When things were really slow at the hospital, a dear friend suggested I teach HFLE (Health and Family Life Education) at the school she works at to make up for some downtime. While teaching HFLE is becoming the forefront of every health volunteer’s service in Guyana, none of us exactly signed up to become a teacher. With that said, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.
You’ll find that other volunteers work at secondary schools and teach like 4 to 5 different classes, but I’m pretty happy (and busy) just teaching my 2 classes at a primary school.
I didn’t really have any teaching experience prior to Peace Corps so I didn’t know what kind of teacher I was going to be. I did know, however, how I am around children. Back in the US, I really didn’t like working with kids. Ironically, I was a part-time nanny and a volunteer for a program called Kids Can Cook… it was wonderful but also terribly awkward. Now, if they are less than a year old and our conversations are limited to raspberry sounds and funny faces–that I can do all day.
Luckily before I started teaching, I helped a couple Education volunteers put on a Music Camp and Literacy Camp at their own schools. During that time, I learned a lot about the kids in Guyana, how to interact with them, class management, lesson planning, and other technical skills of what makes a good educator a good one. I imagine those kids could sense my fear as I followed behind the lead of other volunteers. But by the time it was the start of the new school year, I felt a little more ready to take on a teaching role on my own. Just a little.
HFLE consist of 4 major concepts: Self and Interpersonal Relationships, Sexuality and Sexual Health, Appropriate Eating and Fitness, and Managing the Environment. They aim to teach healthy habits to the youth in hopes of preventing/reducing the development of health problems as an adult. Unfortunately, HFLE isn’t always taught –even though it is part of their curriculum. There are several reasons: the stress of other subjects tested on standardized tests that take precedence over everything else; the negative sigma and shame surrounding many of the topics that need to be discussed; lack of resources and training; and sometimes, just because teachers don’t feel like it. It’s why Peace Corps Guyana is working with teachers towards fulfilling this gap.
The first term I taught (September to December) focused on Self and Interpersonal Relationships where I taught about self-awareness, managing healthy relationships, puberty, diversity, and supporting mental health. All of them were lessons that helped build my relationship with the students as we learned a lot about ourselves and each other each passing week. I lucked out with some pretty awesome, well behaved kids and they made teaching really fun.
Now that the holidays are over, the second term began last week and we hit the ground running discussing sexual abuse. While I wish everything was easy and some humanitarian fairytale with only rainbows and butterflies, we were no longer drawing flowers and ice cream cones to talk about the things we like. A student I knew was raped and murdered last term, and in his memory, this was an emotional lesson to plan for. I started asking myself, “what difference does it make?” And to be quite frank, I don’t know if it will make a difference. And that’s an honest fact that many volunteers struggle with facing during their service. But I’m learning that despite the sorry feelings I have for myself and my own helplessness as a volunteer, trying anyways at least opens up the possibility of it.
The lesson was uncomfortable for everyone–the kids, me–but it was important. As a kid, I don’t think I would’ve liked talking about pedophiles and scary people who want to hurt me. But as an adult, I wish someone did. Having this conversation with the students, walking them through how to recognize when their bodies are alerting them of an unsafe situation, and practicing how to communicate their boundaries with both their voices and bodies made me realize that I may never know if it’ll make a difference in these kids lives but I can hope, like my teachers have in the past, that at least one of them is listening.
When I think about how I’m a teacher (mostly by default) today, the time and effort my past teachers poured into me, into the class, and into their work inspires me to do the same–to be not only an effective teacher, but a good one to my kids too.
I’m new to this teaching thing, but I’ve gained a lot from the experience so far. I can’t say this is something I want to do for the rest of my life, but for now, I’m loving it. Becoming their teacher gave me back some of the hope that I felt was lost in the first year of my service. Plus, I am now “Miss Mel” and hearing it being shouted from across the street (instead of the other degrading things I sometimes get called) has made me feel a little less lonely and whole lot more like a person.
I can see now why teachers do what they do.
Kids certainly have a way of making everything worth it in the end.
special thank yous to all educators out there.
to my friends who are starting their teaching careers and the teachers I’ve had in the past.
thank you, thank you, thank you.