Knowing What You Don't Know
GABRIELLE FREELS | BY-LA SENIOR FACILITATOR
As an educator, I feel like I have to have the answer for everything, or when a student asks a question or a new conversation arises, that I have to know exactly what's being talked about. But I don’t have all of the answers and coming to terms with that is one of the hardest things for a teacher. But when you do, it can also be very rewarding. I know my curriculum and my content like the back of my hand, but I don’t know it all, and the beauty of it is that every day when I'm in front of a class, I learn something new.
I've been involved in youth programming for over 7 years at the Institute of Women & Ethnic Studies (IWES), and I truly have a passion for providing youth with the resources to help them be their best. Many young people don’t have someone in their life to equip them with life lessons and knowledge, and I’m humbled to be able to provide that information as it relates to positive youth development and reproductive health. The work at IWES has provided me the opportunity to deliver my passion and continue to grow not only as a health educator but as an individual as well.
The most rewarding moments in my work are the ones where I say, "Wow you taught me something I didn't know." Whether it is a new music artist that I didn't know about, new terms, or learning about the REAL things young people today deal with, they always teach me something new. I teach sexual health education at various schools. It’s always good to see the differences in the cultures of each school and each grade. One time we were discussing stress and a young man in one of my classes taught me the importance of LISTENING. He explained that various educators that he has experienced don’t take the time to listen to what their students have to say. Although teachers are on a mission, if a student wants to say something, they should listen and give them that attention. We are not just teachers, for some young people we are closer to a friend than it may seem. Many students don’t have someone to talk to or someone to help them understand life or changes they are going through. When my student shared this with me, it pushed me to check myself and make sure I was also LISTENING. Young people just want to be heard and to be given a chance to show us who they truly are and what they can do and not be judged. My students are always teaching me the new hip terms, and I will never forget the day I learned what a THOT (“that ho over there”) was. I was so taken aback! However I now use that as a teaching moment to talk about self-awareness and self-esteem and the importance of respect for mind and body.
Youth also want to feel encouraged to take chances on their future to fulfill their dreams. I had a young lady in class that loved to draw and create works of art. For many, art is a healing mechanism, and for her it helped her deal with anxiety about her parents’ divorce. Her parents want her to follow a traditional route in our society and become a doctor or lawyer, but her dream is to create art to also heal others. Since we never know what’s going on in someone’s household behind closed doors, I feel like a lot of the time I’m there to allow youth to express their dreams and think through how to achieve them. I find that youth often feel that adults don't understand that they are aware, they feel, and they too are affected by the things we’re affected by. This is why my goal is to be that adult that uplifts them and gives them those encouraging words and honesty.
With that, I also strive to help parents figure out how to talk about sexual health with their children. I manage a parent support group called the Parent Advisory Team (PAT) where I work with parents to find out their thoughts and feelings on sexual health education and what they do about it in their households. From there I offer resources for parents like tips and tricks on how to have the “sex” conversation and to also learn how to meet young people where they are. I also give them a crash course on the basics of sexual education and the latest information. Just as I want to create a safe space in a classroom to teach such sensitive information, I also hope the same happens in their homes. I hope to continue to grow in my work and strive to give youth a better outlook on their lives.