New Teachers at a Truly Welcoming School
August 24, 2012 by Guest contributor
Johanna Eager is the Midwest Regional Consultant for the HRC Foundation’s Welcoming Schools program which provides tools and training to help elementary schools embrace family diversity, avoid gender stereotyping and stop name-calling and bullying.
Being a “new teacher” at a school can feel a lot like being the "new kid."
As the school year starts you wonder whether you belong at that school and hope you’ll fit in with the rest of the staff.
I was recently training a group of "new" teachers for a school moving into their second academic year of Welcoming Schools professional development. The session began with the principal explaining why she felt this training was important. She told the new teachers that they did not have to be afraid to be LGBT-inclusive in their classrooms. She assured them that the administration and school board fully supported the Welcoming Schools approach.
As I worked with the teachers they expressed how surprised and excited they were that this LGBT-inclusive training was part of their new teacher orientation. Several said it made them feel even better about their decision to join this school – a school they now understood was committed to creating respectful classrooms and an inclusive community.
As a former teacher myself, I thought back to my own experiences as the “new teacher” and I could understand where they were coming from. The Welcoming Schools training signaled to the teachers that they, too, might be safe in this new school environment regardless of the difference that they bring.
During our final activity, two teachers who were working together asked me to join them. One of the teacher looked nervous and was shaking a bit.
"I'm gay,” he told me after some hesitation. “Do you think this training means that I get to be out here?"
I told him I thought it did but recommended a check-in with school administrators. After the training we talked with the principal and assistant principal to ask if the teacher could be "out" with staff and students. The four of us talked about how difficult the first year of teaching can be and how important it will be for the teacher to have the opportunity to focus all of his attention on being the best teacher he could for his students – without having to put his energy into hiding part of himself.
The principal agreed. She told the teacher he could choose his own process and comfort level around coming out to staff, students and families. She recognized that the Welcoming Schools approach is an LGBT-inclusive approach for everyone - including teachers.
The teacher could hardly believe what had just happened. His entire career had changed in that moment - and I could tell he knew it by the very big smile that lit up his face.