Research shows 90% of primary and secondary school staff have had no training to support LGBT students. Teacher Allie George explores how to make your classroom safe and inclusive.
While the average secondary school will have enough lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students to make up two full classes, 90% of primary and secondary teachers and non-teaching staff report having had no training to support LGBT students, according to Stonewall. For many teachers, it can be a struggle to know how best to support students, especially when there are no policies and procedures in place.
Teachers can use these relatively simple techniques to ensure a basic level of inclusion and care for transgender students in their classroom:
Challenge your assumptions
Commonly heard among staff is, “We’ve not got any trans students here” – unaware that many transgender students are not out. Class teachers aren’t unusually informed about students who transition early – puberty blockers are often prescribed, stopping hormones from developing secondary sex characteristics. Other students may not wish to come out, or only come out selectively. For many students, however, the lack of information about transgender issues and identities can leave them without the language to explain their feelings.
It’s important teachers create a safe environment for transgender students, whether or not we are aware of trans individuals in our schools. This enables questioning students to explore their gender and sends a message of acceptance to all students.
Scrap boy-girl seating plans
Students often report that boy-girl seating is the most frequent cause of stress. For non-binary students (those who identify as neither male nor female), such arrangements erase their gender entirely. As Sam*, a year 11 pupil, says: “Every time we’re told something like, ‘two boys, two girls’ in a group, I know it means I have to pretend I’m a girl or get in trouble. It just reminds me no one sees me as I am.”
Once you know your class, seating students according to subject ability, target or current grades, or to manage behaviour is relatively straightforward. Until then, ask students to sit next to someone they don’t know, by birthday or in alphabetical order. Seating plans can also be used to reduce bullying, including transphobic bullying, by seating vulnerable students with compassionate peers.
Recognise and challenge transphobia
Many schools are now adept at tackling the ubiquitous microaggression, “That’s so gay!” Yet we are less skilled at challenging – or even identifying – transphobia. Most common is students misgendering one another as “banter”. More typical among boys, this has roots in casual misogyny and can be devastating for young trans students.
Messages from the media infiltrate quickly and students are often exposed to transphobia without realising it. With popular shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race, and the poor media reporting on transgender celebrities, such as DJ Stephanie Hirst, students are sent the message that such attitudes are acceptable – even funny.
The key is in educating students as to why this is harmful. I’ve found that the simplest method is by far the most effective: assume ignorance rather than bigotry and explain why it is offensive. I usually start off by saying, “I know you probably don’t mean it this way, but…” and finish off by saying, “so make sure you are presenting your views accurately.” Once explained, adopt a zero-tolerance policy on future transphobia. As with all forms of behaviour management, consistency is key: challenge each and every time. It won’t take long for the message to sink in that you don’t permit transphobic remarks in your classroom, thus creating a safer environment for trans students.
What’s in a name?
It’s important to honour students’ choices of name – for trans students, this sends the important message that you accept their identities unfailingly. In the trans community, one’s birth name is known as a “dead name” and should not be used.
It’s useful to keep up-to-date seating plans and registers for cover staff. Some registration programmes allow you to list students’ preferred names and, as many young trans people may not have had the opportunity to change their names legally, it’s crucial to use this where possible.
Ensure safe spaces for trans students
Bathroom access for trans students can be fraught – one study shows that bathrooms, as one of the few spaces unmonitored by staff, are a key location for bullying. While bullies should always be called to account, an additional way to provide students with safe bathroom access is to let them leave the room as their classmates pack away.
Hearing about transgender people in lessons can provide trans and cisgender students alike with role models. ICT classes, for example, might look at the work of pioneer Lynn Conway, and English teachers could use writer Janet Mock’s work for non-fiction units. Drama and media classes might look at Laverne Cox’s roles. Libraries may wish to stock books which feature transgender protagonists.
Visual spaces can also be used: students can create their own posters, several of Rainbow Teaching’s lesson resources can be printed for display, and youth trans organisations often have relevant material to indicate that your classroom is a safe and accepting space.
*Name has been changed to protect students identity.
Source: The Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/teacher-blog/2014/oct/29/transgender-supporting-students-school-lgbt