Teaching homeless populations about sexuality has unique challenges. Sexuality education for this population is often overlooked. Many these individuals have not had formal or comprehensive sexuality education. Also, most of them have not graduated from high school or received their GEDs (Cleminson-Hernandez, 2004). Additionally, these individuals reading levels are typically below average, and financial disparities make access to healthcare and health promotion education very difficult. These challenges require specific considerations when adapting my lesson plans and educational strategies for this group.
I’ve been working with the homeless population for almost a year now, and I’ve enjoyed teaching a Sexual Health class series at a local shelter as a part of my practicum and community partner project. During my time at the shelter, I’ve had to adapt both my teaching styles and lesson plan to fit the needs and capabilities of my marginalized audience. To design my classes to best serve my participants, three factors were important to consider:
First, I had to consider health literacy of my population (Perez & Luquis, 2008). As most of my participants had not earned GEDs and read under a 5th grade reading level, I had to adapt my worksheets and health pamphlets to avoid frustration and confusion in my learners. According to Perez & Luquis (2008), it is crucial to provide the educational materials that are appropriate for the comprehension level of my students. Initially, when I went in with pamphlets with language geared towards high school aged students. I quickly learned that the ladies were having difficulty understanding them. When this happened, they became frustrated and were discouraged from participating. To reconcile this, I started to use sexuality education materials geared towards 5th grade and middle school.
Next, it was important for me to consider the level of knowledge my participants already had (Perez & Luquis, 2008). While most of my students were reading below a fifth grade level, most of them were above 30 years old. Many of them also have had experiences that were not covered in teaching materials and curricula directed towards fifth graders. Most of my participants had children and knew the basics of sexual reproduction. Many also were knowledgeable about HIV and some were diagnosed as HIV positive. So, it was important for me to respect what knowledge they came in with as well as their experiences.
Lastly, when developing my lessons and strategies, I considered the structural obstacles my population likely faced (Perez & Luquis, 2008). Structural obstacles are barriers associated with structural issues in communities and cultures (Perez & Luquis, 2008). For example, many of my participants were homeless and did not have transportation to health centers. Also, even if they did have some sort of transportation, not having a home address made it difficult for them to secure benefits such as medical assistance in order to get the health care and education they need. Additionally, many of my participants were distrustful of medical systems, had some form of mental illness, and were victims of domestic violence and rape. When adapting my lesson plans and strategies, it was imperative that I considered and was sensitive to these obstacles.
By considering these factors and adapting my teaching accordingly, I have been able to better educate this population and improve the personal autonomy of my participants as they have been able to comprehend my lessons and relate the information to their own lives.
Cleminson-Hernandez, M. E. (2004). The relationship between fear and success and the identity style among urban homeless and formerly homeless adults. Dissertation Abstracts International, 65 (2-B), 1023.
Perez, M. A., & Luquis, R. R. (2008). Cultural competence in health education and health promotion. Jossey Bass: San Fransisco, CA.