CFLE in Context: Marriage Education

by Cheryl M. Robinson, Ph.D., CFLE, CFCS
Content Area
Families and Individuals in Societal Contexts
Interpersonal Relationships

I was a late bloomer. I returned to school after a 22-year break during which I married, raised three children, divorced and remarried. During these years, I often wondered if these difficult experiences would be of use to me later in life.

I completed my undergraduate degree in Family and Consumer Sciences, and my Masters in Education at Western Carolina University, and finally, my Ph.D. in Child and Family Studies at The University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Before remarrying and returning to school, I worked for the local school system as a dropout prevention specialist. I was assigned to fourteen schools, serving children in kindergarten through the twelfth grade. The valuable experience gained through visiting the homes of at risk children who attended these schools, served as a good foundation on which to build more knowledge and understanding of families.

After receiving my Ph.D., I was hired into a tenure-track position at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. My position was housed in the department of Human Ecology. Once my husband and I settled in Chattanooga, I began to explore the organizations and agencies that I could partner with for field experiences and internships for my students. First Things First, a non-profit organization focused on strengthening families, was of particular interest to me.

Over the months, I got to know the staff at First Things First and was soon asked to serve on the Board of Directors. I received my CFLE designation in 1999. While serving on the Board of Directors at First Things First, legislation was passed in the State of Tennessee concerning premarital education. If couples received four hours of premarital education they would be awarded a certificate entitling them to a $60 discount on their marriage license. A local counselor and I were asked to write the four hour premarital program. Once it was completed, we, along with two more Chattanooga counselors were offered contracts to present the program. It was scheduled 25 to 30 times for the year with one of us assigned to each date. We continue to teach this program currently.

About five years later, First Things First was awarded a National Healthy Marriage Demonstration Grant. The grant, which was funded for five years, opened the door to expanding the program from premarital only to marriage enrichment, programs for teens, and programs for singles as well. I was hired as an independent contractor to deliver the programs included in the grant.

As stated earlier, my full time job was as a faculty member at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. The department of Human Ecology had closed as have many departments in this area across the nation. I was reassigned to the Teacher Preparation Academy and am currently the only professor who teaches non-licensure classes in the department. Many changes have taken place at the university and having another outlet for teaching was welcomed. I had really enjoyed developing the original premarital program and presenting it in the community for First Things First. I looked forward to the opportunities that the National Healthy Marriage Demonstration Grant would offer. I began to see how valuable all of the family struggles I had experienced were as I prepared to begin teaching under this grant.

During the first months of the grant and periodically during the first three years, the educators hired by First Things First to deliver the programs, were trained in several different curricula. Additionally, educators were trained and continually updated on domestic violence. The grant staff developed an extensive marketing campaign for the programs as they were scheduled.

We are now beginning the fourth year of the grant. Over the past three years, I have spent many hours preparing for presentation in the community. I have used the curricula in which I have been trained, coupled with my own academic knowledge and teaching techniques to deliver over one hundred programs focused on premarital education, marriage enrichment, and healthy stepfamilies.

I have created power pointslides and numerous handouts to accompany each of the programs that I deliver. Each program is eight hours in length usually delivered in two, four-hour segments. A meal is provided for the participants in each program. When a meal is provided, participants have the opportunity to socialize a little and I have the opportunity, as they mingle and eat, to get to know a little about those participating. A survey is completed that provides data about the participant's thoughts and feelings in regards to their current relationship. Demographic information is also collected.

There are specific components that must be included in each of the programs presented. Communication, conflict management, domestic violence, finances, parenting, and intimacy are addressed in each program that I present. Evaluations developed by First Things First are distributed at the close of each program. Participants complete the evaluations and return them to the educator. Because the educators use a skills-based approach, another survey is sent to the participants who complete the program about three months after they have finished the program. This survey addresses the skills they learned in the program and checks to see if they have maintained use of these skills.

Working part time as a family life educator has been an enjoyable experience. Teaching in the community is much different than teaching in a university classroom. Teaching in the community allows you to connect with people of all socioeconomic levels, ages, ethnicities, educational levels, religions and interests. Bringing good, solid, concepts and skills to people who would not otherwise be exposed to these components is rewarding. Being able to answer questions, disseminate important information and create an atmosphere where people feel comfortable and interested in learning more about themselves and their families is also rewarding. Making friends and establishing a reputation as an expert in the field is another reward to the educator.

In a few years, I will be approaching retirement and I am excited that I could continue working as a family life educator in my community even while enjoying retirement. Working part time will allow me to stay involved in the field that I love, stay connected with my community, and be of service to the various populations here in Chattanooga. Family life education is a field that allows for flexibility, creativity, and the opportunity to stay connected with your community for as long as you have the interest and ability to create and deliver quality programs.

Cheryl Malone Robinson, Ph.D., CFLE, CFCS is a UC Foundation Associate Professor at The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Her program is housed in the Teacher Preparation Academy. She is also a marriage educator for First Things First.