Monday, September 17, 2007

Being A Lesbian Teacher

Before I begin my ruminations, I must share today's kid quote of the day. It is more of an anecdote. During Community Service period today, we were encouraging small groups of students to come up with community service projects that were appropriate for a variety of communities: their school, town, country, and the world. One group was brainstorming countries that "needed help." One girl suggested that Iran was a "poor country." I said, "Okay, so what do you think they would need help with? What do they need?" She thought a moment, then said, "Weapons?" The others agreed.

Yes, folks. My kids want their community service to be providing weapons to Iran.


I am an English teacher. (Actually, I am a Humanities teacher, which means I teach both Social Studies and English; but in my heart, I am an English teacher. That dichotomy is a whole other story.) Anyone out there who is an English teacher, or an elementary school teacher, or has been anywhere near a school lately, probably knows about the Workshop Model. Many people have written about the Workshop Model by now, though it is often attributed to Lucy C@alkins/Te*cher's College (though I prefer it as articulated by Nancie Atw*ll). In brief: this model requires that you teach "minilessons" (anything more than 15 minutes of direct instruction is verboten in many schools) and then the children have reading/writing workshop time where they pursue their own interests in said subjects.

At the school where I work now this actually works reasonably well (how this worked in classes of 30+ kids who had never been allowed up from their desks before, and who generally had trouble getting through a class period without drawing blood, is the subject of perhaps an entirely other blog).

A feature of this approach is the highly confessional teacher. I suppose it's not required, but all of the examples I have seen (both in books and from staff developers) involve a lot of showing your own process as a reader and writer, which involves sharing a lot of information about your life. In general, this doesn't bother me. In fact, in many ways I am an ideal person to model "reading" and "writing" habits because I am passionate about both enterprises. I really do keep a writing journal, my 28th in a long line of battered composition books dating back to the 6th grade. I really do read voraciously, and write compulsively.

But...and I imagine some of you know where I'm going's hard to be completely honest. The women (and it is almost invariably women) who have served as my models (in books and in person) talk frequently about their families. They put pictures of their kids on their decorated journals (because your journal has to be decorated, you know; I think this is a fun exercise for kids, but I'll be damned if I'm doing anything to mine beyond my traditional coloring-in of the white parts of the marble). I regularly have to cut off whole sections of my interests and personality, both as a lesbian, and as a person with a family of my own. (Let's just say I didn't put "Queer Literature" on my list of Reading Territories.)

However, I have long suspected that this would have to change when we had a baby. I work at a small school where a fair number of kids have parents on staff. I'm entirely out to staff (and therefore, to some kids). Last week, when I introduced the kids to Reading Workshop, I went ahead and listed "parenting books" as one of the genres I read. I explained that I was going to be having a baby in a few months, and that my partner was pregnant. I think there may be a few kids who didn't quite get it, but most of them both understood, and were excited (well, excited was the girls; I hate to be stereotypical, but it really is the adolescent girls -- I teach 7th grade -- who get excited about babies).

It hasn't come up again. I don't have a pregnant belly to remind them. But they're a sweet bunch, and I am both relieved and excited to be moving forward, coming out again and again and again.


Jen said...

Yeah, as a librarian, only seeing the kids every other week, it was even harder to be out until I had Natalie. Now I have pictures of all of us in my office, including a picture of us at her second-parent adoption with a caption, "Natalie Has Two Legal Mommies". I have talked about "my partner" or "Natalie's other mom" individually with kids and parents - it hasn't come up in whole class settings much because I don't get to do the "confessional" thing as much with my limited interactions. But if it does, I won't hesitate.

Mo said...

Wow, I was just talking about this to some teachers at school today! Having kids has definitely caused me to be more out at school, but I guess I've gotten a little complacent and only mention my partner if a student asks about my husband or something. Good for you and good for those kids for being upfront with them. I think more often than not it's not as big a deal to the kids as we think it is (except to the gay ones of course, and they will really appreciate the openness).

oneofhismoms said...

Good for you. It is way weirder with little kids. I still don't feel comfortable coming out. My administration backs me up, but I still don't do it. It is called being a big chicken.

A said...

Thanks for this post, Lo. I'm thirsting for stories about being out as a teacher as I get ready for my first teaching job next fall. I know in many schools at least in our area teachers share a lot about their personal lives and don't think much of it, but it causes me some anxiety as a non-bio mom who, when out, will be REALLY out. Thanks for sharing.

Julie said...

In my limited experience, it seems like teachers in same-sex couples are more likely to come out when they are teaching at liberal schools... which tend to be private schools or public schools in upper-middle class/ wealthy neighborhoods. I can imagine it would be harder to do in other settings. However, I do remember that one of my own 5th grade teachers was a lesbian. I went to a very traditional, very average public school in a heavily Catholic area. Whether she ever got any slack for it, I don't know. I can't remember her ever talking about her partner, but I saw them together a couple of time. I don't remember anyone talking about it much. We just liked her because she was cool. She had a motorcycle that she'd drive to school and park in the schoolyard everyday. Cool.

marci said...

Hmmm... I am out to my school's staff as well, but enlightening students is a whole new thing. I have no problem with it except the fact that I don't want fall out from parents.

Since I'll be the one with the pregnant belly (hopefully), I imagine I'll have to cross that bridge at some point. To be honest, I'm looking forward not having to gloss over the fact that I wear a ring on my left hand and am not married to a man.

kittenroar5 said...

I'm out to the staff, but not my students. I wonder how a baby will change all of that.

I had a reading/writing workshop in my seventh grade reading class and loved it. Ninth grade is a whole other story. I love Atwell and Calkins as well, but with my LEP population and struggling readers, I found that Fountas and Pinnell's book really helped me move them forward.

I still secretly love YA lit above all else. I love your quote of the day.

Cait said...

Kids are amazing, aren't they? I'm rarely afraid to tell them anything--it's the parents that are more intimidating for me.

A few months before Natalie was born, I officially came out to the kids in my class. I hadn't exactly been hiding anything before that, but I hadn't volunteered the information. In some years, it came up more than others--they'd ask if I had a husband, and I'd say no, and they'd ask if I had a wife and I'd say yes. Some kids were absolutely fascinated by this concept, and it would resurface here and there throughout the year. But knowing that I was going to be taking maternity leave, I had to explain it to the kids in my class, and to their parents. I sent a letter home to the families, and explained it to the class as simply as I could (they are only 4 and 5). Luckily I had a few kids from 2 mom families, so there was an easy point of reference.

As I'd expected, the kids were great. What surprised me was that the parents were too. Even the ones I was unsure about ended up being really sweet about it. Now when the kids share family photos at the beginning of the year, I share mine as well. It's a pretty nice feeling.

I'm glad your coming out is going well so far, and hope that you continue to have such a happy reception.