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An Educators Role In Affirming Transgender Youth

A national survey by GLSEN has found that 75% of transgender youth feel unsafe at school.

The survey concludes that those who persevere have significantly lower GPAs.

These students are more likely to miss school out of concern for their safety,

They are less likely to continue furthering their education after high school. 

So, what do these statements mean for educators? 

Educators have a unique and prominent role in the lives of these children. For some, teachers are the only safe adults in their lives because their parents and siblings are non-affirming. Moreover, teachers are the first adults to see bullying and hostile treatment from other students. And they are the first people who can respond in a way that makes a transgender child feel validated and safe. Below are 5 simples ways to affirm transgender children in your classroom.

  1. Use preferred pronouns and names. This is a simple, yet impactful way to validate these children for who they are. When in doubt, have courageous conversations with the child about which pronouns they prefer. 
  2. Acknowledge and react to mistreatment from other children. It is no secret that mental health is a serious concern in the transgender community. One cause of depression and suicidal thoughts in transgender children is bullying. Do everything you can to prevent it. 
  3. Focus on the whole child. Transgender children are so much more than a pronoun. Find out what gives them joy. Talk with them about books, hobbies, or other activities they enjoy. Praise them for the beautiful person they are. 
  4. Educate your colleagues. Sometimes, people’s bias is unintended and comes from a place of misunderstanding or the consumption of disinformation. So, do what you can to educate your peers. Share resources and information that supports the affirmation of transgender children.
  5. Think of creative ways to divide your classroom activities. Even after she transitioned, my daughter was instructed to line up in the boys line in gym class. Her reaction was embarrassment and hurt feelings. The gym teacher publicly shamed my daughter in front of her peers. Despite a 504 instructing the teacher to come up with creative ways to divide the class, it persisted. Ideas can be anything from your favorite color or guess the number. Have fun with it. Dividing into the binary is so 2000.
  6. Don’t overthink everything. Above all, transgender children want to be loved and accepted just like every other child in the class. Therefore, sticking to this basic principle will yield dividends in terms of a trusting, reciprocal, healthy relationship with your student. 

For more incredible suggestions subscribe to one of my favorite newsletters targeted towards educators. Time To Thrive is an annual conference held by the Human Rights Campaign. Their monthly newsletter is a bright spot in my day. Most important, in your classroom, make sure all are welcome.

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An Essay

An essay. A seemingly harmless essay changed the course of my baby’s entire day.

I brush the soft wisps of her long hair away from her face. Meanwhile, she crosses her feet on the bench at the foot of my bed as she lies next to our family dog. I caress her and assure her that things will be okay. All the while knots form in my stomach and my throat tightens. How could I not see it through her eyes?

In short, she was given a school assignment that was seemingly harmless. In fact, I knew nothing about it until it was anything but harmless. The veiled eyes of the unoppressed and embraced blinds my ability to anticipate this deleterious event. 

The assignment: Write an essay about changing identities’ with another person for 24 hours. What would you do? What would you see? 

This seems harmless enough, right? For my cis, seemingly heterosexual child, this was a piece of cake when presented two years back. He writes his essay without a hitch. Presented to my transgender daughter, just ten, it became her undoing. 

The teacher reports that she is being non-compliant, refusing to finish class, turning off her computer, and abruptly leaving. First red flag. While I would certainly say my daughter is spirited, it is unlike her to be blatantly disrespectful. Things progress to her total disregard for the assignment. She is choosing to write about trading places with the family dog. Consequently, her teacher does not approve of this and pushes her to complete the essay like the rest of her classmates.

My daughter has a fiery soul. To clarify, I know that we have to keep things in check or she will take the rope and run. With both feet, I come down and force her to start her outline. Seriously, what is the big deal about this assignment?  

As we lay in bed and talk, I know she is struggling and the enormity of my mistake weighs on me. “Why can’t I just be the dog? It isn’t fair.” She doesn’t want to be anyone else. Oh dear Lord, just choose Lady Gaga or one of your Roblox people, and let’s get it over with. Cooperate and graduate. You need to learn that!

And then it came.  The soul-crushing reminder that my daughter grapples with things that never even cross my mind. Dear readers and friends, I invite you to think about the situation I just shared with you. Think about it from the perspective of my daughter. As a result, does anything stick out to you? 

“Mommy, if we trade places they will know I am trans. They might tell people. They might do bad things. I could get hurt.”

Just like that, I realized what an incredibly, enormously, awful mistake had been made and I could not get out of it fast enough.

My heart breaks into a million pieces retelling this story. It is, unfortunately, very much non-fiction. Diversity in our communities means that we meet all people where they are. Above all, we leave room for everyone. It does not mean you have to understand me or my daughter, but it does mean that our truth and reality are valid. Her teachers made a mistake. Her mother made a mistake. And thinking on this in more depth, perhaps the education system as a whole is making a mistake. In this case, the appropriate approach would have been to allow for an alternative essay, but until you see it through the eyes of someone else, it is hard to understand why a harmless assignment has caused my daughter’s undoing.

Approaching education from a hetero, cis-normative standpoint alienates people just as much as the whitewashing that has impacted the black, brown, and indigenous members of our America. We need to do better. We cannot keep making the same mistakes and never learn from them. I know my daughter was supposed to be the one learning from that essay but I think I am the one who learned the most here. Baby girl, your momma is watching. Your momma is listening. In sum, your momma learned from her mistakes. All because an essay opened her eyes. Who out there is willing to join me?

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An Educator’s Role in Affirming Transgender Children

Educators play a key role in affirming transgender youth

An educator’s role in affirming transgender children is priceless.

A national survey by GLSEN has found that 75% of transgender youth feel unsafe at school.

The survey concludes that those who persevere have significantly lower GPAs.

These students are more likely to miss school out of concern for their safety,

They are less likely to continue furthering their education after high school. 

So, what do these statements mean for educators? 

Educators have a unique and prominent role in the lives of these children. For some, teachers are the only safe adults in their lives because their parents and siblings are non-affirming. Additionally, teachers are the first adults to see bullying and hostile treatment from other students. And as a result, they are the first people who can respond in a way that makes a transgender child feel validated and safe. Below are 5 simples ways to affirm transgender children in your classroom.

  1. Use preferred pronouns and names. This is a simple, yet impactful way to validate these children for who they are. When in doubt, have courageous conversations with the child about which pronouns they prefer.
  2. Acknowledge and react to mistreatment from other children. In short, it is no secret that mental health is a serious concern in the transgender community. One cause of depression and suicidal thoughts in transgender children is bullying. Do everything you can to prevent it. 
  3. Focus on the whole child. Ultimately, transgender children are so much more than a pronoun. Find out what gives them joy. Talk with them about books, hobbies, or other activities they enjoy. Praise them for the beautiful person they are. 
  4. Educate your colleagues. Sometimes, people’s bias is unintended and comes from a place of misunderstanding or the consumption of disinformation. Do what you can to educate your peers. For example, share resources and information that supports the affirmation of transgender children.
  5. Think of creative ways to divide your classroom activities. Even after she transitioned, my daughter was instructed to line up in the boys’ line in gym class. Her reaction was embarrassment and hurt feelings. The gym teacher publicly shamed my daughter in front of her peers. Despite a 504 instructing the teacher to come up with creative ways to divide the class, it persisted. Ideas can be anything from your favorite color or guess the number. Have fun with it. Dividing into the binary is so 2000.
  6. Don’t overthink everything. To conclude, transgender children want to be loved and accepted just like every other child in the class. Sticking to this basic principle will yield dividends in terms of a trusting, reciprocal, healthy relationship with your student. 

For more incredible suggestions subscribe to one of my favorite newsletters targeted towards educators. Time To Thrive is an annual conference held by the Human Rights Campaign. Their monthly newsletter is a bright spot in my day. In your classroom, make sure all are welcome.

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When Our Kids Are Attacked- Instinct Kicks In

We can all agree. When our kids are attacked, instinct kicks in.

I have a flower box hanging outside of my dining room window and every year I fill it with beautiful plants and flowers. This past spring was like most others in that I planted some sweet seedlings with the intention of marveling as they grew. But this spring was also a little different. As a result of the pandemic, I had more time to watch these little plants. It was fascinating, really. I always say that we can learn a lot from nature. After all, it just does what it is supposed to do. Instinctively.

As time went on, I begin to notice a little bird visiting my flower box throughout the day. After inspecting the box, I am delighted to see that she is building a nest. Piece by piece, the little bird built a home for her precious eggs. I watched as she worked tirelessly for days on end. All by herself. Bit by bit and piece by piece. Motherhood is like that, isn’t it? Tireless work and unending sacrifice. Finally, that little momma lays her eggs. She does not rush. As a matter of fact, it takes her almost a week to lay 7 precious eggs. 

I continued to watch as she tended to those eggs. The motherly instinct really is a wonder, isn’t it? After many long days and lots of careful plant watering-can’t drown the little eggs-I finally saw some cracks. Those baby birds were an amazing source of entertainment with their wobbly legs and wild feathers. Such fun to watch. They were getting very curious and spending quite a bit of time exploring my window box. As a result, I knew it was almost time for them to leave the nest, as all babies do.

One afternoon, I noticed that the momma bird was fluttering around the box in panic. There were other birds attacking her babies! I quickly ran to the window and crouched down to see why these birds were attacking these precious babies. To my knowledge, birds didn’t normally do that. Shockingly, the birds were not, in fact, attacking the babies. The birds were helping the little momma because a snake had slithered into her nest and was eating her babies. And I had a front-row seat for this massacre. 

It took me a long time to get over that. Watching the momma build a home for her babies and then having them taken from her in a blink of an eye. The way her community rallied around her and fought to help protect the innocent. The way she came back to her nest to look for them for the rest of the day. I imagine their smell was still fresh in the nest. Friends, we can learn a lot from nature. The instinct to protect our babies is real. The need for community is even more real. The snakes are out there and waiting to prey. We have to look out for one another. We have to be vigilant. 

I like to think that the momma bird feels comfort that her bird community rallied around her and struck against something far more powerful than they were. There is strength in numbers and those birds knew it. When our kids are attacked, instinct kicks in. After all, if it’s good for the birds, why not us?