Being gay in the classroom is more than being happy. But what is it? Last September, I began coming out to my school. I was really interested in how being out would impact my experience as a teacher and how my students would respond. I had high hopes that being more authentic would improve the classroom experience for students and their learning. Looking back on the first six months of this experiment, I get a little giddy with excitement because it was fun.
My first step was to attend a Gay-Straight Alliance meeting. It was the first GSA meeting of the year, and everyone was excited to be back at school. Kramer, a student of mine from the previous year, invited me to the meeting. She made me feel really welcome when I showed up to a room of students I did not know. Telling my story on the second visit to GSA was nerve-wracking: a little like being on a roller coaster.
Once I began my “coming out story,” I knew I couldn’t stop and get off the ride. My stomach was doing that vertigo thing it does when falling or at the edge of a cliff. A mix of fear and excitement with a Red Bull chaser.
To my surprise, the students seemed totally unfazed. Is that the teen reaction to everything? I began to wonder whether being gay was so normalized that kids expect a range of sexual orientations in their teachers?
During the meeting, there were at least six students who talked about their identities. They all acted as though this was totally normal. They used terms like pansexual, queer, lesbian, asexual, gay, bi, and others that were totally unfamiliar. I was off to Google.
A week or two later, I got a random hug from a kid that I barely knew. This is really a big deal for me as I’ve never been a huggy kind of guy. But here I was, in the middle of the breezeway with a member of the GSA administering a hug for absolutely no apparent reason. I didn’t know her name. Didn’t have her in any class. Had only seen her once before but never had said more than two words to her. A random act of kindness or a gesture of appreciation?
Maybe the GSA wasn’t as unfazed by having a gay teacher on campus as I thought. Wasn’t sure how I felt about blurring the line between teacher and student with hugs, but there was a lot of the school year left to sort that one out.
I’m still investigating a lot about being openly gay on campus. By now, most of the faculty and student body who know me know I’m gay. How important is this? For the most part, the community seems unfazed. If students are unfazed by a person’s sexuality, does it matter if teachers are out? My hunch is that it does matter to some students. But does being out have a positive impact on my teaching? There are many questions to answer and just enough of the year left that I might actually get some answers.
Ed. Note: Dave Keller (@dkeller101) has been teaching Social Studies for 17 years, consistently looking for new curriculum and methods of instruction. While experimenting with technology in education, Dave focuses on teaching the reading and writing skills required for studying our social universe. He has taught classes throughout the Social Studies discipline in a variety of high schools, including a large comprehensive inner-city school, a charter school, and a competitive independent school. He currently lives in Oakland and teaches at Piedmont High.