the opposite gender movie the next.) I was not looking forward to it. During the event, I did my best to blend in with the wall. Despite this, one girl felt the urge to turn around and make direct eye contact with me every time a part of the male anatomy was mentioned. It was intense. When I reminisced about this with the colleague who at the time was my mentor teacher, she was surprised that I had been there. “I don’t remember you being in the room for that at all!” She said. Good. That meant my attempts at blending in with the bulletin boards had worked.

This time around, I was in charge of my own classroom. I had to run the group. There was no blending in with the walls. Not only did I have to watch the movie with them, I had to teach the associated curriculum, and answer any questions. There was no backing out.

My colleagues and I had a talk about who would take which gender, since we split our class and send half to another teacher. “I’ve taught the boys class before.” “Me too, and I used to be a doctor.” “I have three sons, I can do this.”

They looked at me. I answered honestly. “I am not mature enough to handle this, so if no one minds, I’ll take the girls group!” Have I mentioned I love my colleagues?

On the day of, my boys all went to a colleagues room, and her girls came to me. We watched the movie. They giggled, turned red, and then wrote down a million questions, which ranged from serious to confusing, insightful to accidentally hilarious. I answered them all. Was it hard to explain how to insert a tampon? Yes. Was it hard not to laugh when explaining that boys did not get their periods? Of course. Was it hard not to be embarrassed explaining what, exactly, testicles were to a group of 11 year old girls? Good god, yes. But I did it. I didn’t laugh, I didn’t turn red, I didn’t try to become one with the walls.

And that is how I know I’m a grown-up. It’s kind of nice, to have finally stepped away from the intense awkwardness of caring about being embarrassed. I guess I just don’t care anymore. So please, feel free to ask me any and all questions about puberty, tampons, and nocturnal emissions.

The Tattooed… Mom

I’ve had a lot of big news I was able to share with my classes over the years. Buying a house, getting engaged, getting a puppy, getting married. This is the biggest so far- pregnancy!

As soon as I found out, one of my first thoughts was of telling my students. Both how exciting that would be, and how awkward that would be. To little kids, having a baby is somewhere between fact and magic. “Well, you got married, so this is the logical next step. Now something will happen involving birds and bees, maybe specifically storks, some scientific terms I don’t understand but my parents told me so the could feel progressive, and you’ll have a baby in you. Voila. When’s recess?”

My students are ten and eleven, the age when certain aspects of human relationships start to become both extremely interesting and extremely gross. They have, at the very least, a vague sense that what starts this process has a lot less to do with storks and a lot more to do with those feelings they’ve all started having when they look at each other. In short, “I don’t know exactly what you did to get this way, but I’m sure it’s sort of gross.” The preteen years are a magical time.

When it became evident to both myself and my colleagues that I couldn’t go on pretending I was suffering from a low grade stomach bug all the time and smuggling fruits of increasing large sizes under my shirts, I decided to tell the kids. I broke the news, and reassured them I’d still be here for most of next year (since my school has classes with the same teacher for two years, I’ll be their sixth grade teacher, too). Their reactions were about as awkward as I expected, as hilarious as I could have hoped, and much sweeter than I thought they would be.

After a moment of stunned silence, one of the boys clapped his hands to his face and yelled “That’s so exciting! This is awesome!” Then the floodgates opened and a million questions were unleashed.

“How big is your belly?”

“How big will you get?”

“Is it a boy or a girl?” “When will you find out?” “How can they tell if it’s a boy or a girl?” (The answer to the last one was a shocker- no one apparently thought the same rules applied for babies in utero and the rest of the mammal kingdom.)

“How do ultrasounds work?” “Why are they called that?”

“What will you name it?” “Can we pick the name?” “Can we vote on the name?” “Will you name it after me?” “Or me?” “What about me?”

“Do you have any cravings?” “Have you eaten weird food?” “Does it like (fill in random food here)?”

“Will it come to visit us?” (Not, will you bring it in to visit. Will it come to visit. Of it’s own volition.)

“How does it get food?” “How does it breath if it’s in there?” Following this was a student provided run-down of how the umbilical cord works, much to the discomfort of everyone else, including me.

“If the cords attached to you and the baby, what happens to the part in you when they cut the cord?” (Full disclosure, I used the best of my evasive ‘answer without really answering’ techniques and then found the nearest colleague with kids as soon as I went to lunch to ask her the exact same question. Apparently I still have a lot to learn.)

“Does all pregnancy ruin your stomach? Because my mom says I ruined hers. If it does, don’t tell the baby, it will feel bad.”

“Will it go to our school?”

“Will your dogs like it?”

“Can we at least pick it’s middle name?”

All in all, it took about an hour of processing and questions, both the practical, the personal, and the scientific. I’m excited about the whole thing. I’m so glad they know, and so happy they are excited for me. This lucky little bean has 23 big friends looking out for it already.

Things Children Said to me While Getting on the Bus

Ranked in order from nicest to creepiest.

“Bye bye, pretty teacher!”  I needed that one. I’d been asked by several students and colleagues if I was sick, or tired, or both.

“Have a good night, Susan!” My name is not Susan. My name is not at all similar to Susan. In fact, I don’t think anyone named Susan works in this building.

“Just so you know, nothing is true. Not even Santa, and not even the universe.” My guess is someone recently learned a painful Christmas truth and had his faith in EVERYTHING shaken.

“I’m going to put a french fry in your butt.” This is response to being repeatedly told not to yank of other peoples backpacks. 

Why You Don’t Discuss Race With Second Graders

We have reading buddies once a week, so second graders come into the class to read books with my kids. After they finish reading, they can play a game. Today one of my boys and his second grade buddy were playing chess, while another fifth grader and his partner looked on.

I missed the first part of the conversation, but came by in time to hear one of the fifth graders saying that chess was racist because it was black against white. Before I could speak up that this a) wasn’t accurate and b) not a subject you discussed with 7 year olds, one of the little ones piped up. “What’s racist?” He asked.

The two older boys stared at each other for a second, then at me with something like panic. Before any of us could say anything, the second little boy announced “I’m black.”

He is not. He is definitely, definitely not. He has sandy brown hair, blue eyes, and very fair skin. The fifth graders, again, looked at each other, then me with a mix of confusion and panic. Again, they were interrupted. The same boy said, in the same definitive tone as before “I’m not black.”

“Gabriel is black.” The other little boy said, looking over to where Gabriel and his buddy were drawing together. “Yes, he is.” Said one of my boys, clearly relieved to have something he could answer clearly. Gabriel is definitely black. Then the same little boy leaned in and said quietly to his buddy, “Is Gabriel black?”

The other second grader interrupted again. “Are you black?” He asked his buddy. “No, I’m Chinese.” My student answered. “Black Chinese, or white Chinese?” The little one pressed. At this point, his buddy put his head on the table. The little one patted his hair gently, and moved his chess piece.