Sunday, March 25, 2012
Friday, March 23, 2012
Thursday, March 15, 2012
Monday, March 12, 2012
- Control the Climate. Eggen & Kauchak (2006) suggest that a classroom’s climate serves as a fundamental determinant of a motivated student body; nowhere is that more evident than in an urban classroom where a teacher has little mastery of her space. It wasn’t hard to understand why my students weren’t prepared to focus when they were entering the classroom poorly nourished from lunch, without a sufficient number of desks to use, or when I had to contend with scurrying mice for their attention. The original classroom teacher did not better things much, having resigned himself to accepting their behavior as par for the course, and taking no action beyond an occasional yell to influence positive changes. Beyond being prepared with enough engaging material to distract them from what wasn’t working then, it was important that I arrived to each class before students arrived, so I could create a physical space that successfully helped them shift into “Ms. Tracie’s class” mode. Moreover, while I could not circumvent the issues that students themselves brought to the classroom, I made sure to present an attitude that clearly communicated my intention to teach, and relayed my reciprocal intention for them to learn, and to respond in kind.
- Establish High Standards. Urban public schools are no strangers to rules and regulation; where they sometimes slip up however, is in enforcement consistency, or lack thereof. While cell phones use, for example, is a school-wide breach of policy, it was not uncommon for students to go unchecked in their use their phones in class, even going so far as to seek out outlets to sit next to when in need of a freshly-charged battery. When students know they can do whatever they want with no recourse they will; on the same token, students also respond appropriately to consistent order, particularly when exacted on classmates who do not have the common goal of learning. Though I could not always get that support from classroom staff, the most successful sessions I had with students were when they were gently and lovingly held to group ground rules, and when those who were willing to participate knew they could count on us to effectively deal with those who were not, without exception.
- Assume NOTHING. Perez & Luquis (2008) remind health educators of the need for consistent responsiveness to the communicative diversity (i.e., language) existing among our respective populations. I extend this argument to both cognition and comfort, as I came to face both while in my work this month. My class was not considered to be one for students who did not speak English as a first language; several of my students however were not English-speakers at all, which greatly affected how well I was able to translate the information I shared through handouts and classroom activities. My 9th grade level health class was populated with a sizable number of sophomores and juniors; many students of all grades did not read at grade level, which required consistently more rudimentary teaching materials in order to keep people from getting lost. With high rates of sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy among teens in my students’ demographic, it was easy to make assumptions about how much they had already been exposed to about sex and sexual health; to my surprise however, I found that I often had to go back to the basics with them, to address questions like “So how does a baby have room to grow in the stomach if the mother eats so much?” Finally, while many students had no problem making lewd jokes about a whole host of sexual terms and activities, some were visibly uncomfortable with sex, and had no desire to discuss it, let alone engage in it. To address the latter, it was important that I stress sexual engagement as an informed and responsible choice that could be asserted or withheld at one’s personal leisure.
- Respect the Language. Urban public school kids curse. A LOT. Coincidentally, much of is used in the most traditional, “profane” sense of the word—as the common language of the community as a whole. My task, in this case, was to reserve my offense for situations when it was genuinely required—like students who banged incessantly on the door when they were late to class and we didn’t let them right away, for example. One of the most amazing learning breakthroughs I experienced during my stint was when a student referred to the egg as a “bad bitch” after receiving a female-centered description of the zona reaction; had I been quicker to censor, I could have not only de-valued her learning experience, but would’ve sent a clear negative message to the rest of the class about the safety of learning with authenticity.
- Be Patient…and then patient some more. Even with the first four items in tow, it was downright difficult to teach this course under these circumstances—and that’s keeping it polite. By the end I knew that some kids would miss me, and wanted to learn and press more; that said, the likelihood is that even the best strategies in the worst foundational structure can only last but so long. Did my students learn enough to effectively change they way they view sexual engagement and their sexual choices? Probably not. Did they gain enough intellectual stoking to be more open to potential learning the next go ‘round? ABSOLUTELY…and in this case, that was really all I, or anyone, can ask for.
--Ms. Tracie G. :o)
HSED 626, Spring 2012
Sunday, March 11, 2012
As an educator, I often think about who I am. That is, who I am compared to who my students are. As a well-educated, white, heterosexual, middle class woman, I have worried that my identity will somehow get me in trouble with my audience. In other words, because I belong to a number of majority groups, I have worried that I will not be taken seriously, that I will not be able to relate to my students, that someone will think I’m a fraud, or that I will be passed off as some outsider pushing condom use on at-risk populations.
These feelings became particularly troublesome during my practicum last fall. I was working at an organization whose focus was on education for at-risk youth, Latinos, and the HIV positive community. I was planning a late night event where I would be going into some of the gay bars to do sex education. During a meeting with my supervisor, she suggested that I should look the part, aka “queer it up”, before I went to the bars. At first I thought this was a great idea, remembering that sometimes education is like acting and I would be playing a role. The more I thought about it however, the more I became uncomfortable with the idea of faking me.
I brought my feelings of uncertainty to my practicum class and I was reminded by my professor that yes, as an educator sometimes you need to fake it til you make it. But that sentiment refers more to a person’s confidence and familiarity with content, not personality. After some further class discussion, I realized that “queering it up” would probably do more harm than good. Not only would I feel uncomfortable faking who I was/am, but I risked losing the respect of my audience. And without their respect, I sure as hell would not have their attention.
So, I decided to be authentic. Unapologetically me. Now, that doesn’t mean I went into the gay bars advertising all the ways that I represent majority culture. What it meant was that I felt like myself walking it. It meant dressing the way I like to dress. And it meant being the educator I want to be. When I walked into that bar, I was taken seriously. I didn’t stand out (in a bad way). I didn’t appear or act fake. I was approachable. And I got a great response.
As an educator, I know that I cannot expect to reach everyone. As a high school teacher, I was able to reach some teens but not others. As an outreach educator, some adults came to me while others shied away. After having this experience and really working on my authentic educator persona, I feel so much more confident in my abilities as an educator.
And since this is an online blog, I thought I’d share one more tidbit on authenticity in the online world, for those of you who do more blogging, tweeting, etc.
Friday, March 2, 2012
One of the things I was most worried about when I started teaching at Planned Parenthood, was how I would answer a question calmly and efficiently, especially if it was something very charged or inappropriate. Luckily, one of the very first things we did while I was in training was to learn about how to answer sexuality questions. Cat Dukes, the VP of Education and Training at the Delaware Planned Parenthood developed a framework that I find particularly useful:
The very first words out of your mouth should always be “good question.” There are three reasons for this. First, if you do it sincerely, it’s very affirming to the person asking the question. They’ll feel good about themselves and that’s important because it may have been very hard for them to ask the question, even if it seems totally off-base to you. Second, it reassures the asker that you are a good, reliable source to sexuality information. Third, it gives you a chance to stall. Take a deep breath after “good question” and think before you speak! A lot of times we get nervous about the question, or about possibly saying the wrong thing, that we start to ramble without thinking about what we want to say first. (I know I’m guilty of that one at least!) Remember, you don’t want to end up on the news for something you said to a kid because they asked you a question about analingus.
If the question is a fact-based question—for example “If a boy and a girl both have HIV and they have unprotected sex can they give each other more HIV?” (real question I got yesterday)—and you are 100% sure that you know the answer, tell them the answer. However, if you’re not sure and it is a fact based question, say “I don’t know.” It is really important that we, as sexuality educators, get used to saying “I don’t know.” Of course we should be as well-versed in our subject manner as we can, but we are never going to know everything, and it is much better to admit to not knowing than to give faulty, possibly even dangerous, information out. As members of professional organizations, administrations and the Widener community, we should all strive to put out accurate information. That being said, if you don’t know, you should follow up with “but I can find out.” If possible, go home, do some research and return to the next class with the answer. A lot of the questions can be solved with a quick Google search or a quick call to a colleague with that particular sub-specialty. Your students will feel that you respect them by taking the time to get the answer, and if you still feel uncomfortable with saying I don’t know, you have the chance to “redeem yourself.”
Not all questions are fact based however, many are opinion questions. Whether these are personal questions (what kind of birth control do you use, Miss Kelly?) or permission seeking questions (is it okay if I masturbate?) or general opinion questions (is abortion good or bad?) there is no easy answer. “If you are a public educator, your charge is to illuminate the range of values that exist in the community and to assist students in examining their own values” (Hedgepeth and Helmich, 1996, p. 94). At PPDE, we are trained to use the following groupings: “for some, for others and for you.” In other words, you should cover both sides of the debate and then explain that the individual needs to make the decision on their own and encourage them to talk to family or trusted adults about the issue. So with the “is it okay if I masturbate” question a complete answer might go something like this: “Good question. For some people masturbation can feel very good and be a pleasant experience, for others they may not like to masturbate or may not believe it is a good idea because of religion or values. Only you can decide how you feel about masturbation, but you can also talk to your parents or other trusted adults to help you figure out what choice is right for you.”
You can use the framework for personal questions as well, as in the “what kind of birth control do you use” example. “Good question. Some people prefer methods such as condoms because they are cheap and very effective. Other people prefer hormonal methods because they don’t interrupt sexual play. For each person, the method that they are going to use with the highest degree of effectiveness is the best method for them. You can talk to your parents or the school nurse for more information on the different methods so you can choose the one that is right for you.” (I might also take this opportunity to remind the class about which methods protect against STD’s and HIV, just to use it as a teachable moment.)
I also think that having a question box is a great way to help handle difficult questions. If you have the opportunity to meet with a group several times, you can pass the box around once per session and then prepare to answer the questions at the beginning of the next meeting. This gives you a little more time to think and research your answers, and allows the questions to be anonymous. Also, you can use the question box in class if you have a student who keeps raising their hand to ask you difficult questions. Instead of interrupting the lesson (again), you can ask them to write it down for next week.
So the next time you get a difficult question from a participant, take a deep breath, say “good question” (and mean it!) and remember that being a sexuality educator sometimes means having to say “I don’t know.”
For more information check out:
Hedgepeth, E., & Helmich, J. (1996). Teaching about sexuality and HIV: Principles and methods for effective education. New York, NY: NYU Press.