"Am I Qualified? How Do I Know?" A Qualitative Study of Sexuality Educators' Training Experiences

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Background: National Health Education Standards in the U.S. focus on key concepts and skills around health issues, including sexuality. However, little is known about the extent to which classroom teachers are trained to deliver sexuality education. Purpose: The purpose is to explore pre-service training experiences and needs of sexuality educators in Minnesota. Methods: Seven focus groups were conducted with a diverse sample of 41 sexuality educators, and qualitative analysis was used to detect themes across groups. Results: Results indicate a wide variety of pre-service teaching experience, ranging from no instruction to extensive training. Teachers had numerous suggestions for ways their training could have better prepared them to teach sexuality education, such as ways of working with culturally diverse students. Teachers described many ways in which they were unprepared in their first year of teaching sexuality education. Discussion: Training programs to prepare sexuality educators are not adequately preparing teachers for their multifaceted role. Findings point to the need to train sexuality educators differently than teachers for other subjects. Translation to Health Education Practice: Findings indicate that pre- service training programs should greatly expand their offerings, tighten requirements and hone methodologies in sexuality education to meet the needs of today's teachers and students.

Am J Health Educ. 2010;41 (6):337-344. This paper was submitted to the Journal on April 1, 2010, revised and accepted for publication on July 15, 2010.

BACKGROUND

The formation of romantic relationships plays a significant role in healthy adolescent development, particularly in helping youth to understand their own identity and how they relate to others in the world. (1) Schools are the place where we prepare young people for adulthood--academically, physically and socially--and teachers are trusted to facilitate this growth and learning. Proper preparation for this task is essential. In addition, U.S. adolescents have among the highest rates of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the industrialized world. (2,3) School-based sexuality education programs are an established part of a panoply of prevention strategies that have the capacity to reduce high risk sexual practices among youth, thereby reducing unplanned pregnancy and STIs in this population. (4) Maximizing their effectiveness is an important public health goal.

SCHOOL-BASED SEXUALITY EDUCATION

Over the past few decades, policy debates have focused on what constitutes appropriate content of school-based sexuality education. At present, policies vary considerably across the United States, with the majority of states requiring some form of sexuality education in public schools. (5) Additionally, past research shows that almost all students will receive sexuality education before they graduate. (6) However, school control is localized, with determination of content varying by school district and even in many cases by teacher, and sexuality education is taught as part of several different subjects. (6) There are no state-required trainings or certifications specific to sexuality education in public school classrooms. Health teachers are most often given the assignment of delivering sexuality education, (6) and many states' licensing requirements for health teachers specify that prevention of HIV, sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy are a part of their training program.

National Health Education Standards describe the knowledge and skills students are expected to achieve by certain grade levels, and provide a framework for curriculum development, instruction and assessment in health education. (7) However, these concepts are broad, and university-based teacher training programs are not held to teaching specific content or skills around sexuality. Little is known as to how current teacher training programs are preparing teachers to deliver sexual health content in the classroom. …

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