When I tell people I teach 9th grade Health Education in an urban high school, I get a lot of sympathetic looks. People tell me they could never do it, that they would get too embarrassed or too scared, or they just wouldn’t know what to say when kids start asking them about drugs or sex. When I hear this, I usually just smile and tell them how lucky I feel that that’s my job.
However, when I start to break down the specifics of what I’m expected to do in this one-semester class, it can seem a little overwhelming.
I teach at a school with a “modified block” schedule – our class periods are 70 minutes long, and I see each class four times a week, or about 72 times over the course of the semester. I teach five section of the class at a time, which means I teach 300-350 students a year. I see my students when they are freshmen, and almost all of the 1,300 students at my school have taken my class.
In the limited time I have with them, I need to try to teach the students as much as I possibly can about nutrition, healthy eating, fitness, substance abuse, mental health, positive communication, eating disorders, puberty, reproductive anatomy, birth control, pregnancy, birth, STIs and healthy relationships. It’s a lot.
I came to teaching from journalism, and I often compare the process of planning my health course to editing – constantly looking for the best lessons, updating data and research all the time, and trying to find the right way to share what I know with the ever-changing minds of teenagers. I do all of this knowing that for many of my students, this may be the only time in their whole lives when they get to formally learn about and discuss these topics, and that they’ll be using the information they learn in my class to make decisions that could literally save their lives.
It’s never the same twice, and some days it does break my heart, but most of the time I feel like I have the best job in the world.