Welcome to The Educator's Room advice column for teachers! Today we're helping a teacher who's co-worker is homophobic and transphobic. We're also helping a teacher who's student is leaving, but wants to stay in touch. See what our writers have to say, then share your own advice in the comments! You can read a couple of our previous editions of Ask The Educator's Room here and here.
Dear The Educator's Room,
I work with a co-worker who's openly hostile to our LGBTQIA+ students. He makes snide comments. Refuses to use the correct pronouns and has started a club framed around bringing "American Values" back.
We work in a VERY diverse school in Georgia, and most of our parents are refugees who work a lot, so unless kids pick up on it, they likely wouldn't know.
I've reported him twice already, and he always goes in and denies his comments. My question is this, HOW CAN I EDUCATE HIM TO BE MORE INCLUSIVE? Is this my job? Should I give up? (from TER's FB page)
Angry in Georgia
Without knowing the political environment of your school or community, I'm going to start by answering the second question: It is your job to love your students and, when possible, defend them from harassment. As difficult as it might be, it is not your job to educate your co-worker on how he can best love his students. We are experiencing a massive cultural shift that he may not be ready for, even if that shift is going to happen with or without his cooperation.
One of the most effective ways to break down walls of bigotry and oppression is through relationships. We can try to change people's ways by talking to them until we are blue in the face, but until that person develops relationships with queer adults rather than kids he has authority over, change will be long, hard, and perhaps impossible.
But no, you shouldn't give up. If this is a teacher with whom you have regular interaction, make it a point to talk about a mutual LGBTQIA+ student as you would positively discuss any other student. Ask him how he relates to students. When you hear harmful comments directed at students, point out the emotional, psychological, and potential physical danger of those statements to those students. Emphasize the importance of respecting a student's sexual and gender identity as part of caring for those we have been charged with teaching and mentoring for six to seven hours a day. And if you have the influence to do so, encourage your administration to include professional development that focuses on supporting LGBTQIA+ students, a population already at high risk for bullying and suicide because of behavior like his.
If you have already reported him twice, it almost sounds like your hands are tied, as your administration is not helping. You could run it up the ladder if you thought it would be productive, but you need others to join you in the effort.
Does your district have a committee that addresses DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) -type issues? If so, this is where I would go. Other than that, continue to be that voice of inclusiveness on your campus and let students know you are their ally. You, and others who support the students, continue to do so by using the pronouns they prefer. Perhaps you or someone else could start a club that supports students of diverse backgrounds. If he has this "American Values" one, surely someone could have a club representing their interests as well.
It really is not your job to change him because people with this mindset are pretty much set in stone. I have, on occasion, dropped information I've read on the importance of inclusiveness during lunch at my school, where we have a co-worker who is very much like yours. Your administration should have had your back in this and put him on a performance plan for not providing a safe environment in which students can learn. See what happens if you go above your school leadership. I'm glad you are doing what you can to support your students.
Dear The Educator's Room,
I have a student whose last day is tomorrow. She will only be coming by to get materials she bought. Her parent is harassing me to add me on Facebook so we can keep in touch. Saying, "she loves you so much. She will for sure miss you." I truly don't feel comfortable adding this specific parent on Facebook. And truly, I'm not sure how to tell them that. Have you ever had a parent like this? (from Reddit)
But We're Not "Friends"
Dear Not Friends,
Teachers are people, and we want to be loved. As a high school teacher, I remember how excited I was that my students wanted to become Facebook friends as soon as they graduated. It meant that I was important enough to them that they wanted to keep in touch.
But parents of students have always been a different story.
I know that many schools don't just forbid teachers from communicating directly with students via social media but also ban social media connections with the parents of our students. I started struggling with this a few years ago as I started to have parents of students who were also parents of my own children's friends. I had to navigate the best ways to communicate with them in our overly connected world. Unfortunately, with your student leaving the school, you do not have this particular policy to fall back on as a formal reason why you cannot accept such a request.
However, you absolutely have the right to maintain an unambiguous line between your personal and professional life. My personal social media is where I feel free to share my family with others and occasionally be vulnerable with people who I believe take a genuine interest in my life. I do not open that door to just anyone, and you should not feel pressured to open that door to anyone who asks. Tell her you are honored that her daughter wants to keep in touch but that you are limiting who you add to social media. Give her your email address and tell her to encourage her daughter to write to you if she wants to keep in touch. If she does not take no for an answer, feel free to block her from your school email account once her daughter is no longer your student.
We have to give ourselves permission to draw lines that have become too blurred, thanks to social media. You won't regret it.
Dear Not Friends,
I had the same situation right before Christmas break! I will miss this student very much as she's a sweetheart, but I never add parents or former students to my Facebook. I might once they are grownups in the college world, but not very often.
My life outside the school is that - my life. I have the idea that whatever I publish on these platforms is visible to anyone, so I am careful of any posts I make. My former district has a policy that does not allow teachers to befriend students or family members on social media platforms to keep a professional boundary.
With my student who moved, I told the mom I never friend parents on social media but would love to stay in touch and made sure she had my school email. While I like to believe my student might send a short email once in a while, I really won't hold my breath as I know she will make new connections with her new teachers. But, do not cave to the guilt trip of "she will miss you" either. She's a young person who will move on and find a new favorite teacher, which is for the best.
about the advisors
Sarah Styf is a 19-year high school English teacher. She lives in the Indianapolis area with her husband and two children. She is passionate about education reform and civic engagement. She can be found on Instagram @sarah.styf and Twitter @sarahstyf
Suzy Winter is a middle school Language Arts teacher in the private school sector and loves every moment of it. After 17 years of public school life, it is a welcome change, but she will always advocate and lift up my fellow educators. She believes our profession, no matter where the classroom, is not for the faint of heart, but for those who teach with all their heart.
Editor's Note: If you enjoyed this article, please become a Patreon supporter by clicking here.