As we approach the end of 2014 I’m beginning a few projects for this blog. The first one will be a tips for those who work with youth on how to create a more inclusive classroom for kids who are of trans experience. To be clear I’m using the word Trans to include individuals who are genderqueer, gender variant, transgender, transexual, gender neutral, two-spirit, feminine of center, masculine of center, etc…
I’ll take this moment to highlight something. As a special educator the students I work with in the past are used to being defined by their disability. I don’t agree with this use of language and therefore use people first language. I’ll be doing the same thing when talking about young people who are of trans experience. I feel that this is an important aspect of language because someone may have this experience, but it does not completely define them.
On to the first tip!
My first tip for creating a more inclusive classroom is: Language.
Imagine walking in your homeroom class and being called the wrong name, pronoun, or being teased for the language you use for yourself. This is the struggle that many students of trans experience face. There are some simple steps you as a teacher can take to help create a classroom environment that can ease the stress associated with language.
1. Pronouns: One artist is working to raise awareness to pronouns and asking for individuals preferred pronouns highlighted in the article, These Name Tags Will Make You Reconsider Gender Pronouns. In the beginning of the year, have students take a name tag with their preferred pronouns. This will allow them to define themselves and avoid the need for many at times uncomfortable conversations with peers and teachers. Mistakes happen, but make a concerted effort to use the right pronouns.
2. Name: What’s in a name? A colleague of mine did a TED style talk on the importance of knowing and using someones name. Know the name your students prefer and use it! The first point (above) definitely applies for names as well. If a student writes a different name on their name tag than what appears on your roster make a note to yourself and make sure you check in with the student later. In a different situation let’s think about if a student approaches you in the middle of the school year and wants to use a different name. There are a few easy steps you can take. First, listen to them and acknowledge that you hear them and know that this kid is working hard to advocate for themselves. Next, ask if they feel that support is needed to make sure that other students will use this name. If they do, make a plan for your classroom. Finally, do your best to use this name. For more tips from a person of trans experience who successfully began their transition in high school check out this video from Ryan Cassata.
3. Respect Of Language: The last thing I’d like to invite educators and people who work with youth of trans experience is: how do you ensure the respect and safety of a students preferred language- pronouns, name, and how they are treated? Consider the following:
A. Create rules with the students and have them define it, demonstrate it, practice it, and hold each other accountable.
B. Let the student of trans experience drive the bus in terms of when, how, and the means of which pronouns, names, and language are used to refer to them.
C. Integrate a diverse set of curriculum materials in your teaching. Consider using some of the curriculum materials available through Teaching Tolerance Perspectives Anti-Bias Curriculum.
D. If someone says something that is transphobic, homophobic, racist, or disrespectful to someone who is different from them establish a logical consequence for that student so that it is meaningful and they will learn from it.
As with most things all it takes is a small change in your approach to language to create a safe and welcoming learning environment for all students.
Share your thoughts on how you make the language in your classroom respectful for students of trans experience.