School is a place where everyone should feel comfortable and included so they can learn at their best and have a positive experience with their peers and teachers. Schools aren’t always the most inclusive and sensitive places, but as an educator, you have the power to ensure that your students feel safe, seen and supported.
There are quite a few things — both big and small — that you can do to send the message that your classroom is a safe space for students of all genders, sexualities and identities. Most importantly, making yourself available to listen and learn is a great strength when supporting people of different experiences. Make your classroom a place of communication, and education will follow in so many ways.
Each class is different, and they might require different resources and forms of support. Some semesters might be about teaching tolerance, and others might be about diving deeper and exploring concepts of identity. No matter where you find yourself, you have the power to improve the lives of so many. Here are a few ways you can get started.
1. Normalize Pronouns
One of the best ways to lend your support and make yourself known as an ally right away is to normalize the act of asking for someone’s pronouns. You can’t always tell someone’s pronouns just by looking at them, and normalizing that conversation will allow students to share how they prefer to be addressed so you can make them feel more comfortable.
A great way to incorporate the pronoun conversation is to simply include it in introductions on the first day of class. Introduce yourself with your own pronouns, and ask everyone to share theirs with their name. You can even pass around questionnaires for students to fill out with facts about themselves. This is a great opportunity to ask students for their pronouns. You can even put an option for “pronouns you’d like to be called in class” and “pronouns you’d like to be called in private” so kids can do whatever makes them feel safe.
Plenty of LGBTQIA+ people use the pronouns assigned to them at birth, but asking pronouns is a signal to all of your students that you’re an ally, and that they can come to you for support.
2. Include Representation in Your Curriculum
If you’re a history teacher, English teacher or a teacher of any arts curriculum, you can include people, events and works from queer history. There are so many resources available for including LGBTQIA+ representation in your lesson plans, and it’s an important part of culture and history worth teaching. Including a unit on LGBTQIA+ civil rights, teaching books by queer authors throughout history — there are plenty of them — and discussing prominent role models and current events can not only help students feel more comfortable in class, but it can teach kids about important parts of history that everyone should know.
For years, queer history, people and events were left out of schools. This led to many queer kids — and allies — being unaware of the history of their community and the impact it’s had on the world. If you can include LGBTQIA+ representation in your curriculum, you should absolutely do it.
3. Don’t Allow Harassment, Bullying or Microaggressions
Unfortunately, plenty of teachers turn a blind eye to mistreatment of LGBTQIA+ students in their schools and classrooms. Bullying, harassment, and other forms of intolerance can’t go unpunished in any classroom, and it’s important to address those behaviors quickly and firmly. However, you don’t always need to dish out detentions every time a student says something unfavorable.
If students in your classroom often lean into microaggressions without even realizing it, you can take the opportunity to educate them about language sensitivity and why certain words, actions, and assumptions really make a difference. As the teacher, it’s your responsibility to address those misconceptions — because even if they aren’t directly aggressive, they can still be harmful.
4. Educate Your Fellow Educators
While some of your fellow teachers might not be quite as receptive to your ideas, others are probably well meaning but don’t know exactly what to do and where to start. If you have a good system for making students feel comfortable and supported in your classroom, you can lend your knowledge to others who wish to do the same. Share resources, techniques, and curriculum with other educators who want to follow your example. Answer questions if they have any.
5. Make Yourself Available for Support
One of the most important things you can do to make students of all kinds feel comfortable, safe, and able to flourish in your classroom is to make it clear that you’re always available to talk or reach out if your students need anything. While some kids feel comfortable reaching out unprompted, lots of LGBTQIA+ kids already have experience being let down by trusted adults — or even having been met with aggression when they reach out for help. Stating clearly that you’re always there if they need you can sometimes make all the difference.
Supporting Queer Students Every Day
As an educator, you have the power to make so much positive change in the lives of kids from all different backgrounds. When you stand by LGBTQIA+ students in your classroom, you open up so many possibilities for their learning potential and beyond.