With transitioning occurring at younger ages than it ever has before, teachers are often finding themselves in the middle of a student’s transition. Teachers have a huge role and they can be a very positive force that helps foster the transition along as seamlessly as possible. However, a teacher not sure how to handle a transgender student can unwittingly make life harder for their student by simple inaction. Great teachers can recognize that a transitioning student is an opportunity to sow the seeds of acceptance, tolerance, and pro transgender spirit in your students. You have the power to truly make a huge difference and here are some tips to help you do just that.
Be vigilant with pronoun use. Be very clear with which pronouns the student prefers. If you are uncertain, ask them. Once you have the preferred pronouns, be sure you use them diligently and correct any student you hear misusing your transgender student’s preferred pronouns.
Honor the transgender student’s chosen name. Be sure to always use their chosen name and also make sure attendance lists and any materials a substitute teacher would use has his or her chosen name. A substitute teacher calling out the wrong name is very akin to a public shaming. Don’t ever let this happen.
Bullying and transphobia happens and you need to remain on top of it. A transgender student will be a huge target for bullies and as a teacher you need to be extra careful to catch and nip any bullying immediately. Transphobia is also a real problem and will be something that must be vigorously dealt with. Sometimes students use transphobic terms in jokes or to rib each other. It is best to explain how the use of such terms and phrases can be hurtful and then you need to accept a zero tolerance policy against any further transphobia
You need to be sure that the transgender student has a safe place to use the bathroom. If there are rules in place banning them from using the bathroom of their expressed gender identity then there needs to be a safe alternative. Sending a trans girl into the boy’s bathroom is asking for trouble. If these awful rules exist, you should also consider speaking up against them.
Include transgender related material in lesson plans. The best way to deal with transphobia is by educating your students. As a teacher, this should be one of your strategies of choice. There are countless ways you can work positive transgender issues into your classes. One example is use the treatment of transgender people as modern day analogy to the mistreating of other minority groups in history.
Regularly check with the transgender student to find out how they and you are doing. You will miss stuff and you will make mistakes and this is a chance for the student to help you help them. You can also access how they are transitioning and any further help you can provide. There may be things they don’t have anyone to help them with and this may be something you can do for them from make-up advice to dealing with other kids.
Treat them with dignity and respect but do not give a transgender student a free ride. Despite the transgender student’s situation and the extra sensitivity it demands, you should never lower your teaching standards. They should be measured to the same standards as all of the other students and challenged when they need it too. If they earn an F, do not hesitate to give it to them.