To Teachers, From a Trans Student

To Teachers, From a Trans Student

Matthew Centner, Editor

Oshkosh North is a school that embraces diversity, and a school that does its best to take care of all of its students. Some examples of North’s push for inclusivity include its celebration of Black History Month and the progressive pride flag they hung up near the guidance area. 

However, North has a bit to work on when it comes to taking care of its transgender students. 

Because Oshkosh North is so inclusive and because society has become more accepting of nonconformity, more people have begun to open up about their gender identities instead of hiding them out of fear. A good handful of students have come out as transgender in the past few years; some have already started their transition before starting high school, while others begin their transition during their high school experience. 

For teachers, it may be hard to adjust right away when a student transitions in the middle of the school year. Sometimes you’ll slip up and make mistakes, feel bad about them, but not know how to correct them in a non-offensive way. Every teacher’s job is to make sure their students feel safe and comfortable in the classroom. If you’re a teacher who wants to become a better ally to your transgender and gender non-conforming students, this is the article for you. 

Some teachers might wonder how they can show their students that they support the LGBT+ community. We really pay attention to those things—it’s not difficult to make us feel respected in the classroom. One way you can show your support is by putting what pronouns you go by on the sign that displays what classes you teach, usually nearby or on your class door. This lets students know that you care about normalizing the sharing of pronouns, which encourages transgender and non-binary students to confide in you. You can also show that you care by taking the SAFE training lesson, taught by Oshkosh North counselors Andrea Holdorf and Lisa Plonsky, counselor Courtney Wagner from Oshkosh West, and choir teacher Adam Minten from Traeger Middle School.

 According to Holdorf, “SAFE training is an interactive 2-hour training that will help to prepare participants to be an ally for the LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, etc.) community by looking at language, cultural awareness, and self reflection.  Participants can come with questions and are ready to learn [sic], and will leave with knowledge and suggestions for their classrooms and lives! SAFE trained educators will have increased awareness of LGBTQ+ terms and definitions, be able to knowledgeably respond to student concerns regarding these areas, and have an awareness of LGBTQ+ resources at OASD and in the community.  Additionally, educators will know about the LGBTQ+ demographic of students and how identifying (or being identified) as such affects their lives in their classrooms, in our schools, and in our greater community.”

By completing the lesson, you will receive a safe space sticker that many teachers put on their doors. When students see these stickers, it shows us that you care so much about all of your students that you are willing to learn how to teach us better.

Some teachers might worry about misgendering their trans students. Misgendering happens when you use pronouns that someone does not go by when you are referring to them. You can easily avoid this! For example, this year, I have noticed that some teachers hand out a beginning-of-the-semester survey to their students which asks what their preferred name and pronouns are. This shows dedication: it truly lets us know that you will do your very best to make sure we feel safe in your classroom and that we can trust you to use our true name and pronouns. 

Many different sets of pronouns exist, but the most common ones include she/her, he/him, and they/them. Some teachers may think that they don’t know how to use “plural pronouns” such as they/them for just one student. The truth is, people do it all the time! We often use “they/them” pronouns in sentences when we don’t know someone’s gender. Some people might say “he/she” or “his/her” in a sentence when they aren’t aware of someone’s gender. For example, in a syllabus, a teacher may put “he or she will need these materials for class.” The “he or she” can easily be replaced with a “they” – “they will need these materials for class.” 

It can take a while to adjust to using different pronouns, but it certainly isn’t impossible. Using the correct pronouns for your students is crucial, regardless if the pronouns are traditional or not.

We’re only human, so we all make mistakes. When you misgender a student, especially when talking about them to the class, immediately correct yourself by using the correct pronoun. If you feel bad about it, good! You’re supposed to. Being misgendered can be a really embarrassing and hurtful experience, so you should apologize to your student one-on-one. Don’t apologize to them in front of the whole class, as that puts a lot of attention on your student. When apologizing, do not make it about yourself. Instead, let your student know that you will do better. If your student is angry, don’t be dismissive of their frustration. We know that everyone will slip up, but that doesn’t mean that your mistakes won’t hurt us. 

Names are also very important to be conscious of. My advice for using the correct names for your trans students is similar to my advice for using their correct pronouns. As I mentioned earlier, the beginning-of-the-semester surveys used by some teachers can be a helpful way to learn your student’s true name. If you worry about deadnaming your student (using their birth name—the deadname—and not their preferred one,) saying their true name several times while talking to them or to the class actually can help you remember that name, according to the Times. It might sound awkward to repeat someone’s name over and over in conversation, but it’s better than deadnaming a student. If you slip up, remember to apologize to your student one-on-one. 

While reading attendance, either for your classes or for excel sessions, reading last names can make your students feel safer in the classroom. By doing this, it makes sure your students aren’t forced to correct you if you read their deadname out loud from the attendance list. This puts transgender students, and even cisgender students with nicknames, in an awkward position. Sometimes, the situation is so awkward that students won’t speak up at all, which can result in an unexcused absence. I would strongly recommend this method of doing attendance to substitute teachers or teachers who teach semester-long classes. Once you read the last name of a student, you can ask them what name they would prefer to go by. 

I hope you find this information helpful. To sum this article up, the best piece of advice I can give any teacher is to create surveys or slips that ask for the pronouns and names of your students at the beginning of every semester. Try to rely on these when you have conversations with your trans students or when referring to them in class. However, if you make a mistake, such as deadnaming or misgendering your student, remember that apologizing to your student one-on-one is infinitely better than apologizing to the entire class.