Supporting LGBT Students

More recently, LGBT students have become a topic of conversation within schools and amongst teachers. It is a really essential part of teaching that teachers become allies for these students. With the age of bullying and the popular press surrounding this marginalized group, it is increasingly important that every teacher put in at least a little bit of thought on ways to help LGBT students in the classroom.

On Edutopia, Lina Rafaelli wrote a post with some tips on incorporating LGBT support into the classroom.

One of the things that she suggests is being very intentional about language use in the classroom. It is essential in being an LGBT ally that teachers allow no language use that could be offensive or derogatory. Teachers need to set an example on language use while also monitoring that of their students. She also suggests that teachers take a look at the climate of their schools regarding LGBT support and do anything they can to improve it should the need arise.

Most importantly, Rafaelli discusses the idea of creating an environment in which students feel comfortable expressing themselves. (There I go talking about classroom vulnerability again) But seriously, LGBT students are often ostracized among their classmates, making it impossible for them to learn to the fullest extent. Teachers must ensure that they monitor their classroom environments, making sure that every student feels included and welcome.

In the English classroom specifically, there are some great ways to be a teacher ally to LGBT students. Moving beyond Lina Rafaelli’s thoughts on the classroom in general, text diversity in the English classroom can do wonders on making several marginalized groups feel accepted. Incorporating texts that delve into LGBT issues can be a great start at making LGBT students feel validated and important.

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Supporting ELL Students

It is simple to make general statements about being a teacher ally, but less simple to be specific in how to apply allyship in your classroom. However, there are many resources that explain how to support English Language Learners in the English classroom.

On NCTE’s website, Melinda J. McBee Orzulak wrote a post on just this topic.

3 major takeaways:

  1. Have an asset-perspective rather than a deficit-perspective. Sometimes, when ELL students are added to a classroom, a teacher may look only at what that student detracts from the classroom. They may think about the extra work they may have to put in or the language barrier they must face, but thinking of these things will do nothing to help that student or the rest of the class. Instead, it would be beneficial for teachers to think about the immense amount of new culture an ELL student can add to the classroom. Occasionally, classrooms become very predictable, but ELL students have the ability to offer experiences that others may know nothing about.
  2. Use multilingual classrooms as a resource. An English classroom is the perfect classroom to incorporate the linguistics of other languages. Orzulak suggests that English teachers take words from an ELL student’s language to do a lesson on root words or word origins. This can make an ELL student feel comfortable and included, while teaching a valuable lesson to those unfamiliar with the language.
  3. Show your other students how to empathize with language learners. Orzulak mentions that she, like many other Americans, is not fully bilingual. Many people do not fully understand the difficulty and stress of learning a new language by itself, let alone being completely immersed in one without reprieve. It would be very beneficial to increase students’ empathy for ELLs by making them understand the arduous process and the shift in identity that accompanies the activity. In doing this, ELL students and other students can form closer relationships, making everyone feel comfortable.

Outside allies

There are many ways that teachers can be allies to their students inside the classroom as well as out. Although most teachers likely focus on the classroom, since that is there area of expertise, it is super important to think of ways you can be an ally beyond the classroom. Students have lives outside of your classroom–as hard as it is to imagine sometimes–and subsequently, your allyship should incorporate the other aspects of your students’ lives as well.

On the Public Allies website, there are so many great examples of allyship that have little to do with traditional schooling. Their mission statement reads, “to create a just and equitable society and the diverse leadership to sustain it”. To do this, they offer leadership opportunities to anyone who wants them. This group has few requirements, other than a high school diploma or GED, and subsequently “is intentional about recruiting young leaders whose promise and potential are too frequently overlooked, dismissed, or ignored”. While students in schools may be given opportunities and encouragement to learn specific content to their greatest extent, people in this group build their resumes and experience to get a head-start on the future.

I think this organization is absolutely incredible. It is service based and very often work with at-risk youth while simultaneously giving adults who might have been at-risk as children opportunities for advancement. There is absolutely no bias in selection and it really seems like a great way to be an ally for young people of all ages and colors.

Through the Downtown Aurora Visual Arts program, allyship is also a huge focus. In this program, leaders focus on engaging students ages 3-17 in the development of art, social, and life skills. Their mission statement reads, “to strengthen the community through the visual arts with youth engagement as the primary focus”. This program has discovered that the students involved really develop in their creativity and character, and subsequently in their leadership skills. Children involved in this organization interact with people that give them encouragement and support as well as other students like them while engaging in creative activities and events that perfectly supplement their school learning.

I truly love the mission of this organization. DAVA takes the time to engage children in types of creativity that they may not get to experiment with in any other setting. This organization makes youth feel important and recognized as the focus is entirely on them. Any teacher ally who supports the creative activity of their students and not just the academic is a true teacher ally.

 

Supporting gifted and talented students

I haven’t ever given much thought to the extra support of Gifted and Talented students in the classroom. It has always seemed to me that there are groups of students who need more specialized attention and focus, but GT students are not one of those groups. However, now that I have put more thought into it and done some research, I have realized that all students deserve individualized attention, and GT students cannot be excluded from that.

While researching the support of GT students, I came across a few great resources that give all kinds of advice from specific lessons, to classroom scaffolding, to the people in a student’s life besides teachers who have to play a role in that student’s education.

These are my top 5 takeaways:

  1. Do not assume anything about gifted and talented students as a group. One of the mistakes that many teachers seem to make is assuming that GT students can structure much of their own education. These students are often asked to work alone on something that will challenge them or made to do more work when they finish theirs early. When students are labeled as gifted and talented, it simply means that a student shows high performance in one or many subjects, not that they have a teaching degree. It is not fair to GT students that they are often expected to be separated from their classmates simply because they perform at a higher level or faster rate. Teachers must keep their GT students in mind when structuring lessons so that they don’t have to do the teaching themselves.
  2. Parents must contribute nearly as much to their student’s educational development as teachers. Because parents tend to know their children very well, they are often the first to notice above average intelligence and interest in academic pursuits and can foster these things at home. It is important that a parent who notices their child’s accelerated learning gets in touch with their child’s teacher and school to ensure that that child is being challenged and supported in their learning.
  3. It is super important to allow Gifted and Talented students to work together. Often, GT students are made to work by themselves or simply do the task that the rest of the class is doing regardless of its lack of challenge. If a teacher structured a class so that GT students had opportunities to work together on some class assignments or projects, those students are sure to benefit. When GT students work with other students in their classes, they may end up acting as a sort of tutor, giving their fellow students answers or telling them how to do something they themselves know well. When this happens, these students are not being challenged and are essentially doing part of the teacher’s job without benefit. If GT students were to be grouped or paired, however, they would challenge each other and everyone in the class would be learning.
  4. Acceleration can be extremely beneficial for gifted students. Many students in Gifted and Talented programs are allowed to move ahead of their peers. This sometimes look like entering kindergarten earlier, skipping a grade, taking classes with students in grade levels above them, or taking AP/dual enrollment classes. By doing this, students do not become bored or complacent in classes that are too easy for them and can sometimes get a great head start on their futures. Something else that acceleration allows for is an increase in social skills. When students are forced to interact with others that are older, they can hone this important skill that they will use later in life.
  5. Sometimes, high achievers and gifted students are not the same thing. High achievers generally do well in school, demonstrate good social skills, and have a positive attitude toward learning, but this does not necessarily put them in the category of Gifted and Talented. Because GT students often display different characteristics–sometimes including acting out, when dealing with the younger ones–their education must be slightly more specialized than a high achieving student’s might.

The point is, many teachers write off GT students as something that does not need as much attention as, say, low-achieving students, when in reality they need just as much specialized attention as the next student. If you are a teacher at a complete loss for how to scaffold instruction to include gifted and talented students, my advice is to scour the internet. There’s a ton of great stuff out there.

Maybe start with these resources:

https://www.edutopia.org/blog/gifted-students-general-ed-classrooms-elissa-brown

http://www.nagc.org/resources-publications/resources/supporting-gifted-children

https://benchmarkeducation.com/best-practices-library/supporting-gifted-and-talented-students.html

 

Important figures

One of the most incredible things about teaching is the immense impact that teachers have on their students’ lives. Most people can name at least one teacher that affected their lives in some way. Some people had truly profound experiences involving teachers and others can just pinpoint some area of knowledge they know really well because of a teacher. The point is, there are few people that end their schooling without one teacher who affected them.

When I asked a few friends to offer up their own experiences with impactful teachers, I received some great stories. These teachers are exactly what I aspire to be. They each inspired in their own ways and strengthened their students’ knowledge on the subjects they taught.

Spencer:

Mrs. Fritch was Spencer’s 8th grade English teacher. Before her class, Spencer absolutely hated reading and had actually never before read a book outside of class, for fun. Mrs. Fritch brought that streak to an end. It was during her class and because of her encouragement that he first read a book for the purpose of enjoying it, and did just that. Spencer said that Mrs. Fritch was encouraging and approachable, and even spent time putting together clubs she thought her students might enjoy. When she started the gardening club, Spencer gardened with her once a week, talking both about English and other subjects. She really took the time to get to know her students and they became familiar with her in return.

Jacque:

Mr. Benjamin was Jacque’s premed and advanced premed teacher her last two years of high school. Over the course of the classes he taught, he became a sounding board for his students, allowing them to come into his classroom to talk about whatever they wanted, rather than just his class. He was always available to offer help with his challenging class or to give advice to anyone who needed it. Jacque said that he often gave oral exams which helped to increase her confidence for speaking up in class and structured the class itself to make difficult material a joy to learn. Jacque is now a biomedical sciences major and she says that it was Mr. Benjamin who sparked her interest in the subject of medicine, and inspired her to go into the field herself.

Emma:

Mr. Thomas was Emma’s English teacher for ninth grade English and AP Literature and Composition. She found that he was the most personable teacher she had during high school and because of that, she learned much better in his class. Mr. Thomas often structured his classes in a seminar style, allowing his students to discuss and contributing only what he thought would spur conversation forward. Emma felt that with many of her other teachers, she had great teacher-student relationships, but with Mr. Thomas, she had a great person-person relationship that encouraged her to put a lot of effort into his classes, and subsequently get a lot out of them.

The biggest commonality that appears in each of the stories is the personal relationship that Spencer, Jacque, and Emma formed with their favorite teachers. It seems that whenever a teacher takes the time to form the type of bond that these three teachers did, students benefit from the classes far more than they would without close relationships. I have garnered that the biggest teacher allies–those that not only leave lasting impressions on their students, but also teach them every facet of their speciality–are the ones who take the time to develop relationships with their students.

Since one of the focuses of my semester in the education program has been vulnerability, I have thought a lot about what vulnerability in the classroom can add and have landed on this: every teacher needs to focus at least a bit of time on forming individual relationships with their students. Although it may seem like getting content information out there is far more important, the two are actually entwined. When teachers create bonds with their students, those students will learn much better and much more.

Good questions

How will I be a resource for my students while maintaining my ability to be a resource for myself? How will I muster the courage to share my writing with my students to prove to them that everyone wobbles?

It is always important to have questions. Until you are a master in a subject, you will have millions of questions, and even once you achieve mastery, you’ll still have one or two. When I think about my own questions related to myself as a teacher/writer, I see that I will be the type of teacher who cares about progress, but maintaining my own sense of self as well.

How will I be a resource for my students while maintaining my ability to be a resource for myself? I will take things one step at a time, doing as much as my time constraints allow me to do. It is so important to be a teacher ally, but self-advocacy is just as important. It will even trickle down and make you a teacher ally by itself. Whenever I find myself worrying about this question, I only need to remember that there are little things I can do whenever I get the chance that will help me fulfill big dreams. It’s not always about the massive gestures or policy upheaval, but about doing as much as you feel you can as an individual.

I feel that as long as I am asking questions, I am learning, and as long as I am learning, I am succeeding.

Dear Me…

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Dear Me,

Feel your confidence, own your confidence, keep your confidence. Right now, you’re young and you have all of the self-confidence of youth and a carefree life. And it is amazing. No matter what people say or do, you brush them off and you have an incredible sense of self worth. I admire that about you. I want you to remember that as you begin to grow up.

This may sound crazy, but eventually, you might not have all of the self-confidence that you do now. Growing up will do that to a gal. As you grow up, you will find that people and experiences harden you up a little bit. Don’t worry too much, you’re still as fun-loving and energetic as ever, but life comes with its fair share of bitterness.

Your sense of competition will get you from where you are to where I am. Don’t lose that. You will grow up to have a strong work ethic and a strong sense of self that will land you in a confident place in your schooling and your life. But prepare yourself for those that will beat you down. Don’t listen to the teachers who don’t seem to like you, or the peers that seem to have a firmer grasp on life than you, and especially don’t listen to your brothers. I promise you’ll all be best friends one day, but I know how you feel about them at this point in your life.

I want you to tune all of that out and remember that if you do, you’ll be successful.

Sometimes I wish I could step back into the days you’re living now and experience the fun, the sun, and the togetherness we all felt back then. Don’t take your family for granted because you won’t get to jump into piles of leaves and wake up on Christmas mornings together forever. Don’t let go of those feelings because even if amazing things happen to you–which they will–things will change.

I know you would tell me to keep talking back and to keep fighting the world whenever I need to because that’s just the type of gal you are. And I’ll tell you that’s pretty good advice. I’m going to keep standing up for what I believe in and let that bleed into my future when I have hundreds of students who need that type of fight from me.

Keep living life and having fun. You’ll have a great life when you get to where I am.

Love,

You