Next week, I begin my 11th year as a high school social studies teacher. I often refer to myself as an educator. I firmly believe that it is not only my job to teach content, but life lessons as well.
After coming out as gay two years ago, I've had such an incredible journey. So many people have shared personal stories, and I've learned so much about myself. Unfortunately many of the stories I've heard make me shake my head. Teachers, coaches and administrators have continued to consistently engage in behavior that is not supportive of LGBT students.
In no way am I trying to be self righteous. For many years, I engaged in some of this hurtful behavior. However, when you hear the hurt that some of it brings, you tend to quickly change.
That being said, I have complied a list of five tips for teachers, coaches and administrators to assure a more inclusive classroom:
1) Do not assume that all students are straight.
How many times have you sat in class or practice and questioned a male student about his girlfriend or vice versa? The LGBT kid already feels different. The constant pressure of dating amongst high school students is immense. Adults tend to make it worse. Try using both, boyfriend or girlfriend in conversation. It will create a much more inclusive setting and many times encourage acceptance.
2) Be an ally to those who identify as LGBT.
The amount of bullying that these students face is unreal. In many cases they have no one to turn to. Don't be afraid to reach out. Place a safe space sticker on your door and let LGBT students know they have a place to come. In high school, I was extremely close to several teachers and staff members that I still communicate with today. I assure you that many of these students really need you.
3) Patrol inappropriate language.
I had the pleasure of speaking at a high school last year and a cool sign was hanging in the room. It read "That's so... and you choose gay?" Several options were listed around the phrase. I loved that it was posted in a classroom, as it is such a common phrase in today's schools. It's our job to stop verbiage that hurt students. If you hear it, question it. Make your students think a little. I always counter with, what is so gay about it? Language shouldn't make LGBT students feel different or more marginalized.
4) Don't be afraid to ask questions!
For so many years, I've made so many mistakes dealing with LGBT students. I had no idea what was appropriate and was consumed with staying closeted. In the last year, I am really proud of how I've changed for the better. With that being said, in many cases, we as educators are unsure on how to deal with certain situations. Talk to your students, ask them about their lives. If you're uncomfortable with that, plenty of great resources exist. GLSEN (Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network) has an awesome website that answers many questions. Take the time to learn!
5) Be your authentic self.
The best example you can set for your students is to be a great leader. Use inclusive language, make the classroom a place for safe dialog by allowing students to have conversations that presents questions, but is without judgment. Provide resources for LGBT students in the classroom, and be available when a student may need help, guidance or advice.
These ideas can transfer to all aspects of the school community. From the principal's office to the athletic field, and from the gym to band room. The new school year is always a new start. New students, subjects and standards greet us at the door. We want nothing more then to enter the year fresh and positive. Our students deserve the same opportunity.