While processing health messaging as a young person, I was left alone to sift through blanketed euphemisms. I was taught that sex was bad and when it did happen, it happened to a body — devoid of connection and pleasure. Though my relatively traditional Ghanaian mom wasn’t very open about bodies, she loved books and let me explore any topic through them. My young fascination with bodies spiraled into hours of online research. This helped me formulate my language separate from religious dogma or fear, fostering my sense of autonomy. That initial sense of autonomy was vital and heavily influences the way I offer information to young people as a health educator.
In my teaching, autonomy typically shows up with language. Like many others, I grew up using pseudonyms for body parts and processes. Turns out, things haven’t changed since I was in middle school (read: there’s emojis now!). I acknowledge that the students interact with all kinds of language. While I want to make sure they have a couple of medically accurate terms in their toolkit too, I don’t want to discourage my students’ curiosity because of their wording. Young people have questions, and I encourage them to ask questions in the language they know.
The other major dimension of my foundation is animation.
Sexuality is a living experience! Every piece of curriculum is an opportunity to make the material come alive — I use multimedia content, mental maps, and colorful instructional tools to demonstrate the undulating depth and breadth of sexuality. I do my best to offer up creative latitude while communicating information. I also try to humanize both the students, and myself, as an instructor. I work with the students on group expectations, prioritize greeting each of them, and occasionally break out into song and dance during games. I’m excited to co-create space with learners, and I’m not afraid to show it!
My current teaching foundation exists at the crossroads of autonomy and animation. These prongs are rooted in my personal and professional experiences and serve as a grounding for the way I practice and reflect. I am working to be who I needed growing up. I am creating a reality I didn’t have the language for before discovering health education and reproductive justice.
Being a health educator is about serving as a facilitator of knowledge and curiosity. I can share time and space with those who I believe are learning with me and not just from me. With this belief, the power in the room is shared. Each person is an expert on their own experience and shares what they know. As health educators, it’s valuable to understand how our teaching foundations are formed and the ways in which they manifest and evolve. Our values, lived experiences, biases, and expertise shape how we ‘show up’ as health educators. To deny that, would be forfeiting a fruitful area of reflection.
How have readings, experiences, and values built and shifted your foundation?
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