I loved teaching fifth grade more than any other grade. 10 and 11 year old children are full of positive energy and unbridled enthusiasm. They are inquisitive with a refreshing sense of innocence. They are losing their egocentricity and replacing it with an understanding that there is a giant world around them with so much to offer.
When I taught fifth grade there was one area of the curriculum that scared me to death. I am talking about teaching “sex education.” I was very fortunate that the school where I was teaching did not require the teachers to teach this to the students. Why? Because I will fully admit that I was not necessarily the most mature young adult. There was no way I could stand in front of my students and say “penis” and “vagina” with a straight face. So, instead, we took the students to a local health education center where graduate students taught my students about the human reproductive system through their “Linda” and “Michael” programs.
When I moved into the principalship, I was relieved that I had made it through my teaching career without having to teach what makes boys and girls different. I spent nine years as the principal of my first school, and never did I have to speak the P-word or the V-word. Then I moved to a new school.
During my initial tour of the new school after I was hired, the outgoing principal (who was moving to the middle school and was a friend of mine) casually mentioned that he forgot to tell me one thing during the entire interview process. “Dave” he said, “I forgot to mention that the male fifth grade teacher and I have been teaching the Human Growth and Development unit for the last seven years. The expectation is that you would take my place next spring.”
“Excuse me? Human growth and development? What exactly is that?” I asked, knowing full well what he was talking about.
“It’s the sex education unit. I’m so sorry I forgot to mention it earlier,” he said with a sly grin.
Well, I had already signed the contract and had officially resigned from my previous district. There was no turning back.
I spent most of my first year stressing about the upcoming puberty unit that I was going to teach. I literally walked around the house practicing saying the words out loud – over and over again. I needed to desensitize my immature brain and start acting like a grown up. I read the text book a thousand times. I knew the material like the back of my hand. Plus, I had two kids of my own by then, so I really understood the process.
The day came. All the boys entered the room to join me and Mike, the other male teacher. I was more nervous than my first day of student teaching. Luckily, he had taught the unit for a few years, so he took the lead, and I added a comment here and there. Ironically, here was my chance to teach fifth grade again, and I dreaded every minute of it.
Well, I am now in my fourth year as the principal of this school, and I have survived three years teaching the human growth and development lesson. Today, I started my fourth year teaching “the changes our bodies go through.” I can now proudly say that I have grown up. I can say all the words out loud, and I don’t giggle when the boys start giggling. I am actually enjoying myself teaching fifth graders again.
There is one thing nagging at me, however. Because we teach about puberty, not about sex, how am I going to answer the inevitable question that some innocent boy is bound to ask: “I don’t get one thing. How does the sperm actually get to the egg?”