How Educators Can Make Their Classrooms a Gender-Inclusive Space

By Saurabh Anand — Originally published by Garnet Education

We congratulate Saurabh Anand for being honored as one of ILA’s 2021 “30 Under 30” educators.

Click here to see the full list.

Last month, one of my former students came out to me as transgender and requested that I use the pronouns they/their/them with them.

I had reached out to former students via online chatting platforms to check on how they had been coping with the ongoing COVID-19 uncertainties. Many of them responded and had a lot to share, but this conversation really stood out as being symbolic of a more involved relationship second language teachers share with their students than the conventional student-teacher relationship in high school.

The student confided in me that, despite the ongoing uncertainty, the quarantine period had allowed them to come on this journey to reflect on the realization of their gender identity. During further conversation with them, I had my own realization:

Educators need to provide students with access to knowledge that their own languages may not have the lexis for, such as the conversation around gender or different gender identities.

I therefore began to think about what more I can do in my class to make it a gender-inclusive space, especially as such topics are rarely discussed outside the realm of Arts and Humanities. Further reading can be found at the end of the article.

The challenges

In the L2 writing classroom, teachers may encounter multiple cultures under the same roof. One may find their students come from certain cultures where gender identities are not always openly discussed or taboo, or if there happens to be language for gender-related terms it usually happens to be pejorative. Such instances can also form negative ideologies among the majority members for the people who belong to those communities. I cannot expect my own students to be aware of gender-related nuances, especially when they are early-career professionals in fields that may have no bearings to gender identities.

In light of this, how can the topic of gender inclusivity be imagined in the context of the L2 classroom, and why is it imperative for our students’ learning process? I decided to take these challenges and work around them in intercultural and interlinguistic contexts by taking a few conscious pedagogical and classroom management decisions.

Here are my recommendations on how other teachers can do the same

One way to start is to begin the process with yourself

To norm and implement gender inclusivity, introduce yourself to your class by including your gender pronouns at the beginning of every semester or add your preferred gender pronouns in your email signatures. It may seem like such efforts are not significant steps, but small efforts can indeed indicate to students that their teacher appreciates all gender identities and respects them for who they are.

Make it part of the syllabus

Add a culturally responsive and inclusive contract to your syllabus and devote time to explaining it in detail while discussing your course descriptions and the rules and regulations. Such steps can also help us connect with students who might be shy when talking about such topics in front of their peers, introverted by nature, or confused about their sexual orientation, and collaborating with LGBTQ resources centres could encourage these students to access formal guidance from these centres.

Find Out How Students Identify

In the second language classroom, background questionnaires can be a helpful resource for doing a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis of your students, allowing you to model your teaching accordingly. We can utilize this resource more efficiently by adding a column to it asking students about their preferred gender pronouns.

Remove Gender Bias in L2 Writing

Connect your curriculum with life skills by taking regular sessions with students on how to write in their L2 unbiasedly, where one of the components is the appropriate usage of gender pronouns. Such classroom initiatives by teachers may go a long way in teaching our students, respecting others and the way queer people prefer to be addressed in society.

One may argue that these efforts may subvert students’ native or L1 gender expectations. However, educators should remember that learning a new language is not limited to gaining linguistic competence and also includes getting acclimated and assimilated with the target culture.

One of the many reasons behind the stigma against LGBTQ students is a lack of awareness and discussions inside and outside the classroom. Therefore, teaching alternative systems, circles and institutions is part of such knowledge facilitation and the notions of intercultural competencies instead of enforcing acceptance for queer people. Creating more spaces for dialogues around those topics today can be one way to ensure a liberal tomorrow.

Saurabh Anand is a doctoral student in the Department of Language and Literacy at the University of Georgia. His research interests center on second language writing, World Englishes, and multicultural literacy teaching. He tweets at @saur_anand.

The American Consortium for Equity in Education, publisher of the "Equity & Access" journal, celebrates and connects the educators, associations, community partners and industry leaders who are working to solve problems and create a more equitable environment for historically underserved pre K-12 students throughout the United States.

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