Posted on February 28, 2013 by admin
Maintaining a classroom environment that makes all students feel comfortable is crucial for students’ success. According to Ryan Roemerman, executive director of the Iowa Pride Network, a nonprofit focused on strengthening the ties between gay and straight communities, if a student’s experiences in the classroom are unpleasant, he or she may not even show up to class. It is very difficult for a harassed student to concentrate on lessons, let alone progress and excel in academic work.
One of the common reasons for bullying is a student’s perceived sexual orientation. In times when anti-gay bullying is disturbingly rampant across the country to the point of assaults and suicides, teachers are required to be sensitized and prepared to handle anti-gray remarks in high school classrooms. Some teachers, especially the ones who find the matter less important, might feel uncomfortable while addressing lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues to students.
Roemerman feels that intervening on a homophobic comment is not the same as trying to be an activist or anything of that sort, it is only a matter of creating for each student a safe and supportive learning environment and sending the message that the creation of such an environment is the responsibility of every teacher.
Addressing homophobic slurs can be easier for teachers in states that have laws protecting LGBT students’ rights, says Roemerman. However, he encourages teachers in states that do not have such laws to set up their own form of legislation within their classrooms to prevent any inappropriate remarks targeting LGBT students.
Roemerman urges teachers to find out through open discussions or debates what behavior/ language students think is inappropriate. Through consensus the class can determine what language is unacceptable and sign an agreement not to use it. If a student makes a remark that can be termed insensitive or hurting according to the agreement, the teacher can point out to the signed document and say, “You agreed to this declaration. We all signed it as a class. You’re not just offending me—you’re offending everybody in the classroom,” Roemerman says.
With this student-signed agreement, there is less confrontation and more collaboration between the teacher and the students, Roemerman says. If a student makes an inappropriate remark in front of the class, then the teacher should address the one breaching the agreement right away and right before the others in the class. That way, the teacher makes it a “teachable moment,” Roemerman says, and shows the targeted student that the situation was addressed since it is not to be tolerated.
Teachers can handle situations outside the classroom by having a personal chat with students who are known to be bullied. He suggests that instead of asking if they’re being targeted or harassed—which may put off some students—teachers should be asking a simple, open-ended question, such as “Hey, is everything OK?” “A lot of it is about listening, because most of the time, students will fill in the gaps of information,” he says. Roemerman feels that teachers must always show readiness to listen to a student, especially to the one who is not opening up and is tending to be withdrawn. If the student doesn’t want to talk, the teacher can just tell him or her that they’re always willing to listen. “It’s about making sure the student knows that you are providing a safe place for them,” Roemerman says. “If nothing else, that they know there’s a supportive, caring adult that is asking the right questions.”