Teacher and health service staff values regarding sexuality education in an urban school district in Indiana.

Author:Herbert, Patrick C.
 
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INTRODUCTION

With the recent creation of National Sexuality Education Standards, clear guidelines have been established for those responsible for teaching sexuality education in the schools (Future of Sex Education Initiative, 2012). These standards were designed to provide a rationale for teaching sexuality education that is evidence-based. Having sexuality standards are important for educators who are currently responsible for sexuality education in their school setting in addition to helping prepare future sexual health educators in teacher training programs in academic institutions. The standards provide sexuality educators with a plan for providing developmentally appropriate sexual health information. By having these standards, school administrators and teachers will now be able to provide parents and community members with a sequential approach to educating students which in turn, will hopefully reduce some of the fears and concerns about teaching sexuality education in school-based settings. While these standards are still new to the field, there is an indication in research that health education teacher training programs are not adequate in preparing future sexuality educators. In fact, studies have shown that many teachers responsible for sexuality education have little formal training in sexuality education (Eisenberg, Madsen, Oliphant, Sieving, & Resnick, 2010) and would be interested in receiving more training (Dodge, et al., 2008). This lack of training in the field could interfere or create a bias toward accurate or evidence-based information. It has been found that a teacher's personal experiences and beliefs influence his or her sexuality education teaching (Timmerman, 2009).

Although many researchers have studied the impact of sexuality education on students, not much is known about the values of the teachers related to how they deliver sexuality education content to their students. Moore and Rienzo (2000) examined sexuality topics taught in sexuality education classrooms and found that teachers were omitting topics in their curriculum based on what they felt was important to teach. Some teachers were uncomfortable with topics and thought they were controversial or difficult to teach to students. Topics that were reported as not important or were not taught by at least 50% of the teachers were abortion (39.8%), sexuality and religion (38.7%), sexuality and law (37.5%), shared sexual behavior (35.6%), diversity (31.8%), masturbation (28.0%), fantasy (24.9%), sexual dysfunction (24.1%) and sexuality and the arts (8.0%). In this case, personal values directly influenced what each teacher included in his or her instruction. Woo and colleagues (2011) examined predictors of implementing sexuality education in a school system. Teachers in this study self-reported that their personal values had the greatest influence when it came to creating their sex education curriculum. Milton (2001) explored qualities and attributes that Australian teachers found helpful for teaching sexuality education. She found that teachers valued being neutral, accepting and open-minded with regards to issues in sexuality education.

Understanding the values that teachers hold about sexuality education could help influence the pre-service and professional training of school-based sexuality educators. This study will attempt to fill in the gaps in the literature with regards to exploring teacher values regarding sexuality education by surveying sex educators in a large, urban school district in Indiana.

METHODS

Participants

The data for this study were obtained from teachers, school counselors and social workers (n = 159) in a large, urban, school district in Indiana who were responsible for teaching sexuality education at the secondary school level (grades 7-10) during the 2008-2009 school year. The majority of the respondents indicated they were classroom/homeroom teachers (31%) and health or physical education teachers (26%). Only 7% were school counselors or social workers and the remaining were other types of teachers (less than 4%) who did not have specific responsibilities teaching health education or sexuality education. These types of teachers were self-identified as a regular/general education teacher, family and consumer science teachers, administrative staff, reading teacher, music teachers, language arts teachers, social science teacher, and guest to school. The wellness director did not participate in the study because she did not teach in the classroom at the time of data collection.

Procedures

Prior to collection of data, the Indiana University Institutional Review Board approved this study. Following approval from the participating school district and the wellness director, an invitation to complete a self-administered, anonymous survey was emailed to all employees who were responsible for teaching sexuality education in the school corporation as well as those who may have responsibilities related to addressing sexual health issues with their students. Surveys were completed in March and April of 2009. The participants used a link to the web based survey tool, SurveyMonkey (SurveyMonkey.com, LLC) which was attached to the email. Of the 610 school district employees emailed, 173 completed the survey, for a response rate of almost 28.3%. All of the participants were contacted via their professional emails and they received three emails from the wellness coordinator inviting them to participate in this study. Emails were sent in early March, at the beginning of April and again at the end of April. All data were collected anonymously and analyzed in aggregate form and no incentives were given in this study. A total of 159 respondents completed all the questions in this study. All questions were analyzed utilizing the total sample size per question.

Measures

The survey that was used to collect quantitative and qualitative data in this study was based on a 39-item questionnaire used to assess sexuality education efforts of teachers and staff in the state of Florida (Dodge et al., 2008). For the Florida survey, a scientific advisory committee made up of six academics in the sexuality education field determined the validity and reliability of the research questions and survey format in conjunction with a community advisory committee. The reliability scores were not reported.

Once the original questionnaire was revised, our questionnaire was reviewed and revised by qualified experts in the field of health education, sexuality education, and adolescent medicine. The jury of experts was comprised of academics from Indiana University who have extensive practical and research experience in sexuality education and teacher-training. The team also consulted with a pediatrician who is an expert in adolescent health, the school wellness coordinator, and the HIV/STD Prevention Program Coordinator at the state department of education. In addition to the jury of experts' review of the questionnaire, the school district's wellness committee also provided feedback. The committee is comprised of school administrators, staff (e.g. social workers), teachers, parents, secondary-level student, and community members who are affiliated with health education (e.g. health educators from the county health department).

The final questionnaire implemented in this study consisted of 36 questions about participants' demographics, their role in teaching sexuality education in their school district, the nature of sexuality education taught in the schools, teaching materials, teaching strategies and topics covered in the classroom, professional training and support and personal attitudes and beliefs about sexuality education...

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