Change Your Classroom, Change Your Students

As a former teacher, I sometimes miss the ability to affect students firsthand. I loved watching those lightbulbs ding above their heads when we shared a revelation about some piece of literature.

I often taught predominantly African American students in a small town in Alabama. As attempt to reach them, one effort I made was to include pictures and posters of African Americans in my room. I wanted my students to feel like they belonged even in small ways. I remember their outrage at my statement that I don't like African American History Month. They thought I was being racist, but when I explained that African American History should be celebrated all year, they understood. I made as many efforts as I could think of to break down barriers that stood between us.

This was before I came out. Well, it was before I came out the second time after going back in the closet because of fear & threats. When I came out, I realized that I may have had LGBTQ students but that I never had any LGBTQ posters or art on my walls. I regretted this. I had hundreds of students who passed through my classrooms over the years, and I only knew that a handful of them identified as LGBTQ. I realized that this may have been because they didn't know how I felt about their identity.

As we move into a more inclusive and accepting future, we should remember that we have to gain trust. Everyone has a different experience. If a student has had a bad experience with a teacher, he or she or they may be afraid to be themselves in the classroom. Also, they may be afraid of other students' reactions to them. One way that we can change this is by making sure that our classrooms do not reinforce so-called norms. This can make such a huge difference in changing our classrooms and changing our students.

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