George Lucas Educational Foundation

“Please Call Me Jason”: Supporting Our Transgender Students

“Please Call Me Jason”: Supporting Our Transgender Students

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Illustration of gender symbols connected by a circle

The email arrived on the first day of school, in the middle of first period. A student had sent a message to the principal, which had been forwarded to the teachers. The student said:

My legal name is Emily, but I prefer to be addressed as Jason and with male pronouns.*

Jason would be entering my 8th grade classroom after lunch that day, which gave me enough time to pull his notebook out of the pile, remove the “Emily” label that I had put on it the day before, and replace it with “Jason.” I changed his name on my seating chart as well so that as I worked to learn names that first day, I wouldn’t glance down and call him Emily by mistake.

Jason is not the first transgender student I have taught, but he is the first to contact the school on his own to explain his situation, and he is the first to specifically ask that we honor his name and gender changes. I hoped that when he walked in and saw “Jason” on his notebook, that he would know he would be safe and supported in my classroom. But that first day would be just the beginning; how else can I support him and also teach his classmates to respect him and all peers, regardless of their backgrounds or identities?

As an English teacher, I know that reading is a great tool for exposing my students to current events and different perspectives. As they build their reading and analysis skills, they also learn to see the world through other people’s eyes. Our class discussions following the readings give us many opportunities to listen, to understand new perspectives, to learn about people whose lives may be very different from our own.

I start my classes every day by reading aloud from a great book. My main goal is to help students find good books to read by exposing them to a wide range of literature, but our daily story time is also an opportunity to open our eyes to other people’s life experiences. Last spring I found two new books in our Scholastic order that both tell the story of a transgender youth struggling with identity: George, by Alex Gino, and Gracefully Grayson, by Ami Polonsky. I look forward to reading aloud from these books, as they will allow my students to learn about the transgender experience from the personal voice of someone their age. I hope, too, that when Jason hears me read from these books, he will know that he is safe in my classroom.

I would love to hear from teachers who have already had transgender students in their classes. How did you support them? How did you respond when other students made inappropriate comments? There are some great tips here: http://www.edutopia.org/discussion/supporting-lgbt-students-your-school, but your own experiences with transgender students would be even more valuable. Please share below and help me give Jason a great 8th grade year!

*Names in this story have been changed.


This post was created by a member of Edutopia's community. If you have your own #eduawesome tips, strategies, and ideas for improving education, share them with us.

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MarkSuter's picture
MarkSuter
Teacher, Director of Entrepreneurial Tech Club: Rockettech

Hi Laura!
Is first commenter the first brave follower?

On the first day, 1st period last week, I happened to have an all-girl classroom of 12 for Photoshop. I made a comment about how Google and Microsoft are fighting to get more female employees, and it's great there is a whole class of girls in a tech class. I was shocked when a hand went up, and a girl identified herself as transgender and wanted to be called Shane. I was silent, trying to read if she was playing a joke or not. It wasn't a joke, and her saying something in front of the class (I'll shift pronouns here, mid-sentence) lead me to openly support him, saying "I know we're in a small town, but if anyone gives you a hard time about it, you come see me or Mrs. [guidance counselor]. I haven't heard any negative comments yet from peers, and I visited the principal and guidance counselor to make sure I'm supposed to recognize the change, and they confirmed that.
I'm still fumbling with the name as I've known him for 6 years as his female name, but I'm making a conscious effort to not mess up my pronouns or names.

(4)
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT's picture
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT
Middle school English/Digital Design/Broadcast Media teacher

WOW, Mark! Kudos to you AND your student! I am so impressed with his ability to advocate for himself in front of the class, and I'm really impressed with how you handled it. Honestly, the thinking-on-our-feet part of our jobs is not to be underestimated! Well done.

(1)
Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program; Elementary Library Media Specialist

I love this Laura. What a gift you are to your students.

(1)
KMorash's picture

A few years ago I worked in Spain, in a private Catholic school. It became evident very quickly that one of my 3rd grade students was not conforming to the "machismo" norm (side note: most of the metropolitan areas of Spain no longer hold a tight grasp to machismo, but there are certain expectations, just like in other areas around the world). I spoke to his teacher from the year before about my observations and she confirmed that he liked fashion, nail polish, baking, gossiping (cotillar in Spanish, a very typical female Spanish past time), jewelry making and more. My co-teacher and I spoke to his parents very delicately considering common Catholic views. We found out that they were very accepting of his choices and worked to encourage him as an individual rather than a person of specific gender. They helped him pursue hobbies and activities that he showed interest in, not just activities expected of a young boy.
Because he was so young and neither his parents nor he had ever referred to a transgender identity, my co-teacher and I decided to follow the parents' example of treating him as an individual and encouraging his interests. This worked very well for the first few months. He was very artistic and outgoing. His jewelry and baking creations made him a popular part of the class and everyone enjoyed being with him.
As the year progressed however, the students all started to notice that he was the only boy not on the soccer pitch and he never talked about things the other boys obsessed over, like soccer. He was as outgoing as ever, but other students began to reject playing with him and would say mean things about how all he wanted to do was girly stuff. When he answered back that he wanted to be a girl, the students became even more agitated because they had never heard anything like that and didn't know what to do.
My co-teacher spoke to his parents about his declaration, but they chose to stay the course of treating him as an individual because they feared he was too young to truly know and they were terrified that he would not be allowed to receive a Catholic education if he openly identified as female. They did agree to him seeing the school guidance counselor once a week to help work through the social issues with which he was dealing.
We worked very hard to showcase his interests and talents in the classroom so students could see him for who he was, not what gender he was. It took about a month, with interventions when students said hurtful things, but eventually the class accepted him again and went on as normal. When he brought in the Mardi Gras masks, King cake, and beads for his report on Louisiana in February he was the hit of the project fair. Students, parents, and teachers alike all visited his booth to compliment his hard work. That really helped him settle back into the classroom and reassured his parents and teachers that he was confident and comfortable with who he was as a person.
Finding his interests and talents as well as working with him and his parents were the keys to his success that year.

Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT's picture
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT
Middle school English/Digital Design/Broadcast Media teacher

What a great story, KMorash. You make a great argument for the need to teach respect and acceptance all year long. It isn't enough to have a stand-alone lesson on compassion, and just because a student is doing well at the start of school, doesn't mean we won't need to intervene and work with our students on acceptance later in the year. Thanks for sharing your experiences!

Teaching Possibility's picture
Teaching Possibility
I believe in the possibility of education.

There was a biologically male student in my high school who wanted to be called a female name. He did not dress as a female which is neither here nor there. Many teachers said, "I won't call him that name because he just wants attention." This was tough for me to witness and made me second guess what I should do. So I went up to him and asked him, "What name would you like me to call you? I would like to honor your wishes for your name." He told me, "I would like to be called (insert female name here). Thanks so much for asking me."

Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT's picture
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT
Middle school English/Digital Design/Broadcast Media teacher

Basic respect, right, Heidi? We owe that to our students, especially when rumors make us question what a student needs. Thanks for sharing your experience.

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