In a blog post for the Dallas Morning News, teacher Johnny Jonte Boucher, has some first-hand advice for those who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender and in the teaching profession about being yourself while still managing to keep your job:
1. Bond with families
I use technology to help me out here on the time commitment—I send mass texts using the Remind app and website. Tell them how the day went. Send pictures often. Talk about class goals and what you all are learning. Involve parents in a project or a fundraiser for something the class needs. It builds a sense that this class is not you and the kids; it is your connection with an entire community of families. Create a group email list and send out updates and parenting articles you love. Make a teacher Instagram and send the link to all the parents. When they know you, that’s where the trust grows.
4. Bring your family around
This may seem “in your face” if you were raised in a place with tons of shame, but seeing you and your partner together will normalize your life to the PTA, to your coworkers, and, don’t forget, to the child who will grow up and struggle with this, too. How many children will you teach in your career? If just one out of ten kids will experience pain and bullying about who they love or how they understand their gender, the memory of you and your partner will stick with them.
I will forever remember my French teacher in high school and the framed picture of his boyfriend he kept on his desk. In spite of all the confusing feelings I was working through as a teenager, with parents who had strong traditional opinions about who I could be, date, and love– he chipped away at my fears and made my life feel possible. It was as simple as that photo on his desk and a smiling, “Oh, that’s my partner, William,” when a kid asked.
5. Don’t guard your language with co-workers
Raise your hand if you have fallen into The Pronoun Game just because you didn’t want “the gay” to derail yet another conversation? “I went to the movie with my… with the person I’m seeing. And the person and I had so much fun!”
What is that? You sound nutty.
Furthermore, avoiding talking about your personal life entirely puts a degree of distance between you the relationships you need to build to collaborate and be effective teachers. This is a balance, because you want to keep your communication professional, but if you are insistently private about your developing sense of identity, daily experiences, and who is important to you, over time it can build a wall that keeps a more meaningful professional relationship from growing.
Beyond that, these office friendships will be important if the ground ever freezes over on that icy relationship with a principal.