Pronouns: Getting Personal

As today’s health class shakes off its dated past its more important than ever that all students see themselves catered for, and represented in our curriculum. One way to ensure inclusivity is to ensure that we recognize the importance of personal pronouns.

For too long our transgender, gender non-conforming, and gender non-binary students have been excluded by the content taught and the language used. As Stephanie Brill, the founder and Board Chair of Gender Spectrum stated:

Gender-inclusive…health education is life-affirming for all students, and life-saving for some.

At the end of my first lesson of the year, after I’ve taken attendance, butchered some student names and shared my curriculum, I ask students to stick around if they want to discuss an IEP or a 504 plan, tell me how they prefer to learn, or tell me which personal pronoun they would like me to use. On day one I’ve let my students know that my classroom is a welcoming space for people of all genders.

Within the first week my students and I collaborate to create our list of expectations/class rules by using this awesome ROPES activity. Each letter of the ROPES acronym calls to mind words that we can use to remind us of how to get the most from our time together. ‘R’ might be respectful, ‘O” might be openness or oops/ouch. By the time we get to ‘P’ most students suggest participation but if it hasn’t already been stated I remind them that being mindful of pronouns is important and that we will weave conversations about them into our lessons.

I often wear pronoun buttons in class, and have one permanently on my backpack as a reminder to all that I value the importance of recognizing the power of acknowledging pronouns. You’ll also notice that I have my pronouns listed in my twitter bio. Regular acknowledgment and use will normalize conversations about pronouns, and make these conversations less awkward.

Using gender-neutral language is also crucial in your classroom. Instead of collectively referring to my students as “guys”, now you’ll hear me saying “hey sophomores”, or “OK period one”. I get a kick out of hearing one of our guest speakers calling everyone “friends”. Whenever I teach through stories I always use gender-neutral names, which makes it very interesting when students automatically assume a gender. That is a great prompt for a discussion about assuming gender and possible misgendering.

I wasn’t taught how to incorporate pronouns into my teaching, and initially it felt awkward but with practice it became easier and is now a natural part of my instruction. I know that I am a better teacher for it, but more importantly I know that my students feel safer and get a much better experience as a result.

Pronoun resources that you might like to check out include:

International Pronouns Day (October 21st, 2020)

MyPronouns.org

Pronouns: A Resource For Educators from GLSEN

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