It will come as no surprise that I know a lot of teachers! Some readers will be even less surprised (some, more so perhaps?) that many teachers I know are lesbian or gay. The bit that will surprise no one at all, I think, is that of the many lesbian and gay teachers I know, very few feel they can be out at school. Those who are out at school may not have chosen to be and are (or think they are) only out to their colleagues.
I think many lesbian and gay teachers only think they are not out to their students: I have enough experience of teaching teenagers to know that little escapes their notice! Whether they are or are not interested in their teachers’ lives and loves, very few of them these days care at all about the gender of a teacher’s significant other. For most teenagers in 21st century Ireland their teachers’ sexuality is just not an issue!
But at this historic moment in Ireland the vast majority of school-goers are too young to vote in the forthcoming referendum on Civil Marriage. And yet many lesbian and gay teachers are still hesitant about campaigning for a YES vote in this referendum. Many of my friends, for example, fear the implications in school if they are to do so … what about ‘next year’ when they are looking for a job? I hear this and I think for all the progress in terms of diversity and equality, what has really changed since “my day” as a secondary school teacher two decades ago?
I have had occasion to think about this a bit and to try to figure out what kind of society we would like future generations to grow up in in this country; about the kinds of conversations that might be possible in schools and what it may mean to young people, whatever their sexuality, to feel valued as they grow up.
As teachers, we have – and have always had – a fundamental role to play in ensuring that open, honest and caring conversations can occur in schools. As a teacher educator I have ‘come around’ (as though I’m gaining consciousness, maybe?) to the responsibility I have in encouraging this conversation. I think maybe by sharing my own story with students, as they begin their teaching careers, we can all contribute to lifting the silence about gender stereotypes, homophobic bullying and so on that still pervades schools, especially Catholic ethos schools, in this country.
I have recently had the opportunity to put some of these ideas in writing in an academic context. I am offering some of that in this blog. Episode 1 is a short and true-as-far-as-I-remember-it-story, while Episode 2 is an entirely imagined piece of what you could call “wishful thinking”!
I invite you to read these (in order ideally) in the hope that these may prompt further thinking about the kind of society we would like to leave to future generations.
Should you wish to read these “vignettes” in their academic “frame” … be my guest:
I welcome comments if you’d like to engage in that conversation via the comments on this blog (or by email if you prefer). Comments are moderated, so your comment will not automatically be made public.