Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
I am Dr. Claudia Morales and I work for the Houston Federation of Teachers. I create and facilitate professional development trainings for educators in the Houston Area. I also work with the state union in training teachers around the state, and work with the University of Houston and teach a class on the weekends for aspiring teachers. I am an educator and graduated from the University of Houston back in the late 90s and started my career there. I have been a teacher for more than 23 years now.
What was your experience like being pregnant as a teen?
It was difficult, interesting, and confusing. Teen years are very difficult when we are forming ourselves, becoming adults, learning the rules of society, and overall just learning how to navigate through life. It was a difficult experience, and it became more difficult when you have adults judge, criticize and not provide any form of assistance.
Once you become a teen parent, it seems our public schools think that your life is over and say “oh okay, she’s going to have a baby, she will drop out of school eventually.” That was pretty much the attitude I felt. That caused me to be uncomfortable and made the school environment almost impossible to live in, and it created a lack of opportunities. Teachers do not talk to you about college, counselors do not reach out to ask you “what are your aspirations” or “what do you want to be when you graduate from high school.” All those questions stop and only negative comments increase. I remember hearing people tell me, “oh, I remember you were smart.”
The experience of being a teen mother has shaped my life. When I was completing my doctorate, my dissertation was focused on teen pregnancy and education. My goal was to ask teen parents how the programs and schools were working for them. I wanted to give them a voice and let everyone see how difficult it is, and how regardless of the situation, teen parents have potential. That is what I found in my current research. As a teen parent, it doesn’t mean it is the end of life for you or that you aren’t going to do anything in life anymore, it just means things change for you.
Nobody thought I was going to graduate from high school – that is what I would hear, and start believing it. For me graduating from high school was a huge accomplishment. I currently have a Doctor of Education, and when I was writing my dissertation I said that because of all the negative beliefs and lack of support around you, you start to believe that you can’t do it either.
What do you want educators to know?
I want educators to change their perspective and see how important graduating from high school is. I know I cannot ask them to change their beliefs, but maybe their perspective on how they provide service to young mothers. Teen parents need more support and less criticism.
Teen parents have dreams. They want to achieve goals, and they care for their children and want to have a better life for themselves and their babies. They do need that support to get there. The question is not “can they or do they have the ability?” it just seems like all the surrounding hurdles make the common misconception that they cannot do it, a reality.
I believe in the work of The Texas Campaign. Sex education is crucial for life. It should be as significant as math. We don’t see this information as valuable in school. As educators, I think we should do more.
What would you want teens who have not lived this experience to know?
Teens who aren’t parents should understand that becoming a parent is a big change, and it will change all aspects of your life. Hopefully, you have the right information to make that decision if you want to be a parent or wait until you are more prepared.
Becoming a parent at any age is a difficult process. Being older does not guarantee there will be a smooth process. When you are younger you need that education to make sure you understand what it means to become a parent and then changes you will make in your life.
What are some tips you would give to teens right now who are sexually active that you would have wanted to know when you were a teen?
Sex education and birth control methods are important. Know the proper use of birth control methods, and also understand that even when you use birth control, there is a risk. Having the facts in front of you is very critical. I would suggest teens reach out to a doctor or a nurse that can provide them with information on sex education.
What would you want to tell your younger self?
If I could know everything I know now, that would be great! Understanding relationships and boundaries along with sex education would be something I would have wanted to know.
I remember going to school, the priorities were reading, math, and history, but sex education was never addressed with that much urgency or importance. There was a lot that I did not know and learned later. I tried asking my teachers in high school questions about sex education, but they would get nervous and would tell me, “we aren’t supposed to talk about that.” I learned that I was not supposed to ask adults in school because it makes them uncomfortable.
I would tell my younger self to keep reaching out until I found that adult that was willing to guide me in the right direction. I would tell myself to be more persistent to ask for help, even though it is hard to ask for things you don’t know.
What could have been offered to you as a teen to make you feel more supported in making decisions about sex and relationships?
Sex education courses and access to birth control could have been offered to me to feel more supported as a teen. I did not have any idea of where I could access birth control at that time. Those two pieces of education would have been more helpful.
Can you share a memory about a person or service who was most helpful to you when you were pregnant, working through these decisions?
Sadly I do not have a positive memory of someone helpful to me when I was pregnant. Regarding education, I did have one teacher that is always in my memory because he came to the hospital when I gave birth to my daughter. He came to give me presents for my baby, and that made me feel like somebody cared about me.
How are you currently helping your community with these topics of teen pregnancy and/or sex education?
I encourage educators to find ways to educate teens when it comes to sex education and relationships. Teen pregnancy is not the only worry, there is violence and STDS that we have to worry about that are not discussed in a school setting or at home.
I am trying to find ways to do more. Presenting at The Texas Campaign Symposium was one way to help the community by educating the educators. Not only that, but I would love to start a program where we can educate the parent community on how to talk about sex education with their kids.