Thursday, November 6, 2008

A Mistake?

I think I made a mistake at school today...

I am embarrassed about what has happened and I’m not sure I should even post this. But I think I need some advice, and some comfort, and I want to tell Scott but I don’t think I can do so in person yet. He asked me earlier what is wrong. I am very transparent. This post will get the conversation going.



Since Scott came out to the ward on Sunday, I have been invigorated. I have felt like we are letting our light shine and doing good in the world around us. So yesterday, as I heard different political conversations going on at work, I jumped in with my own disappointment on Prop 8 passing, and didn’t feel bad about explaining why. One was a teacher in my department that I hadn’t told yet. He was shocked, but I think this will be good for him. Others were secretaries in the office that were impressed with my story and attitude, and they had their own stories to share of gay family members that are hurt by the result of the election.

I figured that Scott is out to family, our ward, our friends on facebook, lots of my co-workers. It will be impossible to keep it contained at this point, and I feel good about spreading more understanding on the topic.

So when students have said things, I have not held back, and now I am afraid it has gone too far…

One of my classes has some students that are frequently teasing each other about being gay. I don’t know if any of them are or not, but their comments are inappropriate and offensive. A week or two ago, I asked them to stop and told them that their comments were offensive and that they might be hurting someone in our class from what they say. They pursued the conversation until, to prove my point I said, “Your comments are offending me because my husband is gay.” They pressed me for more information, and I gave a little, and then changed the topic. There were only a couple of students in the class that heard this.

Well, over the next few days, I heard them telling other people in the class, but I didn’t comment when asked. The students that know are the type of kids that lie constantly and everyone knows it, so no one seemed to believe them.

Then today, our school news program came on the TV screen, and it started with a clip from David Archuleta’s new music video.

One of my students (this is a different class, BTW) said, “Argh. I hate him. My grandma thinks he is gay.”

Me: I don’t think so, but so what if he is?

Student: So what? He’s gay. He’s a homo.

Me: There’s nothing wrong with homos.

Student: Ooooh, don’t say that. They don’t like to be called that. They’re going to come throw rainbow skittles at your house for saying that. (Another kid joined in and they were laughing.)

Me: I don’t think so. There is actually someone who is gay living in my house.

Student: (shocked) Who?!

Me: My husband.

(Other students that happened to hear jumped in. He can’t be. How could he be married to you if he is? Do you have kids? Are you getting divorced? Does he have a boyfriend? etc.)

I answered a few of their questions calmly and appropriately, and realized I had probably made a mistake. But then the bell rang and I quickly delved into things I needed to get done during my next class and forgot all about it.

Later, my last class started trickling in. A couple of boys came up to my desk. One of them asked if everything had gone okay with my cat and if I was okay. (I found out during their class on Tuesday about the cat and started to cry, and they were very supportive of me.) Suddenly one of the boys said, “Is your husband gay? I heard that your husband is gay.” The boy asking about the cat then said, “Yeah, I heard that too.” Then someone else said, “Yeah, me too, but I wasn’t going to ask her about it.”

I sat still for a bit, just looking at them while they continued to ask and spoke of discussions they had heard amongst students earlier. I finally quietly nodded. Then one of the boys started going off with more questions, not giving me time to answer before throwing in comments like “You should send him to Germany. They kill gays there. You’re okay with it? If my girlfriend told me that, I would shoot her. You should shoot him; he doesn’t deserve to live. He likes sausages. You’re okay with that?...

Tears started to well up in my eyes. The other boys pulled him into the hall and the class was quiet. I took roll, and as I finished, the boys came back in the room. The one apologized and asked me what he could do to make up for it. He was very helpful throughout the class and didn’t say another word about my husband.

But the damage was done. My brilliant shining light from yesterday was extinguished, and I was hurting. I felt stupid. What have I done? Where will this go from here? Would any of these teenagers actually try to hurt me or my family for what we are?

I can’t take back what I’ve said. And maybe I’ve helped someone in the classroom who was quietly listening to my opinion, hiding what they are inside. But I feel it is more likely that I have only hurt myself, and I don’t know what to do about it.

Meanwhile, my gay students have started gravitating toward me. They show up after school or during lunch just to say hi or hang out. They bring their friends. I enjoy talking with them. They cheer me up and their presence reminds me that maybe for them, it is good that I have spoken up.

But part of me is now down and depressed again and worried that parents will complain and students will act aggressively. I think I am just letting the worst possible thoughts get to me.

Only time will tell.

15 comments:

Scott said...

You should shoot him; he doesn’t deserve to live. He likes sausages.

It depends. I had a Sausage McMuffin with my dad and oldest brother on the Fourth of July almost thirty years ago, and I got sick and threw up, and I haven't been able to eat breakfast sausage since then.

Not a big fan of Italian sausage either.

Kielbasa, andouille and bratwurst are all okay, though.

--

Seriously, though, I'm proud of you. The more "out" the better at this point, I think. We're bound to run into some negative comments from small-minded people, but the fact that other students hushed the one who was mocking and chastised him and actually made him remorseful for what he had said is a good thing.

You've gotten some people thinking, I'm sure, and I think that more good than bad will come of today's experiences.

I love you!

Зеркало / The Mirror said...

I tottaly agree with Scott. I wish I had a teacher like you in my school. It is when we don't talk about these things and let such horrible comments be said and don't say anything in challenge that we allow those attitudes to continue. Some people opinions on the matter will never change. But someone out there has hope because of what you said. Be strong.

Also the fact that your gay students are coming by and helping out shows that you are a source of hope and inspiration that they might not have at home or even in general.

Chedner said...

The high school teacher whom I respected the most called out my anti-gay rhetoric when I was a senior in high school... to be honest, that always stuck with me to know there are people out there (MORMONS even) who have the courage to stand up against hate.

I think the waves you're making are good things.

Beck said...

Don't even begin to think that this isn't worth it and that you aren't making an impact. You are reaching out and helping others that you may never know about. Because of this hatred and hateful rhetoric (even in a joking way), those of us who have endured this in silence know how difficult it is to respond to those like you who are open and protective. The closet is a very deep and dark place - particularly in high school - so you may not see your light cracking the doors and seeping in... at least for a while. Be consistant and strong - even when it's tough - for in the end, I'm sure you are making a difference to those who need your courage and enlightenment the most.

UTMOHO said...

I really like how open you are as a teacher. I wish that while I was going through school I would have had some teachers open as you are. I really think that you're going to be able to reach out to your gay students. I really think that you are an awesome woman. I commend you for all you are. Just remember that all of us in this lil moho sphere are here to support you and love you.

Philip said...

This post is going to be scatterbrained because I don't know quite what to tell you.

My daughter is a fourth grade teacher and is having difficulty drawing the line with her students on homosexuality and other controversial subjects. She is trying to figure out what to do and what not to do. She doesn't want to steer her children to certain beliefs or unduly influence her children or negate what their parents are teaching their children unless what they are teaching is totally inappropriate.

I'm not explaining this well because she can't fully explain it because she hasn't worked it all out but she believes teachers play a certain role and parents play a certain role and she doesn't want to step on what's the responsbility of the parent.

This week, because the kids were so excited about the election, my daughter saw a teachable moment and asked her students to write down who they would have voted for if they could have voted but they had to explain why. She told her students that they didn't have to share what they wrote with others if they didn't want to.

Her thinking was to impress on her students the importance of thinking through their reasons for voting.

Two of her students are being raised by gay parents. One of the students came up to her desk with a problem. She wanted to vote for Obama but couldn't write down why because she sits at a a table where other kids can see what she writes.

My duaghter told her that she didn't have to write down her reason. Then later on when they had a private moment my daughter told her that she knew about her two gay Dads and that she wanted her to know that her family was perfectly fine and even if it was different from other families that it was perfectly OK. But my daughter couldn't leave it at that. She called one of the little girl's Dads, explained what happened and asked if it would be OK to tell the little girl that her teacher had a gay Dad, too. The father gave his permission.

My daughter then told the little girl and let her know that she could always come to her for support or just to talk at anytime even when she was in fifth or sixth grade because she knew what it was like to have a gay Dad.

The point to my long story is that my daughter is trying to figure it out and mistakes are going to be made but eventually she will get to the place where she has developed a sense of when and how to broach the subject that she will be comfortable with and is appropriate for all involved.

And so will you.

In the meantime, there is an organization called GLSEN that focuses on how to broach this subject in schools and how to deal wih the different issues that come up and maybe it would help you (and my daughter) to seek out their website www.glsen.org for guidance.

I wish I could recommend a book you could read but maybe GLSEN can.

By the way, we are all learning our way, gay and straight. Being out in public is new to most of us.

Regards,
Philip

Philip said...

I always forget things I want to say.

1) You are very brave.

2) You ARE helping your gay students and straight students with gay loved ones because after today they will feel a little or maybe even a lot safer just knowing they have a teacher to turn to if they ever decide to come out in high school.

3) Teachers make a difference. A teacher was there for my daughter when she was struggling to confront her gay Dad about the big family secret and I will be forever grateful to that teacher.

4) You are going to feel uncomfortable and make mistakes. Give yourself permission to feel uncomfortable and make mistakes. Give others permission too. Soon enough you will find easier and better ways to handle what you did today. However, I think what you'll find it that what's important is not having a mistake free coming out but just that you did it - you came out. Your worries are probably unfounded or overblown. Mine always were.

Regards,
Philip

Sarah (Serendipity) said...

Thank you all so much for your support! You are all such incredible friends to me, and I cherish your friendship.

You've convinced me that my mind blew this whole thing way out of proportion. Friday I chaperoned a MESA club field trip, so I was able to take a break from school (and annoying student comments and questions).

Meanwhile, your comments will make it easier to face anything that comes my way on Monday.

From Disney's Meet the Robinsons comes the message that mistakes are good to help us "Keep Moving Forward". That is just what I will do!

Thanks again!

Philip said...

Sarah,

I wish we could talk face to face.

I don't feel like my previous two posts adequately addressed your request for advice.

However, I finally think I have some practical advice to give.

Let me know what you think.

I spoke with my daughter about what you went through and she told me that she would have done the same thing. The only difference is that she would not have gone into any detail about who in her family is gay.

My daughter thinks because children are involved that teachers have to careful not to be seen as attempting to undermine what parents teach their children at home.

Therefore, my daughter makes a distinction between beliefs and behavior. I think this distinction is crucial to understanding how she thinks about situations like the one you faced.

Parents teach their children many things my daughter doesn't like but in her classroom the children regardless of what their parents teach them are not allowed to use those beliefs to behave in a way that creates a hostile environment for other students. And name calling is one such behavior.

My daughter thinks using personal examples like you did is a good way to emphasize that the teacher means business. However, she thinks going into detail takes away the focus from the message the teacher is trying to make.

By making the distinction between beliefs and behavior then the teacher cannot be excused of attempting to undermine what the parent is teaching the child.

And by focusing on the behavior the teacher is making this an issue about what it really is - creating an environment where all students can feel safe and are treated with respected regardless of their differences.

I hope this helps.

Regards,
Philip

Sarah said...

Philip,

I think I understand what you are trying to say, and I think that is why I was concerned about what I had done.

But what's done is done, and now I have the opportunity to learn from my mistakes and figure out the best way to spread tolerance and let my gay students know I am there for them without crossing the teacher vs parent line.

Is that kind of what you are saying?

I guess I still don't quite know for sure where that line is exactly. I may make a few more mistakes before I figure it out.

Thanks for your help. Where do you live? I would love to meet you face to face.

Philip said...

Sarah,

Yes, that is what I am saying.

I think it's OK to say "I have family members that are gay and gay friends" to emphasize that you will not tolerate name calling.

And if kids ask for more details to say "That's beside the point, the point is there will no name calling in our class period" or something like that.

I live in Phoenix. Not too far from Utah (I think Scott's profile said Utah).

Regards,
Philip

Cadence said...

wow, HS math... one thing I think you realize but maybe haven't thought of in this instance is that classes come and go, students that needed you to stand up for them will always remember that and those that got called out will either forget about it or they also will remember this for good or bad it doesn't matter though because you have already helped someone for the better... as for teaching in HS... I am a U student thinking of going into teaching but I am a little scared that I can't do it...(maybe cause I never had a teacher stand up for me) but I am an environmental studies major and I LOVE auto-cad and GIS... I'm sure I could teach anything on these subjects but most schools probably don't have much when it comes to them... anyway I would love to be able to talk to you about teaching and what not sometime... but thanks for being an example...

Alan said...

Sarah:

You are a treasure and Scott is very lucky. Don't let this get to you. I've seen some of these unbelievably idiotic and bigoted high school attitudes close up myself. They are like a fungus, the only thing that will kill them is direct and relentless exposure to sunlight and truth. You are doing that. Bless you for your efforts, you will probably never know the full extent of your influence for good. I am really looking forward to the 22nd and the chance to tell you in person how much I admire your courage.

[kɹeɪ̯ɡ̊] said...

I wish I had had a teacher at any time growing up who would have said anything like that.

As far as I can remember, my teachers pretty much just ignored it when I or someone else was called a fag or lez. I know that they heard it at least some of the time, and they chose to not confront it.

Why, I don't know. Maybe they were afraid, maybe they agreed with the sentiment. Either way, never feeling safe growing up was a major reason I stayed in the closet for so long.

So I think what you did was amazing, and vitally important to the lives of many of the gay students at your school. What you did was very courageous, and I agree with what everyone else here has said.

Thanks.

Mike said...

I remember when there was the gag order on Wendy Weaver, the psych teacher at Spanish Fork High School about ten years ago when she came out. I am glad to hear that it is different now for teachers in Utah.

I can understand your concern over what you said in class, but really, giving hope to all the young mohos far outweighs the shortcomings of what you have done. Remember, those young men/women will idolize you forever.