Table of Contents

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  • Free Celebrating Transgender Students in Our Classrooms and in Our Schools

    By the editors of Rethinking Schools

    What can teachers, schools, and districts do to meet the needs of trans students? To make them visible? To keep them alive? To celebrate them?

  • Free On Behalf of Their Name

    Using They/Them Pronouns Because They Need Us To

    By Mykhiel Deych

    The staff advisor for their high school’s Queer-Straight Alliance delves into the complexities of a student-led training for teachers on the importance of using students’ preferred pronouns. >>> Adrienne Rich’s quote illuminated the projector screen welcoming teachers as they entered the library for a 90-minute training on gender and sexuality acceptance led by the Queer-Straight Alliance (QSA) — a student organization that I am the staff advisor for. Our large urban school holds about 100 staff members. Maybe 3 percent looked forward to this training. The rest sat with their arms crossed, present only because admin mandated their attendance. . . .

  • Free Teaching Them into Existence

    By Mykhiel Deych

    A high school English teacher (also the QSA staff advisor) wrestles with the suicide of a transgender student and calls on heterosexual and cisgender teachers to integrate LGBTQ authors, themes, and history into their classrooms. >>> Teaching isn’t supposed to include life-or-death consequences, but it does. When it comes to LGBTQ students, we fail to hold space for their existence. Heterocentric, cisnormative curriculum writes out the existence of LGBTQ lives. Campaigns such as Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better,” spur and go viral precisely because we aren’t actually reassuring youth that their existence is acceptable, real, normal. We need an “It Gets Better” campaign because high school is awful for LGBTQ kids, high school is fatal. . . .

  • Free Queering Black History and Getting Free

    By Dominique Hazzard

    A Black freedom organizer demands that teachers and activists radically change their frameworks around Black history by lifting up the stories of Black LGBTQ people like Marsha P. Johnson. >>> Queering Black history means canonizing Marsha P. Johnson as a matriarch of Black America. Putting her face on those calendars and poster collages right next to Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Coretta Scott King, and Michelle Obama. It means studying her ACT UP campaigns in high school classrooms. It means mourning her too-early death just as we mourn the deaths of cisgender men like Malcolm and Medgar. It means examining why it took 20 years for the NYPD to investigate that death as a murder, and having conversations about the role of the Black freedom movement in bringing about trans liberation today. . . .

  • Free "What Kind Are You?"

    Transgender Characters in Children’s Literature

    By Lora Worden

    A school librarian describes children’s books with strong transgender characters and themes. >>> Some of those who wished to remove George denied that it was because of the book’s transgender protagonist, and instead cited concerns over passing references to dirty magazines and characters who erased their internet search history in order to hide that information from their parents.

  • Features
  • Free Teaching Social Activism in Prison

    The Leap Manifesto and Incarcerated Youth

    By Rachel Boccio

    A Connecticut educator who taught English to incarcerated young men for 20 years describes what happened when she introduced her students to the Canadian “Leap Manifesto.” >>> Manson Youth Institution is a maximum security correctional facility for adolescent males tried and sentenced as adults in the Connecticut Department of Correction. Its population is composed mostly of poor men of color with histories of abuse, detention, and truancy. Education is mandatory for the majority of Manson’s inmates: boys file up to school — right side of the yellow line, no talking, IDs out, shirts tucked, heads down — bearing the anger, frustration, fear, and loneliness that inheres to incarcerated life. . . .

  • Free You Need Rank and File to Win: How Arizona Teachers Built a Movement

    By Noah Karvelis

    An elementary teacher who helped organize Arizona educators to strike explains how their movement formed and operated, and how it can inspire other teachers’ movements. >>> Across the nation, from Puerto Rico to Kentucky and Colorado to California, a powerful teachers’ movement has been growing. The potential of this movement first became apparent when West Virginia’s teachers went on strike in February and ultimately won a 5 percent raise for all public employees. Following this, Oklahoma’s educators mobilized and won raises and additional funding. After that strike, teachers in my own state of Arizona went on a six-day strike and won $406 million in funding. . . .

  • Free My First Year as a Teacher of Color

    Teaching Against the Grain

    By Juan Córdova

    A teacher of color writes about obstacles he faced during his first year in the classroom and the support he received — and did not receive — from other teachers and administrators. >>> Interviewing for my first teaching job out of school, I arrived excited in a suit and tie as I was walked to a sunny corner office to meet the principal. A charming middle-aged white woman with a bright smile, a bubbly personality, and contagious excitement, she seemed eager to get to know me and asked to hear my story and find out how this man of Color decided to go into teaching. . . .

  • Free Deportations on Trial

    Mexican Americans During the Great Depression

    By Ursula Wolfe-Rocca

    A social studies teacher describes the role play trial she developed around a largely forgotten period: when during the Great Depression the United States deported thousands of Mexican American families. >>> From the late 1920s to the late 1930s, men, women, and children, immigrant and U.S.-born, citizen and noncitizen, longtime residents and temporary workers all became the targets of a massive campaign of forced relocation, based solely on their perceived status as “Mexican.” They were rounded up in parks, at work sites, and in hospitals; betrayed by local relief agencies who reported anyone with a “Mexican sounding” name to the Immigration Service; tricked and terrorized into “voluntary” deportation by municipal and state officials; and forcibly deported in trains and buses to a country some hadn’t lived in for decades and others never at all. . . .

  • Free Who Is Allowed to Teach Spanish in Our Public Schools?

    Documenting the Consequences of the edTPA

    By Sarah Jourdain

    The director of a world language teacher preparation program argues for an end to the edTPA because it bars native Spanish speakers from public school classrooms. >>> Maria found a position in a local private school, but she is still not eligible to teach in the New York state public school system even though her program’s teacher education faculty, as well as both of her cooperating teachers, were unanimous in deeming Maria qualified to begin her career as a Spanish teacher. . . .

  • Departments Free
  • Tax the Rich, Fight Climate Change

    Column: Earth, Justice, and Our Classrooms

    By Bill Bigelow
  • Resources
  • Our picks for books, videos, websites, and other social justice education resources.

Teaching Them into Existence

Teaching Them into Existence

Alaura Borealis

Words don’t have a tangible weight, so how the hell do they hang so incredibly heavy on the body — stick to me like thistle burrs to wool socks?

A thin, penetrable coat of paint isn’t enough to cover the tremor of fear in any body when words have sunk into you — glare at you from the bathroom wall: “The faggots who use this bathroom are gonna be shot.”

Maybe if it wasn’t the gender neutral bathroom it wouldn’t frighten us so.

Maybe if it wasn’t an era of school shootings it wouldn’t feel like a direct threat.

Maybe if I wasn’t an out trans teacher tending to the tender hearts of the Queer-Straight Alliance (QSA) youth, maybe then I too could turn my other cheek.

The graffiti showed up in the bathroom next to the photography class — the class where Lilith thrived and felt the most herself, the most safe. The only class she never skipped or missed. This was Lilith’s bathroom. The one she used when she was still alive.

Suicide is, of course, complex. The final act in a seemingly endless struggle. When the world daily erases you or engrains in you the notion that you are not worthy — how does one find the strength to face each day? I can’t help but wonder if this horrific graffiti was cut No. 1,001.

Lilith chose to be a senior mentor for my 9th grade English class before we had ever met or knew each other. Most students are mentors for teachers who they had when they were 9th graders, but Lilith chose me because I’m the only trans teacher in the school and she is an openly trans girl. She was.

Lilith was seeking something in me: connection maybe, acknowledgement, comfort, safety perhaps. I don’t know, because whatever it was she didn’t get it from me. I tried to connect, but minimally so. We chatted and she revealed how much she writes and I said I’d love to read her writing; she never brought it in and I never asked again. She started regularly skipping classes and I’d send notes about missing her on the progress reports but I didn’t call home — why didn’t I call home? I mean, she was a senior mentor, not really my student, not really a role that most students take too seriously, not really — why didn’t I reach her? Why didn’t I do more?

Rationally, her suicide is not my fault, I’m a blip in the grand story of her life, but emotionally, she was within reach and I failed to clutch. I failed Lilith.

Teaching isn’t supposed to include life-or-death consequences, but it does. When it comes to LGBTQ students, we fail to hold space for their existence. Heterocentric, cisnormative curriculum writes out the existence of LGBTQ lives. Campaigns such as Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better,” spur and go viral precisely because we aren’t actually reassuring youth that their existence is acceptable, real, normal. We need an “It Gets Better” campaign because high school is awful for LGBTQ kids, high school is fatal.

How many LGBTQ authors do you teach about? How often is the intersection and difference of sexuality and gender addressed in your Socratic seminars? Do you discuss transgender history in U.S. history? Do you reveal authors’ struggles with sexuality and its relationship to their art? Has gay culture ever been given the credit it deserves for spurring numerous fashion, music, and art trends? No, and me neither. As an out trans and gay teacher I can’t always fend off the fear of a parental uprising about my “gay agenda.” This sort of bravery hasn’t yet materialized in my classroom, but I’m working on it. 

Please, don’t leave it for the out gay and trans teachers to do this work. Please, I’m begging you to use your heterosexual cisnormative privilege for good. Teach LGBTQ lives into existence.

Mykhiel Deych ( teaches high school English language arts. Alaura Borealis’ work can be found at