Teaching Puberty Doesn't Have to Be Awkward!
Editor's note: Ready to tackle this uncomfortable topic? This advice from Choices teacher-advisor Amy Lauren Smith--a 6th to 8th grade health teacher at the Shanghai American School in Shanghai, China, and the brilliant mind behind our Teacher's Guide each month--will help you handle these lessons calmly and gracefully. Use her guidance while you teach A Survival Guide To Your Body Right Now in this month's issue of Choices. (And if you're looking for more info on teen hygiene, this previous Choices story is worth revisiting.)
Maybe it's the memories of difficult experiences we had as kids--the awkward health classes, the painful forced conversations with our parents, the scary (and often incorrect) information picked up on the playground--but most adults just don't like talking about puberty.
But here's the thing: this conversation doesn't need to be a difficult experience. Puberty is something that all human beings have in common. Getting kids to view it as a universal experience that they're going through together can help them feel more at ease during a time of change and stress.
After 15 years of teaching puberty, I've learned some valuable lessons. These tips will help you navigate your lessons while keeping your students--and the adults in their lives--comfortable.
- Make sure you're aware of your state and district policies.
This is key before teaching any topic related to sexual health, as policies can vary widely between states and even districts. Hopefully you're at a school that has a clearly outlined policy. If you're not, then partner up with your admin to get one in place.
For the most up-to-date breakdown of can and can't be taught, check out The Guttmacher Report Sex and HIV Education by State- Jan. 2017.
- Involve the parent community.
This one is also a must, as you don't want to catch anyone by surprise. When you start teaching kids about puberty, they're going to have questions. Hopefully they're taking those questions home, so it's best to let parents know they should be expecting them. I send a letter home before our puberty unit with an outline of the topics we're going to cover, some possible dinner table conversation starters, and web resources that parents can go to for advice. We have an eager parent community, so we also team up with the guidance counselor to offer them a workshop on what to expect.
For resources to send home and some sample questions, check out Puberty Help for Parents.
- Reinvent the wheel.
Being a teacher in the age of the internet is a glorious thing. There are gifted teachers creating curriculum and sharing it with the world, so we can find ready to go lesson plans and project ideas for basically every subject. Just remember: this is not the time you want to be pulling random lesson plans from the internet. If you need ideas, there are many non-profit groups trying to make a difference who will offer trustworthy options for curriculum.
- Be afraid to laugh.
I had a seventh grader come into class the other day and flop down on the couch. Sitting there moping, he went from angry to sad to despondent to giggly. l asked him what was wrong. His answer? "Puberty."
Regardless of the wide differences in adolescent changes during puberty, the kids still have a lot in common. Focus on those things and students will feel less like an outsider and more like one of the crew. My favorite moment every year is when I tell them that feet usually grow first. They look around, realize that, yeah, everyone does have abnormally large feet in middle school--and we all have a good laugh.