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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Sixth Grade

I’ve never taught sixth grade before. So far, I love it. Yes, they are hormotional, as we call it. They are obsessed with each other, and their clothes, and who likes who. They smell like a combination of stale sweat and cheap, alcohol based perfume and cologne. But they are able to have deep, meaningful discussions far beyond what younger kids can do. We talk about global warming, what defines a civilization, social justice, and debate whether math is invented or discovered. They are deep thinkers and social creatures. I’m so glad to spend my days with them.

They are on the cusp of childhood and the teenage years, holding on desperately while they also push away. I get to watch them become the people they will be- and help them along the way. This mix makes for some poignant , sometimes heartbreaking moments. I’ve watched friendships that are nearly a decade old fall apart, see kids realize their parents flaws, and helped them confront things like racism and terrorism.

But of course, there is also humor.

A few weeks ago at recess, I had two interactions that sum up sixth grade to me.

One of my girls, Rosa, shyly asked me if I would go on the swings with her. “Of course!” I told her. “I love the swings!” We swung together, feet pointed to the sky, talking about how while you may never be too old to swing, our butts were definitely not the size of the little butts these particular swings were made for.

“OMG!” Another student yelled, running over to us. (She actually said this phonetically- oh-em-gee.) “Hashtag teacherontheswings!”

Will, one of the boys strolled over. “You guys are on the swings?” He said disdainfully. “Yeah.” Rosa said between pumps. “The swings are great!”

He raised an eyebrow. “Yeah, if you’re like, six.”

Just then, another girl walked over to us. “Will, want to go on the swings with me?” She asked, smiling at him

“Yeah, definitely. I love the swings.” He said with a totally straight face, and immediately followed her to the open swings. Rosa looked at me with a raised eyebrow. “Interesting.” She said.

 

All Hormones, All the Time

Ahh, May of the fifth grade. A glorious time. The flowers bloom, the weather warms up, the kids are suddenly taller, crankier, and stinkier. Spring is in the air, and so are the hormones.

We have officially hit the preteen period. They are talking about who likes who, desperately jostling to sit next to specific people only so they can roll their eyes at everything that person says. They are more aware of clothes, and music, and what they are ‘supposed’ to like. For my friends who teach primary grades, this time is terrifying, but I don’t mind it too much.

It’s a tough time for them. Emotions are high. They are likely to laugh too loud, cry at the drop of a hat. Little things can make them angry and ruin their day. Their bodies have started changing in weird, uncomfortable ways. Even worse, people know this is happening and expect them to talk about it. Relatives and older family friends around them wax emotional about the wonderful, amazing changes ahead, while they cringe awkwardly.

All of the above describes puberty, but it also describes… pregnancy!

I feel your pain, guys.

You cried yesterday because your friend didn’t want to play tag with you. I cried because I could not reach my foot to buckle my sandal. You became inexplicably angry when your mom insisted you go with her to your brother’s soccer game. I went into a rage when my husband ate the last pizza slice.

You’re suddenly getting taller. A lot taller. When you stand up, it’s disorienting to see how high off the ground you are. I’m getting wider. A lot wider. It’s hard to remember that I can no longer fit between small spaces like desks. (Related note: I’m sorry my belly has hit so many of you in the back of the head when I walk by. You’re right, we do need more space between the tables.)

You’re growing hair in unexpected places that you don’t want to talk about. I am sporting luxurious side burns (don’t worry, your facial hair will come in soon) and a hairy belly of truly epic proportions. I, too, am simultaneously ashamed and proud of this.

Your body has started doing all sorts of strange, weird, gross, but sort of cool things that I won’t talk about here. I feel you, my small friends. Humans. Gross, am I right?

So here we sit- 23 pubescent preteens and a 6 month pregnant teacher. Sometimes I ask my assistant what it’s like to be surrounded by a sea of hormones. She says she doesn’t mind, but in all fairness she may just be afraid I’ll cry. Or eat her.