How Teachers Can Have an Impact
Sep 20, 2014
People frequently ask why I became a teacher – specifically, a middle school teacher.
I can usually guess what they’re thinking – “Why on Earth would you ever do that?! [I hated middle school!”] So I take a pause and a deep breath before I answer.
After 10 years of working with young people it feels disingenuous to say the things that roll easily off the tongue like: to make a difference” or “to give back” or “it’s in my genes” (since both my mother and father were educators) and it isn’t that all of those things aren’t true, they are. I do genuinely enjoy the demands, the unforeseen challenges, and the “ah ha” moments of teaching but after nearly a year removed from the classroom, I’m able to give a much more genuine response, a response that encapsulates why even on the hardest of days, the days where I wanted to quit, give up entirely, I kept going.
I became a middle school teacher so that young people could see me, a person of color, an openly gay, queer identified, masculine of center woman in a teaching position. Because it wasn’t until college that I saw myself reflected in a classroom. I chose middle school because having an out and visible LGBTQ teacher, especially one who identified as a person of color, offered young people the idea that if I can make it, they can too. I became a middle school teacher because how I express my Gender identity, both as a young person and as an adult, was and continues to be the most revolutionary way I know how to illustrate that there is no box, no descriptor, and certainly no closet that can contain me — or them.
When I was in the 6th grade I asked my dad to take me to buy school clothes. It was at an Eastern Kentucky JC Penney’s, where I picked out my first button down shirt and pair of white jean shorts that went a bit below my knees, a braided tweed belt and Keds. Yes, Keds. Aside from learning that buttons on a girl’s blouse were on the left and on the right for boys, I felt at home in the “boys’” department. My dad didn’t care, he fully embraced me and right there, in that store, is where I learned how to be fluid in my Gender expression.
And so it is through navigating my own gender, as it relates to expression in concert with my identity, teaching became a passion of mine. I relate to young people — to how they express themselves as students, as athletes; some as boys, some girls, some as both, and some as neither. It was during a time as a middle schooler when I yearned to be seen and affirmed for my expression and who I felt myself becoming — a gender expansive person in every sense of the term. I didn’t want to only be limited in receiving this affirmation from my dad; I wanted it from my teachers, my coaches, grandparents, my friends and my community, and I wanted it for the students for whom I taught.
For many whom I’ve taught and been part of their summers at Camp Aranu’tiq, they don’t want their gender to be a big deal, but they do want those around them to get it — like yesterday. Like any subsequent generation they move quickly, diversity is not a foreign concept and connectedness is their lifeline. But this generation also knows all too well that being too different can have an alarming impact on their self esteem, especially if they are not in a safe space, or have something like a Gay Straight Alliance at their middle or high school. They know their gender diversity can have an impact on their ability to stay in school and to graduate, and to live wholly to make contributions to their world.
For educators, it’s important for you to know who your students are, but also, it is just as important for your students to know who you are. Share your story. This is one perspective on how teachers can have an impact.
Director of Professional Development and Partnerships