The page in their book told me that today’s topic for their English class was, ‘The differences between boys and girls’.
Oh God no.
I looked at the room full of 40 eleven-year-olds staring back at me and felt a bit panicky. What differences exactly am I suppposed to talk about here? Are we getting down to the anatomy or is it more of a gender stereotype, ‘boys wear blue and girls wear pink’, kind of deal?
I was covering an upper primary class at short notice so I hadn’t known what I was going to be teaching until I walked into the room. The textbooks can be pretty vague, often with just a few key words to teach that we then create a lesson around. Normally, I like the freedom, but not on this day.
I tried to think of a plan. Do I open with -“okay boys and girls, you are coming to an age where soon you’ll be noticing changes in your body”.
No. Fuck no I am not here to explain puberty to a room full of primary school kids in a 35-minute English class.
And surely vocabulary and pronunciation aren’t supposed to be the focus of today’s lesson, are they?
‘Vagina. Can we all say, va-gi-na’? It’s a ‘vvvvvv’ sound. Then the ‘g’ as in ‘giraffe’. Vagina’. Good job everyone!’
No. No. No. No. I am just going to make this real simple, try and survive the next 30 minutes then get out of here.
I drew an outline of a boy and a girl on the blackboard, still not sure how I was going to play this.
‘So, let’s look at some of the differences between boys and girls”, I said.
‘BOOBS!’ yelled a voice from the back and the entire class including me, cracked up. Very good. When I ask you how old you are you tell me your name, but somehow you know do know the word, ‘boobs’.
‘Yes, okay. What else? Well, ahhh men have moustaches and beards. Some men do. What kind of toys do boys like? Yes trucks and stuff and girls play with dolls. And ummmm girls have long hair. Well, not all girls and boys can have long hair, but generally. Yes and umm clothes…. well y’know ahhh girls wear dresses…’
This bumbling train-wreck went on for a few more minutes until I decided that was about all we were going to cover there. I looked back at the book, maybe there was some written work I could get them to do?
There was. It was a list of activities and the children had to write whether it was a ‘girls’, activity or a ‘boys’ activity. It went something like this-
Sweep the floor
Help mother with cooking
Play on the computer
Play with dolls
I mean come on, it’s 2019! I know just minutes ago I was teaching the children gender stereotypes about long hair and dolls, but, it’s 2019, am I really supposed to be teaching the children gender stereotypes?
I drew two columns on the board- ‘Boys’, and ‘Girls’.
‘Okay, everyone, who can tell me, is climbing trees something that boys or girls do?
‘Boys’, shouted the kids.
‘But, can girls climb trees?’
‘So we’ll put climb trees in the boy’s and the girl’s column. Now, who sweeps the floor?’
‘Does your Dad sometimes sweep the floor?’
‘Alright, so boys and girls can sweep the floor!’
In the end, I put all the activities in both columns because boys and girls can do anything and there is no way I am teaching a room full of year-five kids that sweeping and cooking are girl’s jobs while the boys are out playing soccer and climbing trees. When I was a kid, I was a little monkey and I could climb higher than most of the boys anyway.