Teaching sexuality: How much can we expect from classroom teachers?
Should teachers be prepared to discuss gender and sexuality issues?
Posted Jul 21, 2010
In my new book [amazon 9048185580], I introduce some common myths and misconceptions related to integrating these issues into school life:
- When talking about sexual or gender diversity, it really just means teaching about homosexuality.
- Learning about gender and sexuality isn't relevant for education professionals and youth workers- particularly those in elementary education.
- Teaching about gender and sexual diversity is controversial and should be avoided in schools.
- Some religions teach that homosexuality is wrong, so schools shouldn't talk about sexual diversity as it may violate some students' religious or cultural beliefs.
Why teach about gender and sexual diversity?
Issues relating to gender and sexual diversity have always been present in schools. Many aspects of school life are constructed around traditional sex roles: girls and boys would enter the school building from separate doors, girls studied home economics and boys went to wood shop. Teachers were unmarried women and principals and superintendents were men (Blount, 1996, 2005). Although in the 21st century many of these traditions have become less rigid, the lasting impacts of these practices are still felt today.
I have taught about issues related to gender and sexual diversity in schools for the past fifteen years and am used to experiencing resistance from students, parents, and professional educators on the topic. It is common for students to resist discussing topics that make them uncomfortable or for which they have no previous experiences in schools. It is important for educators to become knowledgeable about these issues for four main reasons: student safety, physical and emotional health, diversity and equity, and student engagement and success. Chapter 1 of my book addresses each of these areas in -depth and is a good starting place for anyone interested in learning more about these topics and how they affect the safety and well-being of all members of a school community.
Impacts of teacher training
The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) recently released a report discussing the outcomes of its collaboration with NYC public schools to offer training to their teachers, counsellors, and administrators on issues related to gender and sexual diversity. In this report, the researchers stated that:
Findings from the Year One evaluation demonstrate that this training program is an effective means for developing the competency of educators to address bias-based bullying and harassment, and to create safer school environments for LGBTQ students. The findings suggest that providing such training to all school staff, including administrators, would result in an even stronger effect on the school environment. Furthermore, ensuring sufficient opportunities for developing educators' skills in intervening in anti- LGBTQ behaviors could enhance the effectiveness of trainings. To maintain the benefits of training, staff should receive continued and advanced professional development opportunities related to supporting LGBTQ students and combating bias-based bullying and harassment. (pg v)
7 things you can do to improve the gender and sexual diversity climate in your community and/or school
- If you are a parent: call your school or school district and ask what sort of training and workshops are provided to educational staff to prepare them to address anti-gay bullying, include and support children of gay and lesbian parents, and promote diversity and acceptance of all children and families. Volunteer to be on a working group to address these issues in your community.
- If you are a teacher or school counsellor: use the summertime to plan a curricular unit or collaborate with colleagues on a school project that will educate your students and school community on these issues. GLSEN.org and GALE-BC have some excellent ideas for all grade levels.
- If you are a student: talk to your family or another trusted adult about what is going on at your school and what you'd like to see changed: more books about gender and sexual diversity in the school or town library? Better enforcement of the school's anti-bullying policy? Starting a Gay-Straight Alliance? Ask for their help and suggestions - start a Facebook group to get your friends involved!
- If you are an administrator or member of a governing board: initiate talks to invite an expert to offer a full or half-day training to your school or school board personnel about these issues. Include a plan to have this topic revisited in school-wide in-service days at least every two years.
- Extend your own knowledge on these issues by reading books, watching videos, or attending local workshops and events. There is an extensive list of resources proposed in my book [amazon 0807749532].
- Sign this online petition against reinforcing traditional gender roles through sex-segregated schooling.
- Sign this online petition asking your local representative to take action to support the Safe Schools Improvement Act.
Blaise, M. (2005). Playing it straight!: Uncovering gender discourses in the early childhood classroom. New York: Routledge Press.
Blount, J. M. (1996). Manly Men and Womanly Women: Deviance, Gender Role Polarization, and the Shift in Women's School Employment, 1900-1976. Harvard Educational Review, v66 n2 p318-38 Sum 1996.
Blount, J. M. (2005). Fit to Teach: Same-sex desire, gender, and school work in the twentieth century. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.
Meyer, E. J. (2009). Gender, bullying, and harassment: Strategies to end sexism and homophobia in schools. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Meyer, E. J. (2010). Gender and Sexual Diversity in Schools. New York, NY: Springer.
Renold, E. (2000). 'Coming Out': gender (hetero)sexuality and the primary school. Gender and Education, 12(3), 309-326.