Yesterday (Friday) was an absolutely wonderful day of teaching. I (Preston) don’t think that I have ever felt more affirmed as a teacher in over 45 years as a college teacher. Some of you who are not really interested in teaching, especially social work may want to just skip the rest of this entry.
I mentioned in the Thursday entry what one of the students said about seeing her practice through entirely different lenses. Well that trend continued today with student after student having breakthroughs of insight. One said, “I’m repenting of the way I’ve been dealing with my clients.” The funny thing is that we were working on the evaluation step of the helping process. We had started that discussion on Thursday and we were moving very cautiously. When we were here in 2005, I asked several times how they evaluated their programs and every time I was told how many had been saved in their ministry. Teaching about evaluation was hard because they have no background in research and no experience in thinking quantitatively about their work. They were immediately engaged in the idea of somehow measuring the effectiveness of their interventions. I had asked them as a homework assignment to design an evaluation for one of their clients or for their project (program). The first student to report works in a women’s health care program at a hospital. We visited this program when we were here before and decided that it was basically an abortion prevention program. Abortion is probably the top contraceptive method here. When I pressed her for program objectives, she said that “being saved” was their first objective. I swallowed hard and said, “OK what was the second?”
The class helped her formulate a second objective something like, to increase the decision not to abort among the women with whom they work. So I thought, OK I’ve dodged that bullet. Her program also has an education component that is delivered in the schools; so, we talked a macro level objective on reducing the abortion rate in Chisinau. She seemed quite satisfied with herself and then said, “I think I was wrong to see the major objective as making Christians out of my clients.” The comment really got no response from anyone including me. In fact, she sort of said it under her breath and it did not register with me for a while in part because so much was happening as the other students were discussing their programs. That, by the way, is a major frustration. A really great discussion is going on among the students and you cannot understand it and cannot participate until you get a brief summary of it from the translator. Actually, I think all of us heard that comment at a somewhat subliminal level; because later in the afternoon it was repeated by a number of students. At some point, I used the quote, “Preach Christ, and use words only when necessary.” and they loved it.
In the last hour of class, a student who works in a hospital for children with leukemia spoke up and wanted help on how to evaluate her program. She was supposed to work with the parents of the children who were dying. (Oh, Helen, how I wished for you.) It was obvious that she really had little idea of what she was supposed to do to help the parents and absolutely no idea of the literature on death and dying—not even Kubler-Ross. Somehow we got back to the skill of defining role and purpose and after struggling with that for a while she told us about one parent she had talked to. The woman’s child was dying. The student said she had noticed that the woman was always dressed nicely and looked great. As she talked with her she asked her how it was that she always looked so great and always smiled and seemed upbeat. The woman replied that early on she had not and that her son had asked about it and said it made him sad to see her so disturbed and unhappy. She had decided right then for her son’s sake she would dress in bright colors and smile. The student told the story as an example of great coping with a difficult problem in living and the class all seemed to agree. Now death and dying is not my field, but I do know enough to know that being strong for her son showed her strength but it also cost her dearly in emotional energy to do that and hide her own grief. I asked the class what they thought the woman needed from the social worker. After some probing they did a great job of applying the whole helping process to case and the student was then able to define her role in her practice. She ended, by saying, I can see now that just evangelizing is not my major objective. By that time we were beyond the time to end class and everyone just sat there. Someone said, “We need a good story to end on.” Another said, “Galina has demonstrated door handle communication.” I sure wish there was a way to plan a class like that.
Here are some other quotes from students in class yesterday. Tatiana, one of the teachers and a very reflective student said, “This class has totally changed my way of thinking and my point of view and my way of acting not only with my clients but with my husband and children. (I think she was talking here about using “I” statements and avoiding “Why” questions.) Now I really understand the difference between a friendship and a professional working relationship.” Victoria said, “With my new lenses, I see I have made lots of mistakes. I’ve asked many ‘why’ questions and now I know other ways to ask questions to help my client.” Tatiana said her mother had asked why she was working so hard and studying so much. She s replied, “I don’t think it is so much, because it is so interesting.” These students sure know how to affirm a teacher.
I have been thinking all along of this project as being one to get the CTE faculty MSW degrees so they could better teacher their undergraduates. Education and degrees have really been my focus. Another experience in class yesterday expanded my vision. Natasha, the student who works at the hospital in the abortion program, said, “I have been talking to my co-workers about the helping process and how excited about it I am. Now, they want me to teach it to them; so, in two weeks we have planned a time for me to teach them.” Maybe we won’t even have to wait for degrees to be awarded before Baylor Social Work has a significant impact on social work practice in Moldova and the people Moldovan social workers serve.