By Juanjo Moreno and Teressa Pace
As teachers, like parents, we want what is best for our students. We want them to learn and grow academically, but more importantly, we want them to become better human beings. The only way to accomplish this is by ensuring that the place they spend most of their day is a safe, accepting, and loving environment.
This seems to be even more important to be cognisant of through a computer screen. While we cannot control the physical environment, how can we make sure kids feel safe in our Zoom rooms? We still have a long way to go in the most basic aspect of our road to inclusion: making our students feel safe and accepted as a daily routine, on a day-by-by, minute-by-minute basis. One simple way to accomplish this is by the use of our words.
I say simple, because it is nothing complicated, yet it is not easy. In my teaching career, more than once, I have watched a student grow to embrace being a member of the LGBTQAI+ community, and immediately wondered if I made them feel accepted and loved in my classroom. I question myself, if the choice of words I used when they were in my classroom made them feel like they are just perfect the way they are, or if I, unintentionally, made them feel like they did not fit in the gender-based mold we are taught all our lives. I wonder if, by being unaware of my language in the classroom if I made them feel unsafe, unaccepted, and unloved.
Being aware of the language we use and using neutral language in our classroom is not easy, but it is a great way to start creating those safe, accepting, and loving spaces. Personalities are being shaped every day. A few things all teachers (and parents) can do are:
- Stay away from heteronormative and gender-specific expressions. Instead of saying “I need a strong boy to help me with this…” or “I need a girl with great craftsmanship”... just ask for a person and choose from both options. Don’t let a girl feel bad for being strong or a boy for being good at what our society seems as “girly tasks.”
- Never use gender to insult or reprimand. Expressions like “you throw like a girl” or “you are messy like a boy” only perpetuate the assumption that each gender has a specific mold to fit.
- Encourage all students to think and pursue what they like or love without having their gender as a concern. Motivate girls to be great scientists, athletes, or world leaders just as much as you encourage them to be moms and housewives. Motivate male students to be artistic, stay-at-home dads or emotional, just as much as you encourage them to be providers and economically successful.
- Do not use expressions that can make a student feel uncomfortable or unwelcome. Avoid saying that only men and women marry each other and instead only referencing marriage.
- Incorporate LGBTQAI+ and BIPOC history and their fight for equal rights when possible in your teaching.
Only by normalizing equal human rights will we truly accomplish the safe, accepting, and loving environment we so much desire in our ASFM community. This is all to ensure that every single one of our students feels accepted, loved, cared for and welcome in their own community- online and offline. This is only to give the best for our students and provide them with a future they will succeed in.