One Teacher's Back-to-School Catharsis

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I have attempted to type this for over a month now, yet the thoughts and emotions remained too jumbled to sort out into coherent sentences. One month ago two of my former students put their fingers on a keyboard, typed a bunch of text, and made this grown man bawl with their incredibly kind words. When Parker Davidson and Awreon Riley posted their thank-yous to Jackie Swindell and me for being their GSA sponsors at Nixa High School and for standing up for all students, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity, in our classrooms, I was astounded at how brave, empowered, and ignited these two young women have become. As any high school teacher will attest, one of the most rewarding aspects of teaching at the secondary level is watching your students enter freshmen year as children and year-by-year grow into young adults ready to enter a challenging, confusing, and demanding world. I have complete confidence that these young trailblazers are ready to carry the mantle of equality as they leave behind the comfort of childhood and stretch their legs into adulthood.

In truth, I needed those words in a way I never actually realized. In my professional and personal life, I try to deal with problems and difficulties as soon as they arise. I like to find a solution to the question or resolution to the problem and close the door on whatever issue happened to be causing the snare. Recently, I had not been able to reconcile my conflicting emotions regarding my time as teacher and GSA sponsor at Nixa High School. Rebecca Klein and Marcos Saldivar provide the needed backstory in their article "This Gay Straight Alliance Won A Major Award, But It's Still Fighting For Acceptance In Its School." Even after attending the GLSEN Respect Awards to accept the GSA of the Year award with Parker, Awreon, and Jackie I couldn't put my anger, sadness, and resentment to rest. No matter the angle from which I tried to approach emotional reconciliation, I always met with an impenetrable block of ice that refused to allow me to move forward. However, the hearts of these two amazing students outlined in black and white for the world to see provided the ray of light needed to melt the ice and reveal my path past the pain. Parker and Awreon, you have no idea how thankful I am for both of you.

Today was the first day of new teacher training with my new district, Springfield Public Schools. I heard some great speeches, made new friends, connected with some old friends, played with some tech that was being less-than-friendly, and unexpectedly was able to melt the last bit of ice living in my heart from my previous job. You see, Springfield Public Schools offers same-sex partner benefits and did before they were told that they had to. To those residing in a large metropolitan area or on a coast, this may not seem like a big deal. However, it was groundbreaking for southwest Missouri when the school board voted unanimously to take this step last November. That also happened to be the moment I knew that my children needed to be in a district that was willing to proclaim publicly the equal worth of all employees and make policies that revealed that all families matter. The highlight of my day today was when I was able to personally thank the school board president and vice president for adopting the policy. I let them know how that one gesture helped me realize that this was the district I wanted my kids to attend and for which I wanted to work.

You see, my husband doesn't need my benefits; his company is wonderful and takes great care of its employees. It was simply the gesture, the thought, the action that made the difference. There is a reason that the cliché "It's the thought that counts" earned the designation cliché. It's true. It also couldn't be more perfect for a teacher heading back into the classroom this fall. Our students need to see that we care. Whether or not they ever need to talk to us about a personal struggle or situation, they need to know they can if they need to. They need to know that they aren't a number. They need to know that they aren't a test score. They need to know that they aren't invisible. The same is true for adults. By offering same-sex partner benefits before they were required, Springfield made sure that their LGBTQ+ current and future staff know that they matter and deserve everything the heterosexual and cisgender staff receive.

Essentially, the district did with its staff what every teacher should do with his/her students. As public education teachers, we must ensure that every single student that we are lucky enough to help learn and grow knows that they have value. They must know that they are worthy of praise. They must know that they deserve to be celebrated and not simply tolerated. It is imperative that this applies to every single student, not just the ones that look, love, or believe as we do.

Hippocrates said, "Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes a matter of opportunity." Parker and Awreon provided me the opportunity to begin to heal while accepting a job with a district that made sure I knew that my family mattered continued the process. When I look back on my teaching journey so far, my vision is no longer skewed towards the painful memories. I now see the hundreds of incredible young people I was honored to work with. I see the friendships that have become part of my core being. I see a generation of young activists ready to continue changing their community for the best. Now as I turn from the past to the future, I'm smiling and ready for this new adventure.