If I had a student teacher or someone who was on their way to enter the field of health education, and they were looking for a piece of advice, what would I say?
I know the tips I got were things like…. “know the curriculum”…“don’t work harder than the kids”… “don’t smile until Christmas”… “ invest money in your retirement”… “don’t make any decisions to quit in your first 3 year”… These were some the ones that stuck with me since I first started teaching full time 15 years ago.
Thank you to those who shared these with me. I did invest in my retirement but I do smile before Christmas, sorry!
That being said, I don’t think I would share these bits of advice with someone today, knowing what I know now.
I value reflection and do it a lot. I always tell my students, “If I weren’t a health teacher, I don’t think I would be a teacher at all.” The reason for this is because I want to connect. I have a passion for guiding and supporting. I have been at the High School level for my entire career, it is my passion. So, I guess when it comes to that new teacher advice, I would say…. “Be Open”.
At the beginning of every semester, I go over the course outline and materials needed for the class. The last item listed is “AN OPEN MIND”. We discuss the content of the course and that everyone brings different experiences and skill levels to the table. We have to be open to those differences and grow. I like to tell them, “If you gain a different perspective from this class, then I did my job.”
Early on in my teaching career I taught from a textbook, I did worksheets, gave lengthy notes and assessed with tests. Now, I share experiences, allow for student choice and we practice health skills more than teach health concepts. It’s not about the grade, but the understanding that matters most to both myself and my students. How does someone create an environment like this? I like to think it’s from being open.
I have learned to been vulnerable with my students. I have told them about my struggles with anxiety and my bouts of depression. I have told stories of my brother’s addiction and overdose and how it impacted him and our family. I speak of date rape and college life. I revisit a suicide attempt by a good friend, talk about my miscarriage, and our journey through foster care. I talk about my wife’s seizure disorder and the path we took conceive and start our family. I have discussed the highs and lows of life and how I am there for them if they need anything.
I feel that the openness I show my students comes back and allows them to be open with me. Over the years I found my students struggling with mental illnesses, addiction, and abuse. They have tumultuous households. They are in unhealthy relationships, have suffered loss and have had unnecessary pressures to be perfect placed upon them. They have been sexually harassed and assaulted. They have eating disorders, experimented with drugs and have unplanned pregnancies. They are suicidal. They are alone, confused, and isolated. They are struggling with their sexuality and afraid to come out. Some have even been homeless.
From this list you may think I am a social worker on the side… Nope, just the Health teacher, the only one in the building as many of us are.
No, it’s not easy knowing some of the thing I do about my students. Yes, I have had to call other professionals to be involved because the issues were over my head. Could I teach differently so that the students didn’t open up as much? Sure, but I would not feel satisfied, in my opinion. I feel that my purpose as a Health teacher goes beyond just “teaching”.
What is brought up in Health class is often the start of these tough conversations. As health teachers we talk about topics some other people would not touch with a ten-foot pole. We must be real and ready for what they give us.
To me, my purpose as a teacher has not been to educate them on how to be healthy, (although I do that, I hope) it has been to show them compassion and understanding. To be that “person” for them if they need. Yes, it’s a lot, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. So, if this sounds like something you would like to give your students someday, I say to you, Be Open.
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