It's Time for NaPoWriMo!
by KATE PAGES Editors
April is National Poetry Writing Month, also known as NaPoWriMo, and it's the perfect time for teachers to inspire their students to explore the world of poetry. The Kansas Association of Teachers of English (KATE) is providing free lesson plans for members for every day of the month, making it easy for teachers to incorporate poetry into their lesson plans.
KATE's National Poetry Writing Month lesson plans were created by Voices of Kansas Editor April Pameticky and KATE President Nathan Whitman. They have designed a comprehensive curriculum that covers a wide range of poetry forms, including haiku, tanka, ekphrastic, sonnets, free verse, American cinquain, the golden shovel, onion poetry, imagism, villanelle, concrete, and more.
The lesson plans are available for free on the KATE website, and teachers can use them as a starting point to create their own unique lessons based on the needs of their students. Each lesson includes a detailed description of the poetry form, an example of the form, and step-by-step instructions for students to follow. The lessons also encourage students to read and analyze poetry by other authors, providing them with a deeper understanding of the craft.
The lesson plans are designed for students of all ages, from elementary school to high school, and are adaptable to different skill levels (read carefully before using!). The lessons can be completed in one class period or can be extended over several days, depending on the complexity of the form being studied.
KATE's National Poetry Writing Month lesson plans provide a fun and engaging way for students to explore the world of poetry, and they offer teachers a valuable resource for integrating poetry into their lesson plans. By using these lesson plans, teachers can inspire their students to become more creative and confident writers, while also fostering a love of poetry that can last a lifetime.
Lesson plans can be found on the KATE Archives, accessed by using your members-only password found in our monthly newsletter!
by KATE PAGES Editors
Valley Center High School English teacher and KATE member, Aaron Miller, was the recipient of a 2023 Horizon Award as part of the Kansas Horizon Award Program, offered through the Kansas Exemplary Educators Network (KEEN). This was the first KEEN Conference held since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
The Horizon Award is a special recognition program for Kansas teachers who exhibit excellent teaching skills and work tirelessly to enhance the learning experience of their students. The award is given to teachers who show exceptional performance in areas such as leadership, professional development, and student growth. Miller was one of sixteen secondary teachers to receive this award for 2023.
When asked what parts of his classroom instruction helped him to stand out from the pool of applicants, Miller expressed that “I try to be a well-rounded teacher who embraces many forms of instruction. My goal for each day is to accommodate each type of learner in my classroom and ensure that I am teaching to the style they learn best. One of my strengths as a teacher is the ability to build relationships with students. I am a firm believer that students do not learn from people they do not like. Through getting to know my students, I am able to accomplish so much with them in terms of content. It is never boring in [room] C-41!”
Miller was equally impressed with the KEEN conference, which he attended on February 16 and 17, 2023. He spoke highly of the conference's sessions, which provided many great ideas to incorporate into his classroom. He found the presenters and his fellow attendees to be inspiring, and he is looking forward to attending future conferences.
Miller's CV reflects his commitment to education, with a Bachelor's degree in Secondary English Education from Wichita State University, and he is currently pursuing a Master's of Education with a reading specialist emphasis from Fort Hays State University. Additionally, he serves on the Social Emotional Learning committee for USD 262, where he helps teachers in the district incorporate SEL practices into their classrooms.
The Kansas Association of Teachers of English is thrilled to congratulate Miller on this achievement and recognition as a winner of the 2023 Horizon Award. We are proud to have him as a member and look forward to his continued success in the field of education.
You can contact Aaron via email at Valley Center High School.
by Krystal Jordan, Diversity & Inclusion Chair; Nathan Whitman, KATE President and KATE PAGES Editors
Black History Month is an annual celebration of African American achievements and contributions to society. It is a time to reflect on the struggles and triumphs of black Americans throughout history and to honor their legacy. In honor of Black History Month, organizations like the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and the Kansas Association of Teachers of English (KATE) have been working to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in education through various initiatives and activities.
One such initiative is NCTE's African American Read-In, which takes place every February. The Read-In is a nationwide event that encourages people of all ages to read and share works by African American authors. Participants can organize their own Read-In events in schools, libraries, community centers, and other public spaces, and share their experiences using the hashtag #AARI23 on social media. The goal of the Read-In is to promote diversity in literature and to raise awareness of the contributions of African American authors to American culture.
In Kansas, KATE members are also taking action to promote diversity and inclusion in their classrooms. Krystal Jordan, a teacher at Wichita North High School and the leader of KATE's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, has been using Black History Month as an opportunity to engage her students in collaborative learning and to promote awareness of African American history. Her classroom door decoration project is a great example of this. Instead of simply teaching her students about the Civil Rights Movement, she asked them to research and share information about African American figures from a variety of categories, using QR codes to link to additional resources. By encouraging her students to explore the contributions of a diverse group of historical figures, Jordan is helping them to develop a deeper understanding of African American history and its impact on American society.
Nathan Whitman, the current President of KATE and a teacher at Derby High School, is also working to promote diversity and inclusion in his classroom. As the sponsor of his school's Diversity Club, he has been collaborating with his students to create interactive posters for the school's hallways, highlighting notable persons of color and black film and art. By providing opportunities for students to explore the contributions of African Americans to various fields, Whitman is helping them to develop a broader understanding of the contributions of black Americans to American culture.
Black History Month is an essential time for reflecting on the profound impact of African Americans on American society. It is also a moment for educators to celebrate the achievements of black Americans and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in public education. Initiatives like the African American Read-In and classroom projects, as organized by Krystal Jordan and Nathan Whitman, demonstrate the meaningful contributions of educators in enhancing the learning experience for students. However, the responsibility of highlighting black history in public education should not rest solely on these initiatives. It is imperative that educators work to promote an inclusive educational experience for all students and ensure that the contributions of African Americans to American society are recognized and celebrated year-round.
As we celebrate Black History Month, we’d love for you to share your story with KATE PAGES! What are you doing in the classroom and in your communities to honor the legacy of African Americans?
By Nathan Whitman
With lists in hand, the search underway, we scoured the library for the book for her research project. Now, our school library wasn’t large – barely a shoebox of a room, and yet the text eluded us. Right before the bell was to ring, my student approached me. “Mr. Whitman, is this it?” she asked. I looked at the call number: it was, but the title was off. On the computer print off, the title read Famous Writers: Willa Cather. The cover looked to match, but the spine told a different story: Lives of Notable Gay Men and Lesbians: Willa Cather. It was then we realized what we held in our hands: censorship, erasure of LGBTQ+ identities in our school.
I decided to liberate this book, take it back out of the closet – for lack of a better phrase. While my student looked for other items on her list, I peeled away the label that some staff member generations before had decided would make this text “school-appropriate.” My colleagues in larger, more diverse school districts may find this shocking, but parts of rural Kansas are still playing the catchup game on diversity and inclusion, a game that many community members would be happy to see our students lose.
According to the most recent GLSEN “2019 State Snapshot: School Climate for LGBTQ Students in Kansas” survey, only 52% of LGBTQ students report having inclusive library resources. Worse yet, only 12% reported LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum. In contrast to the 2017 GLSEN Kansas State Snapshot, only 51% of students reported having inclusive library resources; 17% reported LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum. From this two-year difference certain conclusions are clear: representation is stagnant in a best-case scenario in our libraries, but that 5% decrease in classroom representation is undeniable proof that Kansas educators must do better.
However, I would be remiss to say that this lack of representation is – as a whole – purposefully malign. The publishing industry only recently started to actively pursue works by LGBTQ+ authors or books that have LGBTQ+ characters and themes; furthermore, tracking and monitoring LGBTQ+ representation in the publishing industry is still in its infancy. The Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s (CCBC) “2017 Statistics on LGBTQ+ Literature for Children and Teens” found that of 3,700 books, 136 (3.68%) had significant LGBTQ+ content, which “includes books with LGBTQ+ primary or secondary characters, LGBTQ+ families, nonfiction about LGBTQ+ people or topics, and . . . ‘LGBTQ+ metaphor’ books.” Some educators may not know where to begin looking for LGBTQ+ texts or what the best texts to include are. Luckily, resources for them are growing by the day, such as the HRC’s Welcoming Schools initiative, Scholastic’s “10 LGBT+ Books for Every Child’s Bookshelf”, Learning for Justice’s “LGBTQ Library”, the lists at LGBTQ Reads, and the Rainbow Library.
Nevertheless, I know that fighting for a diverse curriculum, let alone diverse library, is also a challenge that educators and librarians face. This comes from personal experience. When I first joined my former district, the librarian and I attempted to order a slew of award-winning books that also reflected diverse communities, including those of sexual orientation and gender identity: purchase order denied.
Yes, something is rotten in the state of education and literacy, and the pattern is undeniable when looking at the American Library Association’s “Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2019”. Can you spot the pattern?
1. George by Alex Gino
2. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin
3. A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill Twiss, illustrated by EG Keller
4. Sex is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg, illustrated by Fiona Smyth
5. Prince & Knight by Daniel Haack, illustrated by Stevie Lewis
6. I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas
7. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
8. Drama written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
9. Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
10. And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, illustrated by Henry Cole
Did you figure it out? If not, here’s an overly simplified breakdown. Americans are terrified of their children becoming one of four things: gay, feminists, witches; or gay, feminist witches.
Jokes aside, these challenges come from our communities. The most frequent reasons for seeking to ban seven of these ten books? LGBTQIA+ content. Moreover, 43% were banned specifically because of content on trans or gender identities, and 43% were banned due to conflicts with religious or “traditional” family values. Some bans even continue to perpetuate the harmful myth that LGBTQIA+ identities are an illness, sin, or something into which children might be indoctrinated: 43%.
I’ve seen this myth – one debunked by the Southern Poverty Law Center – perpetuated in many schools and communities. Furthermore, the American Academy of Pediatrics all agree with research: people do not choose to be LGBTQ+, and it is caused by genetic and environmental factors. This includes gender identity.
When students have asked me or the counselor for LGBTQ+ books, we’ve helped them find copies of age-appropriate texts, but sometimes we receive the books back from home with a note that the child shouldn’t read it because it may turn them gay, or that the family doesn’t approve of the content on religious reasons. I’ve even had parents express concern that I was teaching Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson through a queer analytical perspective. Have you read much of Whitman’s poetry or Dickinson’s letters to Susan Gilbert? If you’ve ever read anything beyond Whitman’s American nationalism and Dickinson’s death or religious poems, they’re pretty gay.
Just as reading from the perspective a person of color’s experience won’t turn a child into a different race, reading the perspectives of a queer person or considering classical class texts through a queer lens won’t turn a child gay. But, I can tell you one thing it will do: it will help them build empathy. It will help them understand others – people not like them. And, if I’m lucky, some may see themselves reflected.
To be frank, there is nothing wrong with coming from a religious family or one that has “traditional” family values. Those are my roots. What is wrong is when religious communities and families want to create a parochial school in a public institution by censoring texts and curriculum. Public schools serve just that: the public. Everyone. Even LGBTQ+ people. Plenty of texts in the ELA canon feature nuclear “traditional” families or heterosexual relationships (Romeo & Juliet, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, The Hunger Games, The Odyssey, Pride and Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility, A Tale of Two Cities, Their Eyes Were Watching God – all say, “Hello!”); many feature or reference Judeo-Christian ideas, morals, and philosophies (A Christmas Carol, The Crucible, The Scarlet Letter, Dickinson’s religious poems, and nearly any early-American text in a junior English textbook also say, “Wassup?”). What we are not asking for is their erasure: we are asking for our equal representation. If that disturbs you, a school system that represents everyone, here’s a list of private Kansas schools. As a friendly reminder, private education does not always have to provide services to people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ students, or students of color. In short: no federal funding? Fewer protections.
While protections are growing for our LGBTQ+ students, there’s still much work to be done, and it starts with the teachers. Often, we make purchases at our own expense, but sometimes blessings come our way, like that aforementioned Rainbow Library. When a representative from GLSEN Kansas posted that this nonprofit collaborative was happening, that I could obtain free LGBTQ+ books for my school’s library, I jumped at the chance. Purchase orders be damned! Willa Cather was going to have company.
Upon receiving the texts, I created a display in my classroom, performed a book talk, and I asked each class of students the following questions on an anonymous survey. In total, about 66% of high school students completed the survey, and these were my findings.
Question 1: Do any of these books interest you? Why and why not?
Question 2: Should students have access to books like these in a school library or classroom library? Why or why not?
Despite religious convictions, 100% of students surveyed thought that the books belonged in a school or classroom library. A few of their most poignant statements are below. Only spelling, punctuation, and capitalization have been corrected for readability.
If only their parents and communities knew their thoughts and the value of these texts to our students. Unfortunately, many students feel they can’t have these conversations with their parents. They fear what might happen: disapproval, conversion therapy, disownment.
As we tell our LGBTQ+ students, “It gets better,” we must also remind ourselves that it is getting better, and we teachers can make it better. If I’m certain of one thing, it is this: there is hope for the future, and it’s sitting in my library and in the desks of my students.
About the Author
Nathan Whitman is the current Kansas Association of Teachers of English President. He teaches English at Derby High School USD 260 and is also an adjunct professor at Hutchinson Community College and WSU Tech.
by Michaela Liebst
February 1st marks the first day of Black History Month, and with all of the events that have transpired over the past year, the celebration of black culture, influence, and pride feels more important than in years past. As educators, we are given a unique chance to highlight Black voices and bring them to the forefront of our curricular focus, exposing students to new concepts, ideas, and styles that they may have never experienced before.
The KATE blog team feels passionately about this endeavor, and wants to aid you in bringing minority voices to the forefront. We are excited to provide a list of novels created by ELA teachers for both elementary and secondary grade levels that represent not only black characters, but other minority groups as well. We believe representation in literature is the key to equity and that creating a culture of understanding and inclusion within our classrooms is essential for helping to ease some of the dissonance that our communities, states, and nation are currently facing.
We hope that this list inspires you to consider changing up the books you include in your curriculum, or to spice up your classroom library so that students have more access to a diverse range of books. I also encourage you to check out this blog post by Dr. Katie Cramer regarding the NCTE’s position statements “...to support curricular inclusion…” of all types of diversity. We are aware that combining the beliefs of your district with our nation’s current political climate could possibly deter you from wanting to provide access to these texts. However, we challenge you to start small and use the position statements as a way to advocate for the inclusion of these texts in your school buildings.
Overall, we are excited for the opportunity to share this list with you and hope it inspires you to take advantage of this month to shake things up and prioritize the inclusion of all voices in your curriculum.
Book Suggestions for Secondary ELA Teachers
BLACK HISTORY MONTH
A Song of Wraiths and Ruins by Roseanne A. Brown: “The first in a fantasy duology inspired by West African folklore in which a grieving crown princess and a desperate refugee find themselves on a collision course to murder each other despite their growing attraction.” - suggested by Madison Jewell, Middle School ELA Teacher
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi: “The first book in a series about a girl trying to restore magic. The monarchy tries to stop her.” - suggested by Madison Jewell.
Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes: “A Black boy who was killed by a cop comes back as a ghost along with other black boys unjustly killed to make a difference.” - suggested by Krista May-Shackleford, Elementary Media Specialist
Slay by Brittney Morris: “Slay is a great read—A Black female protagonist has designed a game only open to Black players and keeps her role a secret. Her game has real world consequences and she suddenly finds herself over her head. I’m not a gamer but enjoyed it on so many levels.” - suggested by Lizanne Minerva, High School ELA teacher
OTHER MINORITY GROUPS
Middle-Eastern Culture -The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh: “Sharazad wants to get revenge on the boy-king who murders his new bride the night they marry. She chooses to marry him but comes to find he may not be like what he seems.” - suggested by Madison Jewell
Latinx Culture - Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea: “Into the Beautiful North depicts fun, memorable characters who embark upon the dangerous journey to cross the border into America. This author has a unique way of combining humor, realistic teenage angst, and the serious issue of border crossing that keeps you turning pages and cheering for the heroine and seriously hoping for a sequel!” - , suggested by Deborah McNemee, High School ELA teacher
LGBTQ+ - Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas: “A trans boy determined to prove his gender to his traditional Latinx family summons a ghost who refuses to leave” - suggested by Madison Jewell
Book Suggestions for Elementary Teachers
BLACK HISTORY MONTH
Fearless Mary by Tami Charles: “A real-life story that takes you back to the western front and hard dirt trails! Mary was the first woman stagecoach driver – the first African American woman stagecoach driver, in fact! This book shares some of her trailblazing experiences during her journeys carrying much-needed supplies and much-welcomed letters to people who had moved out west! Comic-book style illustrations make for a fun accompaniment to her story, including how her actions have influenced present-day mail delivery!” -suggested by Hannah Kraxberger, an elementary student teacher
The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson: “The Day You Begin is about a young girl experiencing kindergarten for the first time. She is excited and nervous at the same time! Everyone seems so different. When the students share what they did over the summer, it’s hard for Angelina. She hears of all the wonderful stories of adventures her classmates went on while she stayed home and watched her sibling. Angelina finds her voice to share that she stayed home and, even though she didn’t experience any amazing stories, she MADE stories and that’s okay...Everyone has similarities and differences, and that’s what makes us beautiful!” - , suggested by Hannah Kraxberger
CHILDREN W/ DISABILITIES
Moses Goes to a Concert by Isaac Millman: “This book encourages the use of sign language throughout and includes accurate, colorful illustrations of how to sign the text. The book also exemplifies more subtle attributes of d/Deaf culture, such as some of the students waving to show their applause. The most admirable trait of Moses Goes to a Concert is the depiction of Moses and his friends as happy children who have typical lifestyles. The book does not focus on their disability as a problem to be fixed, and Mr. Samuels teaches them ways to thrive and enjoy activities in unique ways.” - suggested by Hannah Schoonover, an elementary student teacher
Why Does Izzy Cover Her Ears? Dealing with Sensory Overload by Jennifer Veenendall: “This book details how confusing school can feel for a child who has a sensory processing disorder. This book could also help a teacher or parents realize that frequent misbehaviors often have an underlying cause. Classmates of a child like Izzy could better understand the reactions their classmate has and the interventions their classmate uses after reading this book. This book could also help a child with a sensory processing disorder explain how or what they are feeling in certain situations and give them a character with whom they can relate.” - suggested by Hannah Schoonover
The Seeing Stick by Jane Yolen: “The Seeing Stick begins with Hwei Min feeling sad that she cannot see and shows her father trying to help fix her disability. However, as the book progresses it shows Hwei Min’s emotional transformation as she becomes comfortable “seeing” with her fingertips. The Seeing Stick gives the message that Hwei Min did not need to be “fixed.” However, she just needed the correct help and tools to allow her to embrace her disability.” - suggested by Hannah Schoonover
We’ll Paint the Octopus Red by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen: “Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen, author of We’ll Paint the Octopus Red, strove to write this book from a child’s point of view on what having a younger sibling with Down syndrome could be like.” -suggested by Hannah Schoonover
A is for Awesome! by Eva Chen: “I really liked this board book about awesome women. I really enjoyed the quotes by Amelia Earhart, Katherine Graham, Queen Elizabeth I, and…you! Each page features an incredible woman and has a quote by her. I really liked that quotes are included, and they are so beautiful! The illustrations will easily capture your reading buddy’s attention and keep yours. It’s primarily for the 0-4 age range, but I think it would be engaging for kindergarten and first grade students, too!” - suggested by Hannah Kraxberger
50 Women in Science by Rachel Ignotofsky: “Fifty women, born from 350 CE through 1977, have their stories and inventions and experiments recorded in this book. You’ve got your (now) well-known Katherine Johnson, Marie Curie, and…SURPRISE! Did you know that Hedy Lamarr, star of Hollywood’s Golden Age, was also an inventor? She’s most definitely more than just a pretty face. Each biography has an illustration of the woman, a quote from her, a small summary of what she’s accomplished, and a full page detailing how and when she made her mark on science. With all that information, it’s definitely not a sit-down-and-read-all-at-once kind of book, but highly worth your time. This book will be in my classroom for sure.” - suggested by Hanna Kraxberger
The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad: “It’s the first day of school and Faizah’s older sister Asiya gets to wear the most beautiful deep blue hijab she has ever seen. It’s a big deal because it means Asiya is all grown up now! But Faizah doesn’t understand why some kids at school tease her sister for the hijab. Don’t they know it is an honor? Don’t they see the beauty in it? Written by an Olympic medalist, this book explains the meaning of the hijab to the Muslim faith and to the women who wear it. The colors and illustrations used are eye-catching for the reader (and listener!) to engage with. Moreover, it tells a wonderful story of being brave, resilient, and understanding of differences. “ - suggested by Hannah Kraxberger
Same Same but Different by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw: “A tale of two pen pals, this is a book of exploring differences! Elliot tells about his American house. Kailash writes a letter back about how his house in India is different, but also the same! Kailash writes about his pet. Elliot writes back to share about his pet and how it’s different. As the letters go on, the boys find that same and different are things that they share – in a lot of aspects!” - suggested by Hannah Kraxberger
We Are Grateful by Traci Sorrell - “This book walks through memories of the Cherokee people using the native word for “grateful” to apply to different situations as a way of remembering the past and celebrating the future. Side note – This was perhaps the first book I’ve had the pleasure of reading that involved Native American tribes in a non-Pilgrim perspective or setting and it was so good.” - suggested by Hannah Kraxberger
While we know that this list doesn’t even begin to scrape the surface of all of the incredible books available to teachers, we are excited about this list because it contains books that have been vetted by actual teachers in actual classrooms.
If there’s a book you feel passionately about that should have made the list, comment it below so that we can continue to celebrate and include the voices of both Black culture as well as other minority groups.
Happy February and Happy Black History Month!
The Things Teachers Carry
By Erica Shook
Though I am a vocal proponent of getting more contemporary YA lit. into the hands of our students, I do still enjoy teaching some of the classics. The balance in my classroom has come from connecting classic and contemporary works. For example, after we read Beowulf together in class, students choose from four different contemporary novels that they read together in small groups and then connected back to Beowulf (Kendare Blake’s Anna Dressed in Blood, Moira Young’s Blood Red Road, Marie Lu’s Legend, or Neal Shusterman’s Unwind). As an avid reader, my brain is constantly looking for text connections. And with increasing frequency, I find myself connecting current events to texts as well. The current reality for teachers has caused me to do just that. I have adapted what follows a bit because I originally wrote and presented it to our school board to try to build empathy among them for the load teachers are currently carrying. That is what English teachers do, right? Use writing and books to build empathy? The message, however, remains the same.
Much like the soldiers in Tim O’Brien’s book The Things They Carried, what teachers carry is partly a function of experience, partly a function of specialty, and partly born of necessity. We carry a veritable rainbow of Expo markers--some that work well, some that we are trying to squeeze the last bit of ink out of; notebook paper; construction paper, printing paper, butcher paper, card stock, poster board; glue; scissors; duct tape, scotch tape, masking tape, painters tape, packaging tape, book repair tape; lab supplies; paper clips; pencils, pens, markers, sharpies, crayons, colored pencils; paint; bulletin board border; rulers; kleenex; band aids; Post-it notes; keys; white out; rubberbands; staplers; index cards; note cards; popsicle sticks; candy; books, books, books; computers, charging cords, cables; granola bars; crackers; chocolate; hand sanitizer, Virex, masks; gallons of coffee; water bottles with times on the side to remind us to stay hydrated; stacks and stacks of papers to grade; and, Flairs in every color. I won’t bore you with the precise weight of each of these items, but know that combined, these things are heavy--and we probably paid for most of them out-of-pocket.
As with O’Brien’s characters, the things teachers carry, though, are both literal and figurative.
We also carry the professional development that we don’t have time to work with and implement; field trips we can’t experience; technology that doesn’t always work; lesson plans that implode because they were better on paper and have to be reworked on the spot; our own families that don’t always get our full attention when we are at home; dusting, laundry, and dishes that sometimes pile up; continuing education credits; students in our classrooms who struggle (both academically and emotionally) but whom we don’t have time to work with one-on-one; hundreds of decisions every hour--many of them split second; students who are suffering because of bullying; students who are hungry or tired; students who are neglected or abused; students who have lost loved ones or friends; students who feel they can’t share their true identity; students who rarely see themselves reflected in curriculum; students’ failures; students’ successes; students’ smiles; students’ tears; students who have been lost in accidents; students who have contemplated suicide; students who have taken their lives before they’ve really had a chance to live them; and, more love than any human heart should be able to hold for every single one of them who ever passes through our doors.
The weight of these things is incredibly heavy. Sometimes almost unbearably so. But we carry it because we love what we do, and we love our students. It genuinely is who we are. But this year, we also carry the weight of students in the classroom and at home with technology that glitches or crashes; catching up students who missed class or missed parts of instructions because of those glitches and crashes; students and staff in quarantine; finding ways to provide equitable opportunities to in-person and remote students alike; students embarrassed to turn on cameras or too shy to unmute microphones; lost instruction time for more sanitizing; the endless, endless emails; the extra prep needed to make sure students at home have the materials they need ahead of time to actively participate in class; time spent converting curriculum to digital versions of itself; learning new tools to do so; needing to collaborate with colleagues with no time to do it; building the relationships and giving the hugs our students need while maintaining social distancing to keep everyone healthy and at school; knowing social-emotional needs are not being met; understanding why some of our students have chosen remote learning but missing having their masked faces in class with us; helping our own children be successful with their learning; the overwhelming guilt for the things we know are necessary but are beyond our ability to do; balancing it all; balancing the emotions; the all-encompassing exhaustion; and listening to one person after another tell us we can’t pour from an empty cup when we rarely have a chance to fill it or suggesting what we need is to take a mental health day with no understanding that the things we carry never get lighter for having done so--it just buys us a bit more time before we collapse under the physical, mental, and emotional weight.
Kansas is already experiencing a teacher shortage it will take years to get ahead of, and many more will leave the profession this year, maybe even at the end of this semester, because of the toll the weight of the things they carry is taking. I am concerned for Kansas teachers and the sustainability of our situation. I wonder, as the decision-makers in districts are meeting, whether they have gotten into classrooms to experience the current teaching reality? I don’t mean walk-throughs. I mean, have they spent entire class periods or days in multiple content areas to truly understand the new workload? I want anyone who reads this to know I see you--KATE sees you--and we know how hard you are working for your students. KATE is thankful all year long for Kansas teachers, the magic they bring into their classrooms every day, and the passion with which they teach Kansas students. My hope is administrators, school board members, legislators, and other decision-makers keep in mind the immense weight of the things our teachers carry.
About the Author
Erica Shook is the English Department Chair at McPherson High School, USD 418, and a 2020 LEGO Master Educator. Because of her passion for students, educators and education, ELA, YA literature, and social activism, she is also a Project LIT Community chapter leader, LiNK Adolescent Lit. CoP Leader, and the KATE Vice-President. Follow her on Twitter at @Ms_Shook or on Instagram at @ms_shook for book suggestions to build classroom libraries or for continued professional development.
"Would You Rather..." with Nic Stone
This year, KATE is pleased to announce that on November 7th at 2 p.m., Nic Stone, author of the New York Times bestseller, Dear Martin, will deliver a virtual keynote address followed by a Q&A session, available to all KATE members as our gift to you for your continued support and dedication to teaching English in the state of Kansas.
Nic Stone is an Atlanta native and a Spelman College graduate. After working extensively in teen mentoring and living in Israel for several years, she returned to the United States to write full-time.
Nic's debut novel for young adults, Dear Martin, was a New York Times bestseller and a William C. Morris Award finalist. She is also the author of the teen titles Odd One Out, a novel about discovering oneself and who it is okay to love, which was an NPR Best Book of the Year and a Rainbow Book List Top Ten selection, and Jackpot, a love-ish story that takes a searing look at economic inequality. Clean Getaway, Nic's first middle-grade novel, deals with coming to grips with the pain of the past and facing the humanity of our heroes.
Nic lives in Atlanta with her adorable little family.
In lieu of this exciting keynote speech, KATE wanted to provide its members with a little preview of Nic's personality and flair. Cue a hilarious and telling game of "Would You Rather...?" between the author and KATE's VP, Erica Shook. Please enjoy the following tidbits that Nic was so gracious to share with us, and we hope you'll join us on Saturday!
Shook: Ok, Nic. Would you rather:
Potter or Snape
Stone: SNAPE ALL DAY EVERY DAY.
Shook: Know it all OR Have it all?
Stone: Definitely have it all. Knowledge can be burdensome.
Shook: Talk like Yoda OR Breathe like Darth Vader?
Stone: Like Yoda, speak I would.
Shook: Be a superhero OR Be a famous singer?
Stone: I am CLEARLY both. Tuh.
Shook: Go to work OR Stay home and bang on drums all day?
Shook: Be transported to a place and time of your choosing in the past OR Be transported to a random place and time in the future?
Stone: Def place and time of my choosing in the past.
Shook: Steal honey from a bear OR Steal honey from a beehive?
Stone: I'll take the bear.
Shook: Be 50% good at everything OR Be 100% good at one thing? Stone: 100% good at loving people!
Shook: Jump into a pool of lava OR Jump into a pool of freezing water?
Stone: I mean I die either way, so...
Shook: Be stuck inside on a good day OR Be stuck outside on a bad day?
Stone: Inside. Sleep is always an option.
Shook: Be color blind OR Have no taste buds?
Stone: Yeeks... color blind.
Shook: Always say everything on your mind OR Never speak again?
Stone: Always say everything. (These are brutal.)
Shook: Have the power to read minds OR Have the power to read hearts?
Stone: I wanna read hearts.
Shook: Fight 100 duck-sized horses OR Fight 1 horse-sized duck?
Stone: 1 over 100. Even though a horse sized duck sounds terrifying.
Shook: Live in a space station OR Live in a deep-sea submarine?
Stone: Space station!
Shook: Pop OR Soda?
Stone: Eww neither. Coke. Sprite. Fanta. Pepsi. CALL IT BY ITS NAME.
Shook: Chili and cinnamon rolls OR Chili and cornbread?
Stone: Cinnamon rolls. #dessert
Shook: Lose the ability to read OR Lose the ability to write?
Stone: How dare you! Not choosing. So there.
Shook: Lipstick OR Earrings?
Stone: This is getting worse and worse. (Earrings.)
Shook: Lipstick OR Shoes?
Stone: And here I thought we were friends. Smh. (Shoes.)
Get registered if you haven’t already. You are not going to want to miss KATE in conversation with Nic Stone. See you all Saturday!
By Cheryl Poage
As an educator, I have always encouraged my students to go out of their comfort zone and challenge themselves—to reach out and stretch just enough to feel a little discomfort. Over the past 17 years, I became comfortable with my content, my school family and my students—quite honestly, I was perfectly happy in this comfort zone. So when my husband proposed moving back to his home state of Kansas, I heard myself telling my students to “challenge themselves and stretch a little”—and decided it was now my time to stretch!
As I began my job search, one position that stood out to me was a Blended Learning position teaching high school English at Andover eCademy. I had never taught high school English, I had never taught online, and seeing the faces of my students every day was extremely important to me! So why choose this? Because it made me stretch…it was a limb I had never reached out to before. What type of educator would I be if I challenged my students to explore the unknown, but wasn’t willing to do that myself?
I secured a position with eCademy and anxiously awaited my August 2019 start date. I knew there would be a learning curve on my end, but the challenge intrigued me; this opportunity would allow me to look at education through a new lens. I had so many questions about the Blended Learning Model and it seemed my list grow longer each day: How will I build solid relationships with students? How will I develop a learning community that will allow students to engage in discussion and share learning experiences? How will I give proper feedback when each student is working at his/her own pace?
As the year progressed, I was able to eliminate many of the questions I started the year with; however, each brainstorming session with colleagues posed a new challenge—adding to my evolving list. eCademy is fortunate to have an administrator who encourages his staff to be innovative and allots time for collaborative brainstorming sessions. This practice inspired me to refine my craft and become more flexible and open to a new way of teaching and reaching students.
The first day of school is always exciting! It is when I am able to put a face to each name on my roster and begin to build relationships. However, this isn’t necessarily the case when teaching virtually. Not every student begins class on the same day and many do not feel comfortable showing their face, so it is important to become creative with lessons and build trust. One modicication I made in order to “see” students in my reading class was to ask students to submit a “selfie” that incorporated a portion of their face with the cover of a novel they were reading. An adjustment I made in a writing lesson was to have students use audio to give a verbal reflection—allowing me to at least hear my students, if I could not see them. These were very small changes, but it allowed me a quick glimpse—it was a starting place.
As the year continued, relationships grew through daily feedback, emails and phone calls; however, the most significant difference I saw was when CoVid-19 changed our world! I used the time for reflection and self-growth and revised my teaching even further. I took trainings that were offered, solicited the help of colleagues a bit more and found ways to personalize my lessons to allow student’s choice, time to reflect, and share more of themselves with me through “Motivational Monday” lessons. I scheduled individual and group Zoom sessions for students to work on assignments with me or with peers. I held daily Zoom check-ins with students who were struggling with motivation during the Stay At Home order. I began to see more faces and the trust began to build! CoVid-19 may have taken some opportunities away from us, but it allowed me the time to grow as an educator and it brought many of my students out from behind the computer screen and into a Zoom session!
Although the road to building bonds looked different than it did in my previous years of teaching, I do believe the gradual growth was critical to form the foundation needed for solid relationships.
At eCademy homeroom is taken to a new level. Each teacher has his/her own group of approximately 20 students to support. Teachers contact their students on a weekly basis to discuss grades, celebrate successes, and discuss a plan of action for those who may be struggling. In addition to working with our homeroom students one on one, we also have bi-weekly meetings with administration and guidance counselors built into our schedules. During this time we discuss each student’s progress and prepare a personalized plan of action for any student who may be struggling. Our roundtable discussions allow us develop a clear understanding of the overall student. During these meetings, It was inspiring to see how well the teachers, administrators, and counselors knew ALL students—both academically and emotionally. So often, in a Brick and Mortar it is difficult to allot time to engage in these valuable whole group discussions due to scheduling, teaching, non-teaching duties, etc.
As a result of these meetings, we are able to focus on students who have consistent missing assignments and a lower than average GPA and create an engagement plan to help them succeed. Students, parents, and the homeroom teacher work together to develop this plan for success.
I saw the impact of these meetings firsthand as I worked with several students, via Zoom, during second semester. Not only did these students go from failing grades to passing all subjects, but they also developed a more positive mindset and sense of confidence as they watched their GPA and comprehension of each subject improve.
What sets eCademy apart from many other online schools is that we follow a Blended Learning model. This is what truly interested me about eCademy and what, I believe, brings in such interest from families across the state. Blended Learning allows students the opportunity to be a part of a school community, while learning at his/her own pace.
Andover eCademy offers students numerous opportunities to be a part of a learning community at all grade levels. Students participate in Live Lessons with their teachers and classmates, attend field trips, and participate in clubs or in-house days offered at our Andover campus. In-house days may include group activities, team building, study sessions, guest speakers, or collaborative work. This time allows for students to build community and gain a sense of belonging.
High school students have their own special spot nestled inside the eCademy building called the eCafe. The eCafe is situated similar to a coffee shop where students are able to study, collaborate, socialize, and develop friendships. It is monitored by a different high school teacher each hour, allowing students to work personally with the teacher on call. High school students also have the opportunity to plan socials, participate in Science Labs, attend field trips, and a select group also serve as mentors to our middle school students.
In an effort to give out of town students the opportunity to build community, we also offer a Mobile eCafe. Once a week a teacher travels to a different library in the surrounding areas and students are invite to come in for a study session. This allows us to meet students who might not be able to travel to Andover, but would like to build relationships with their teachers and peers.
Giving student feedback is a big portion of each day at eCademy. All lessons are loaded at the beginning of the semester and the courses are self-paced, so we receive various assignments from numerous students in several different classes at any given time. Although the amount of assignments coming in can sometimes seem overwhelming, there are a variety of assignments being turned in which keeps the grading fresh and interesting.
Detailed feedback is critical when teaching in an online environment. Since we do not hold daily face to face lessons, feedback is a dedicated time to give each student the guidance needed to master a concept and communicate clear guidelines for students to reference when revising assignments. We offer feedback in several formats: verbal, written and face to face.
I have found that since students in a Blended Learning environment are self-paced, they do not experience time constraints that are sometimes found in the classroom. This results in resubmissions and revisions that demonstrate improved execution, comprehension and overall grades.
As year two begins, I feel reignited as an educator. The past year allowed me to experience one of the greatest learning adventures of my career. I learned it is okay to start small and grow gradually. I learned that even if a student isn’t right by your side, remarkable relationships can still develop. Most importantly, I learned that education isn’t about being comfortable…it is about change, challenge, and having the confidence to climb out of our comfort zone and STRETCH!
About the Author
Cheryl is beginning her 19th year of teaching. In addition to English, Cheryl has taught AVID and served as an AVID Coordinator for eight years in Florida. She is currently a College and Career Elective teacher at Andover eCademy. Her passion is building relationships with her students and changing “I can’t” mindsets into “I can.”
by John Ritchie
I started the 2019-2020 school year--my 20th year in the classroom--with more optimism and excitement than usual. I loved both of my PLCs. The junior PLC was hoping to breathe new life into Miller’s Death of a Salesman by pairing it with Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun. Second semester, we were ready to roll out (and defend if necessary) The Perks of Being a Wallflower. These literature units would alternate with our renewed pumped up approach to digital literacy and research writing. My senior composition PLC was likewise pushing new citation styles and trying to help students see how and why the different citation styles were applied. Amidst all of this, a friend from Washburn University asked if I would sponsor a future teacher’s observation hours. If all went well, I would mentor ST the following fall during her student teaching semester. I would be open to all of her questions through fall, winter, and spring as we then geared up to an experience none of us could anticipate.
ST’s 2019 fall semester experience went very well. Initially, I would preview the lesson plans for her and then have her come up with questions about anything she observed during her two-hour stay. . Most of the questions were about the classroom layout, why I addressed some behaviors but ignored others, and how the transactions of the day would affect what I did tomorrow. When we got to our junior plays, she knew the classes she was observing well enough to predict that they would hate Biff and Happy (bunch of losers) but love Walter and Beneatha’s spirit. By the end of the semester, she was practicing electronic feedback on essays and creating seating charts based on what she knew about the students. I was pleased with her progress, so I was happy to put in the paperwork to be her mentor for Fall 2020.
I kept in touch with ST throughout the beginning of this past spring semester.. I shared our materials as we put together a tougher research unit than we’d ever done with our juniors. She previewed materials and began to see the delicate balance of creating clear objectives in student-friendly language. When our PLC spent three days wordsmithing a heads up for parents about The Perks of Being a Wallflower, she and I talked through the professional changes the team had made from the first to the final draft. With Part I of Perks completed without controversy just before spring break, I said things would be boring enough that she should focus on her final university classes and check back with me in May.
We all know how quickly things changed during spring break. ST contacted me to ask what we were doing. All I could say was “we’re adapting.” It was tough to keep her informed when my own information seemed to change by the minute. Then came the press conference. All of us in education had an inkling of what would happen, but I doubt any of us believed it. When the words were said, I couldn’t accept it. I jumped as my breaking news alert confirmed it. Dazed, I captured the screenshot for posterity:
Another alert--a text from ST: “Are you watching? What do you think?”
I felt an obligation to be the mentor. A temptation to sit above it all and try to remain objective. But I found I didn’t have the energy or desire. It didn’t feel right. I was watching the press conference blinking back tears because one of the best parts of my life had been taken away for at least the next six months.
“Devastated,” I replied.
As ST continued to check in periodically with me, I wondered how I could continue to offer myself as a mentor to her. I was dealing with Google Meetings that were attended by less than 10% of my classes. Incidents of plagiarism began to spike. It became a vicious cycle of my kids’ motivation dying, which hurt mine, which no doubt hurt my kids, and downward we went. I felt like nothing I did mattered. The assignments and the grading became busy work. What could she learn from someone who no longer felt effective?
I will never be more thankful for my PLC colleagues than I was from March - May 2020. It was easily one of the lowest points of my teaching career, but they helped me survive it. Our weekly meetings were the only confirmation I had that I was not alone, that I was not failing as a professional, and that we were all clawing toward a finish line hoping to have something to be proud of at the end.
As the school year wrapped up, my PLCs made a Google Form reflection for our students that we counted as the last assignment of the semester. We asked students to be honest about what worked for them and, in a worst case scenario, what should change if we had to go through this again next fall. Some of my worst fears were confirmed--the students saw some of what we did as boring busy work--but we also received encouragement saying they thought we did the best we could under the circumstances. One thing I noticed was how many students said they appreciated the ongoing contacts, even if the students did not engage us in return. There were also many genuine messages about how much they enjoyed and missed our class. That helped me realize that any successes we had in the fourth quarter were from the relationships we had built the previous seven months. It also helped me realize that I could continue as a mentor for ST by building off the relationship we had created last year, and by welcoming her as a colleague into our PLC.
It’s now late June. ST has finished her PLT and is beginning to ask questions about the fall. During any other year, we would approach it the same way I usually approach the fall and reflect upon on the previou year: identify what worked and what we can do to improve upon it; identify what bombed and evaluate if it is worth salvaging it,;and identify what new learning has excited me in the past year and where I can implement it. Of course we can still go through this process and build on the foundation created from last year, but the pandemic remains the inescapable elephant in the room. We cannot plan for it. Instead of giving in to the despair I felt earlier, I tell her it is an opportunity to dive deeper into what teachers and students in our district, and across the state, are already using. As we are a Google school, one priority is making sure she is proficient with Google Classroom and Forms. We look at screencast software and search teacher sites for the most user-friendly resources. I give her National Writing Project books and links to sites like KATE and NCTE’s ALAN site. The exchange flows both ways. As someone who is only five or six years older than our students, she is more likely to know what technology will be most engaging to them without seeming forced or, dare I say it, cringe. Part of her job is to suggest whatever she thinks might help us engage our students. She floats the idea of a Tik-Tok for our classes. I am not yet convinced, but I am listening.
Now we get together at least once a week to walk a public trail and talk about the fall. We get past our anxieties by discussing education developments. We joke that our walks in the summer humidity will give us the endurance to teach eight hours while wearing a mask. Many Board of Regents schools have announced that on-campus classes will end with Thanksgiving break. Will that happen to us? We know it’s possible. Based on the 4th quarter, we decided to suggest to the PLC that we put the major work in the 1st quarter. It may be an illusion of control, but the discussions help us acknowledge the challenges that lay ahead. Relationship-building is our top priority. Our first assignment together is to come up with a plan to build connections with students as soon as we are able to contact them, regardless of what that contact might look like.
I still worry whether I’ll be an effective mentor for ST. Even under ideal conditions, student teaching is an unpaid internship with all of the stress of teaching without many of the benefits. She is entering a situation that turned us all into first-year teachers again. This year her questions will often be the questions I’m trying to answer, too. The best that I can do is to acknowledge my own doubts, but show how we push past them through continuous learning and flexibility. I will show her how to enter a career that often thrives on adapting to crises whether it is school violence, sudden changes in curriculum, or even a pandemic.
About the Author
About the author: John Ritchie lives in Topeka where he teaches English 11 and Composition at Washburn Rural High School, and Composition as an adjunct professor at Washburn University. He has been an active member of KATE for 15 years.
Facebook: John Ritchie
By Nathan Whitman
When I became employed at my first and present job as an English teacher in 2012, I knew that I was in for a culture shock. I had graduated from a 6A KSHSAA (Kansas State High School Activities Association) division high school of more than 2,000 students, and now I was going to teach in a 1A school of a few more than 200. However, upon having one of my first meetings with a school employee, I realized that Burrton was in for an equally stark culture shock from me.
I’d read the state data reports. I knew that the majority of my students would be white. I knew that a handful were of various minority and cultural groups. Nevertheless, when I inquired of a staff member about how many students in the school were LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning) and if there was a GSA (gender and sexuality alliance), I was told, “We don’t have gay students at this district.”
With that perspective – no wonder! I was certain that these kids did not feel like they had a welcoming culture to be themselves. Clearly, this “educator” either did not know, did not care, or chose to be in denial of the hard fact that 4.5% of Americans are LGBTQ, and that number represents only the self-reporting to a Gallup poll. Those in the closet are surely even greater in rank. In my head I’d done the numbers: at a school of around 250 individuals (staff and students) – and I may be rounding up – 11-12 had to be LGBTQ in a given year. Knowing those statistics, I was determined to chop that closet door down: Here’s Johnny!
Throughout the course of my studies at Wichita State University, not only did I become certain of my career path as an English educator, I also realized that as much as I wanted to be a queer role model for my students and ally, I still had to play my cards carefully and closely to the chest. At the time, Kansas had no workplace protections for LGBTQ individuals unless they were written into the employment nondiscrimination clause (to no one’s surprise: sexual orientation was not and still is not covered by many districts’ contract language – my own included). Furthermore, with Kansas being an at-will state, I’d have to document anything I did in support of LGBTQ students or advocacy for myself (for legal reasons), as I could – and still can – be terminated from my job at my employer’s whim with no reasons given. While the at-will language states that “your employer can fire you for any non-discriminatory and/or non-retaliatory reason,” unless I had proof that my firing was discriminatory or retaliatory, I would and still can be sunk. This blog post could even be cause for termination, and I’d never know. Luckily, I’ve had fantastic administrative support, but I know that others are not so lucky.
I would like to think that LGBTQ educators can feel more at ease with their own personal lives and advocacy of LGBTQ students as of June 16, 2020, which is when I am writing this new draft of this blog post. For those unaware, in an unprecedented motion, two conservative Supreme Court justices sided with the four liberal that Title VII protects LGBTQ employees from workplace discrimination and termination. Hooray! I can now put up a picture of my husband and me after our wedding this summer and not be fired – I hope.
I preface the core of my post with these anecdotes and current events because we LGBTQ educators may now have more protections in our employment, but our students still lack protections of the most basic kind in their school policies. Check yours: Does it include a nondiscrimination clause on student sexual orientation and gender identity? Now is the time to use our newfound privilege to advocate and lead by example because, even with the Supreme Court ruling, there are political ploys at play to undermine trans youth via Title IX. I say this with resolve and guilt, for I know that I haven’t always been the best example and that I could have done more for many students, but I didn’t because I was afraid.
Instead, I did minor things to advocate: I put more LGBTQ affirming texts in the school, counselor’s, and my classroom libraries; provided Safe Zone training and signage for teachers who were interested; encouraged students who asked to bring same-sex dates to dances; made sure to highlight queer writers in the school-approved curricula. It wasn’t until the last few years that I dared to even show my partner in the beginning of the year “About Mr. Whitman & His Class” slideshow. But, I digress.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has an enlightening list of ten – often bizarre – myths about LGBTQ persons employed by those who wish to discriminate or do harm to that community. One thing that all teachers need to recognize is that these myths are still believed and used to justify discrimination toward LGBTQ students and educators. Three of them – in my opinion – form the core of what many students experience in their schools in Kansas, and if we’re going to truly support our students, we have to be willing to confront these misconceptions head-on.
Myth 1: LGBTQ Persons are Pedophiles or Perverts (SPLC no. 1)
This myth often appears when it comes to bathroom and locker room usage – particularly with trans students and educators. While more awareness is finally being afforded to the trans community, many still don’t understand that trans people just want to go to the bathroom, that they aren’t wanting a peep show, that they already feel out of place in their body and want nothing more than to be left alone and to be themselves. LGBTQ youth are one of the highest risk groups for suicide because of so many factors such as rejection from family and homelessness. With LGBTQ students already facing so much stress and pressure, allowing them proper bathroom privileges is the least a community can do to alleviate some of that stress. I personally know the hassle that bathroom usage can bring, as I choose to use the staff unisex bathroom. One homophobic accusation is all it takes to ruin a career.
Myth 2: It’s a Sin (SPLC no. 9 & 10)
According to the Pew Research Center, 76% of adults in Kansas identify as Christian. As much as we love talking about the separation of church and state, you’d have to be an absolute fool to say that religion plays no part in Kansas’ political or educational landscape. Two respectable professors from state university education programs have told me stories of teachers in training who said that they’d refuse to use a trans student’s pronouns or accommodate LGBTQ students in other ways if it conflicted with their religious beliefs – and they’re not the only ones. For students from all walks of life to have a welcoming climate in a public school, all students must be welcome, loved, and validated, regardless of the staff’s private religious practices.
Myth 3: It’s a Choice and/or It’s an Illness, and You Can Change (SPLC no. 9 & 10)
I have a hard time deciding which myth is the most damaging, but I’d say it’s a safe bet that telling LGBTQ youth that they’re broken (this ties to the sin myth) and need to change is pretty close to the top of the list. Ex-gay and conversion therapy have done irreparable damage to LGBTQ youth and spread like wildfire in states like ours: my own brother survived it, and I narrowly escaped having to participate. Now that scientific studies and mental health professionals even confirm that trying to change one’s sexual orientation can lead to lasting mental health consequences and even suicide, many states are banning the practice. If we as educators truly value the buzzwords “social-emotional wellness,” then we better damn well do our best to crush this myth for our students.
This leads to the inevitable question: What can you as an educator do? That’s easy. Educate yourself. Attend a Safe Zone or Safe Space training. Help start a GSA. Advocate for unisex bathrooms and nondiscrimination policies in student handbooks. Call out anti-LGBTQ comments and microagressions in staff meetings. Watch queer cinema and television. Read queer YA literature. God-forbid, meet and befriend an actual queer person without asking prying, borderline-fetish questions. It’s amazing how human we are. Use your power and privilege to advocate for LGBTQ equality.
At the end of the day, I don’t want any student to feel the way that I felt – to be told that they’re hopelessly broken, that God doesn’t love them, that they didn’t pray or try hard enough to change. High school is hard enough as it is. One of my most formative memories originates from high school when I was arguing with my brother – also gay – regarding his sexual orientation. I told him that I wished he was “normal” because deep down inside, at that time, I wished I was “normal.” What I didn’t realize, and what’s taken me close to over a decade to come to understand, is that I truly am that: normal. And all my queer students are, too. And, what a difference it would have made, if just one adult had told me, “You’re fine just the way you are.”
About the Author
Nathan Whitman is the current Kansas Association of Teachers of English President. He teaches 9-12 English at Burrton High School USD 369 and is also an adjunct professor at Hutchinson Community College.
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