By Catherine Evashuk
[This article was first printed in the Fall 2015 issue of TEAL News.]
Professional development comes in different shapes, sizes and colours; just like our eyes, our hands or ‘other body parts’, (wink wink) if you know what I mean. Are you blushing yet? Did that get your attention?
Holding students’ attention was not a problem I encountered these last 12 months. Thanks to the TEAL Charitable Foundation’s AIDS and Health Education Fund award, I taught 435 adult English Language Learners in 13 different schools. The main purpose of my visits was to bring Sexual Health Education to English language students of different levels and have teachers observe the lessons with the hope that they will repeat these lessons to future classes. This was a unique in-class professional development opportunity for the 28 teachers who invited me to their classes. The Sexual Health topics were anatomy, birth control, how to talk with kids about sex, consent, date rape, sexting, sexually transmitted infections, condom negotiation skills as well as screening tests such as mammograms and testicular cancer. It was also an opportunity to normalize Sexual Health Education in the English language classrooms because this topic is often left out; books don’t include it, and teachers sometimes feel unprepared or uncomfortable presenting this information. At the beginning of each of my classroom visits I tell students and teachers that Sexual Health teaches health, science and safety.
In these classroom visits I wore both my Sexual Health Educator ‘hat’ and my English language teacher ‘hat’. There are so many lively and memorable moments to include here but two of them do stand out.
In the first one, I was visiting a lower intermediate listening and pronunciation class. After a short presentation on sexual consent, we were working on intonation while repeating condom negotiation skill dialogues.
Student A: “I don’t know how to use condoms.”
Student B: “I do. Let me show you how to put one on.”
Student A: “I didn’t bring any condoms. They’re too expensive.”
Student B: “Oh, I have one here. Later let’s Google where we can get free condoms.”
Student A: “I can’t feel anything with a condom.”
Student B: “That’s awful! Let’s wait and try a different kind that fits better.”
Student A: “I’m allergic to latex. I can’t use condoms.”
Student B: “That’s terrible. But luckily I have non-latex condoms. They’re a little more expensive but they are worth it!”
You know the drill: student A says one part of the dialogue and student B says the other part. Then they switch roles. There are 14 different scenarios all dealing with ‘A’ not wanting to wear one and ‘B’ encouraging their use. One male student, who was sitting in the front row, was paired up with a female classmate. She was saying her part and he repeated his part while completely covering his face with both hands for the whole activity. He worked hard on his pronunciation and intonation while peeking through his fingers to read the dialogue. Clearly he was uncomfortable but he was willing to participate and learn. At the end of the class he thanked me for the lesson and said that he had found it very useful.
Another memorable moment took place when I was the guest speaker at an advanced level lecture listening class. The presentation was on Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). In order to talk about how HIV and other STIs are transmitted, I always pre-teach anatomy at the beginning of a lecture. I had just finished drawing anatomically correct, life size male genitalia on the board in order to label it when suddenly at the back of the room a student stood up and said, “This is going to be a very interesting lesson!”.
I also learned that students are hungry for more information on Sexual Health. This was evident on the repeated requests I got in my feedback questionnaires asking for more lessons and longer workshops. Some teachers worried their students would feel uncomfortable, but they were later surprised at how comfortable their students seemed and how willingly they asked questions. Teachers also told me that students were less awkward talking about sexual health matters than they had predicted. While I won’t deny that this topic can be uncomfortable, my experience has repeatedly shown me that people are less uncomfortable talking about sex when they aren’t using their native language. I believe this is because they have not acquired the negative emotional baggage that comes with this taboo topic.
I invite all readers to a DIY Professional Opportunity: Bring Sexual Health Education to your classrooms. Your students need it and it is a chance to acquire a new teaching skill. You can start with a condom negotiation dialogue and there are many other Sexual Health Education materials that I have created that you are welcome to use. I do, however, recommend that you first prepare yourself and learn about what to take into consideration and what to avoid before, during and after presenting a Sexual Health topic in your classroom. I wrote an article about this in the 2012 Fall issue of the BCTEAL entitled “Sex Ed in ESL” (p. 28: https://www.bcteal.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/BCTeal-Mag-2012-Fall.pdf). You can start your lessons by telling your students that Sexual Health teaches health, science and safety. That will get their attention….
Special thanks to Dan Nooney, Allyssa Satterwhite and Kathryn Rockwell for helping me spread the word about these Sexual Health lessons.
From the Fall 2015 issue of the BC TEAL newsletter: Catherine Evashuk is the winner of the TFC 2014 “AIDS and Health Education Fund” award. She has more than 20 years ESL/EFL classroom experience, has an MA in TESL and a BA in TEFL. In 2010, she became a Certified Sexual Health Educator.
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Original reference information:
Evashuk, C. (2015, Fall). What, Who, Where and Why: The AIDS and Health Education Fund Award Report. TEAL News. Retrieved from https://www.bcteal.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/BCTeal-Newsletter-Fall-2015-Final-2.pdf