Since February 2009, Fernando Ospina has been an instructor with The Conflict Center (TCC) here in Denver, teaching Emotional Intelligence and Critical Decision Making (EICDM) courses. Targeted to middle and high school students between the ages of 11 and 18, the EICDM course is an eight-week skill-building program that aims to teach youth the importance of understanding and dealing with their emotions, being aware of their actions, and the consequences that accompany decisions. Last year, more than 600 youth participated in the skill-building course, with evidence indicating positive change with statistical significance for participants in the areas of Critical Decision Making, Interpersonal Peer Violence, and Aggressive Behaviors.
For Fernando, the internship was ideal, addressing his dual interests in anger management counseling and conflict resolution education. Although this was his first formal teaching position, Fernando's stress was significantly lessened since each course's content was essentially pre-planned by TCC. Nonetheless, the position was not without its challenges. In fact, Fernando relates, "My biggest challenge was teaching the material in the allotted time [and also] learning to present material in a way that was interesting to teens." Being sure to present the appropriate demeanor was also difficult, since "with teenagers, you have to be energetic in order to maintain their interest in the lesson topics." Many of the teenagers Fernando taught were referred to TCC's EICDM course either by their respective schools or through court mandates. Thus, Fernando's internship required him to understand the needs of the youth demographic and adjust his teaching style accordingly.
To be certified as an instructor for the EICDM course, Fernando underwent two half-days and one full day of training. "Much of the work I did [at TCC] mirrored the academic work I have done here at the Conflict Resolution Institute. A lot of training was very self-reflective, having us understand our own emotions and anger to help others," Fernando says. Trainees were also required to conduct a class presentation on a topic of their own choosing or a portion of the curriculum. Trainers would occasionally take on the personas of teens during the presentation. For example, "one trainer pretended to be a resistant teen. The trainee didn't quite respond to the scenario as needed, leading to escalation issues."
With repeated experience, Fernando has learned to alter his teaching techniques, utilizing many of the strategies he learned at the Conflict Resolution Institute. Fernando notes, "I did make use of a number of conflict resolution skills. I refined my active listening and basic communication skills. More importantly, I became more aware of the usefulness of reflective practice. As an instructor, you need to be conscious of what you're doing and why, and understand the connections used to justify what you're doing." Thus, a lot of Fernando's work, aside from reviewing lesson plans, involved reflecting on how he was conducting classes, essentially "thinking about thinking."
Despite the pre-determined curriculum, teachers were allowed some leeway in adjusting their teaching techniques. With the teen demographic in mind, "the idea is to minimize the amount of lecturing done. Since the course is skills-based, there tended to be a lot of activities on how to understand yourself, to engage students more." More than lecturing, lessons emphasized allowing students to draw out their own conclusions. Ranging from one hour to an hour and a half, each class, excepting the first one, begins with reflection and discussion on the week's homework assignment. One example of a homework assignment given to participants was to practice using course skills to respond to authority. After the day's activities are done, each class ends with a group circle to reflect on the lessons learned, as well as a short quiz for evaluation purposes.
Fernando not only found his work at TCC very rewarding, but realized that he truly enjoyed his role as instructor. After interning with TCC, Fernando knows his interests in the conflict resolution field are education-oriented. Fernando states, "My internship gave me confidence about my competence as a teacher, and also gave me an idea on how psycho-educational programs work and how they can be structured." Fernando anticipates he will continue teaching with TCC for the foreseeable future.
For those interested in interning at Th e Conflict Center, Fernando reassures us that previous experience in anger management or teaching is not a prerequisite to volunteer or intern. TCC accepts volunteers from a variety of backgrounds and provides the training necessary. Fernando further emphasizes that "TCC has more to offer than just teaching positions." TCC was founded more than twenty years ago in 1987 and is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. TCC achieves its goals through work with a variety of groups, represented by its three distinct programs: Schools, Youth at Risk, and Organizations and Businesses. For Fernando, "TCC is fun place to work. Th e people there are just great, [and] there is a real feeling of community at work. I recommend anyone who's interested check it out."
-- Ambar Velazquez