As educators, it is vital that we make our classrooms safe, inclusive, and empowering for all students–especially our more marginalized or at-risk students. I am going to focus on strategies and ways to ensure that your transgender students feel safe and empowered in your classroom. For more information on transgender students’ rights and laws, click here for a quick fact sheet!
- Some part of your classroom decor should welcome or affirm LGBT+ identities. When a student first walks into a classroom, they are surveying the walls and the resources provided for them. When students see a display, a quote, or a sign that indicates that your room is a safe place for queer and trans students, that can make all of the difference. While I hope to one day live in a world where students always feel this way in every classroom, it is not a secret that many teachers, schools, districts, or communities are not only not inclusive, but can be completely discriminatory (even if it’s illegal) or downright dangerous. Having a classroom that does not just “tolerate” their identity, but celebrates it and unapologetically affirms it can instantly make them feel at ease. This also includes having a diverse LGBT library in your classroom! (Ideally, your curriculum itself should be more inclusive–which will be a future blog post!)
- Be mindful of calling roll that first day! If possible, I would avoid calling roll altogether. Instead, go around to each student and have them tell you what their name is. If you have a seating chart, consider writing their names on post-it notes on the desk instead of calling the names out. If you prefer saying names, try calling out last names instead of first names. A teacher taking roll can cause a great deal of anxiety for trans students if the name on your roster was the one given to them at birth. If you have a trans student with a different name than on your roll and you will be absent one day, it would also be appropriate for you to write a note to your substitute with the student’s corrected name to avoid the discomfort that may go along with this.
- Use the first day of school to get to know students with a silent index card exit slip at the end of the period. I have a few other questions I put on these cards to get to know my students better (Something you’re excited about, something you’re nervous about, a question you still have) and you have a few options for the last question. You can ask ALL students to write down their pronouns in order to have all of your students to think about gender and gender identity and disrupt a cis-heteronormative way of thinking, OR you can ask students to write down any last important thing about them. If you choose the latter, I strongly recommend you give the examples of pronouns, preferred names/nicknames, etc. Some students may feel too shy, uncomfortable, or even fearful of having that face-to-face conversation with their teacher. This provides them a low-stakes way to tell you about this important aspect of their identity.
- Check-in with the student quietly before/after class. If there was a student who mentioned their gender identity or wrote you a note on their exit slip, still follow up with them. There are a few questions that I think are especially important to ask your students:
- What name would you like to be called?
- What are your pronouns? (Avoid using “preferred” pronouns, if possible. They are not preferred, they are just their pronouns. Period.)
- What would you like me to call you in front of your family? (Sometimes students are not out to their family even if they are out at school; it’s important to understand, recognize, and respect these boundaries and the trust your student is putting in your hands)
- Would you like me to inform any of your other teachers? (Just because a student was comfortable telling you, doesn’t mean they are comfortable telling others. I have had trans students in the past ask me if I can tell other teachers so they can avoid having that conversation).
- If a peer mis-genders you, is it okay if I correct them? OR If a peer mis-genders you, how would you like me to handle it? (This is something else tricky. My instinct would always be to correct another student if they use the incorrect pronoun or name, but some trans students feel more anxious when more attention is brought to the mistake. Every student is different and it is important to respect your students’ needs for you to truly be their best advocate).
- Know the different resources your school or community provides (clubs, counselors, community programs/centers, etc.) so you can relay that information to your students. If your school does not have a designated club for the LGBT* community, consider sponsoring one yourself! You can also give your student online resources if they need additional support.
- Put an end to homophobic and transphobic language in your classroom. Make sure your students know that intolerant language or comments are not tolerated in your classroom and don’t let it “slide.” Address the behavior, explain why it is inappropriate, offensive, and unwelcome in your classroom. Not only are you teaching all of your students how to live more respectfully and intentionally, but you are also supporting your marginalized students by disallowing harmful speech.
- Never stop advocating for your students! Call out problematic language and behavior. If other teachers or colleagues are snickering at gender-fluidity or rolling their eyes at transgender students’ rights to the appropriate bathroom, CALL THEM OUT! This can sometimes seem confrontational, but these are also teachers of trans students who deserve respect and safety in all of their classes–not just yours! If your school or district does not have your students’ best interest in mind, we cannot look the other way. Our students need us. We are in the rooms, we hear the decisions being made. While making our own classrooms safer is a step in the right direction, they deserve safety and respect in all aspects of their education.
While we have made strides, there is still so much work that needs to be done. I hope this list gave a starting point with how to best support your trans students, but there are so many additional resources online for both you and your students. Every person has a right to an education and it is impossible to access that education if you feel (or are!) unsafe, discriminated against, ridiculed, or fearful. Our students are in desperate need of love, compassion, understanding, empathy, and respect, and you must never stop advocating for just that.