I’ve been thinking about this one for a while now. The angle in which to go down changes every time I start to type, and definitely changes depending on my current mood. This post is about reflections on ‘coming out’, with a particular focus on being open to the students in which I teach at a secondary high school.
Before I get into the reflection side of things, allow me to give you a brief background of my time at high school when I was a student. During my time at my local high school, there was little to no mention of homosexuality in any of the classes – as was standard practice of the day. As with quite a lot of young adults who define as being part of the LGBT+ community, I was bullied. The words and phrases such as, “…that’s so gay…”, was said by both my friends and students of the school with the intention of being a hurtful. To be fair to them, I don’t think they even knew what ‘gay’ was, they just had this understanding that being ‘gay’ was not seen as acceptable.
The school that I attended didn’t really understand what to do with me when I quietly mentioned to one of the deputy head teachers that I thought I was gay. At the time, I came out to just a few of my closest ‘friends’. I had known that there was something odd about me since I was about 12-13 years old. My friends, mostly females, were accepting of me, but thinking back, perhaps this was naive of me. To give the school some credit, they did help me out. They provided me with a counsellor, who came in about three or four times in the remaining months I had left at the school. I was in Year 10 and about to leave for the summer vacation. For various different reasons, which I don’t wish to get into here, the counselling sessions didn’t continue on when I returned for Year 11. As I progressed through further education and into higher education I became more comfortable with who I was, primarily because of the lack of bullying that I faced each and every day.
Currently, I am on a teacher training course, teaching my subject specialism, chemistry, and general science to secondary high school students in the Staffordshire area. My first placement school was set in a rather affluent area. The students in one particular class noticed that my style of teaching was not like that of the other male teachers in the school. Only a small number of students giggled and spoke in hushed tones, but it is something that I am acutely aware of. Think of it as a self-defensive strategy – to notice when a threat to ones own self confidence is about to be made. I can be flamboyant at times, but I think being animated can help the delivery of a subject. I’d rather move about than to stand motionless and stern.
As part of my training course there are times where my teaching practice is officially assessed by my mentor at the school and by my course provider. The assessed lesson was scheduled for approximately half way through the first term at the school, and by this time the giggling and whispering was truly getting to me. Either I had to change the way that I teach and just accept the fact that once again other people are making me feel bad, or bite the bullet and just come out. With the support of my mentor and the senior leadership team at the school, I chose to do the latter.
At the end of the lesson, one week prior to my assessed lesson, I asked the students to stand behind their desks and wait for the bell. When they eventually settled down I then talked to the entire class about my ‘unique’ style of teaching and how the giggling and the whispering should end. Some of the students did look a little confused as to why I had brought it up, so I ended my talk with the fact that I was gay. What followed was a little unexpected.
Stunned silence…honestly you could have heard a pin drop. I was gagging for the school bell to ring. Every second that past there was no talking from anyone. Goodness me that bell needed to ring.
At the end of my time at the school, I decided that I would ask every class that I taught to write down, anonymously on a post-it-note, one thing they enjoyed and one criticism they have about my teaching practice whilst at the school. A risky move some might say, but I felt that if I am going to improve my teaching practice then who else to ask for some honest feedback. There were several comments which I have taken on board and I will alter my approach to certain things, but the one that stood out to me was that me coming out in front of the class was ‘unnecessary’.
Not entirely sure which way to take it if I am honest. I’ll let you decide.
Recently, the Teacher Network section in The Guardian published an article (link) about an LGBT+ individual whose training to be a teacher with the Teach First initiative.
The NASUWT has a range of campaigns and activities supporting LGBTI members (link)
As does the NUT (link)
Schools Out Campaign (link)