Before beginning this year of service, I had very little experience in being an educator. And by little experience, I mean literally zero experience. That said, I was super excited, but also super nervous, to start my role as a Health Educator at the Erie Family Health Lake View Health Center. This position has a number of responsibilities, but I spend a majority of my time teaching Teen Pregnancy Prevention classes (sexual health education). It has been a journey, during which I have taught many high school students about a broad range of topics—from scientific topics like reproductive anatomy and the biology of pregnancy, to complex emotional issues like sexual consent and sexual identity, to in-depth discussions of the different forms of birth control and the students' right to pick the best option. These are all really important topics, but getting through to the students can be a little tough.
While it is important to take your sexual health seriously, it’s impossible to teach it like any other health or science session. The first class I taught at Lake View was in front of 55 students. My co-teacher and I were talking about sexually transmitted infections, and we had a pretty firm understanding of the material-- but that doesn't mean we were prepared! The students were bored and could not have been less interested with the dry curriculum we were working with. I left the classroom dejected and exhausted! What had I gotten myself into??
Turns out, these students think sex is funny. And, to be totally honest, I think sex is kind of funny. Meeting the students half way is absolutely essential. This means acknowledging the humor in unrolling a condom over a wooden penis-shaped demonstration tool in front of a class of 50 15-year-olds. This means referencing song lyrics they know when referring to a serious topic like rape culture. This means making a bulletin board with a pot of condoms at the end of a rainbow.
Making these changes and allowing myself to have some fun in my role has had a noticeable effect on my service. I find the students are more engaged, ask more questions, and tend to take me more seriously. This just proves how crucial it is to stay flexible and adapt to my position’s fluctuating responsibilities. I have learned so much this year so far. Learning how to communicate effectively about sensitive topics, like teen sexual health, will undoubtedly be essential in my career moving forward. In addition, understanding the importance of releasing some control and improvising (in the classroom and my other roles at the health center) is a lesson that carries weight in and out of my professional life. I am so grateful for the experiences that I have had so far this year, and I cannot wait to continue growing for the next four months.
This blog post was written by NHC Chicago 2016-17 member Bryan Jonke.
Bryan is a Health Educator at Erie Family Health Center - Lake View.