Creating an Inclusive Classroom for All Students
In recognition of LGBTQ+ Pride Month, a middle school teacher shares the strategies she uses to create an inclusive classroom for all students.
June 25, 2020
Allegra Kogan is a Davidson College (‘18) and Teach for America (Charlotte-Piedmont Triad '18) alumna based in Charlotte, North Carolina. Allegra is going into her third year teaching middle grades English language arts at Whitewater Middle School. Go Gators!
These five quick tips will help kick-start your inclusive classroom. They're by no means comprehensive. Turn to this resource from Accredited Schools Online to assist you in creating an inclusive, brave space classroom. I also highly recommend the GLSEN website. Happy teaching!
1. Create visual cues
Whether it be a GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network) safe space poster, a rainbow flag pin you wear on your lanyard (check out these LGBTQ+ owned Etsy Shops), or posters of famous LGBTQ+ icons related to your subject area, these cues will allow students to pinpoint you as an ally. Personally I wear a rainbow ribbon on my lanyard and was told by some of my eight grade LGBTQ+ students that that is how they knew I was “cool.” Visibility and representation is important!
2. State pronouns in your introductions and throughout the year
When doing initial introductions during those first couple of days be sure to state what your pronouns (she/hers, him/his, they/them etc) are. Not only does this set an inclusive precedent, some students may not know what pronouns are or why they matter. Here is your opportunity to explain gender identity and pronouns to them! This also normalizes the sharing of pronouns and the fact that just because someone looks a certain way, it does not mean they identify that way. Be sure to continue this as you introduce guests, authors, etc. throughout the school year.
3. Share about yourself in an appropriate way that feels comfortable
I remember the day one of my eight graders saw my TFA coach sitting in the back of my room (shout out Jhermel!). My student slyly came over to ask me if he was my boyfriend. I told her he was my coach, that I’m gay, and to please start her warm up because she only had four minutes left. Her mouth dropped open but her warm up got completed!
In all seriousness, authenticity is the key to cultivating relationships with your students. Of course read the room and make sure you are appropriate with when and what you share. I chose to “out” myself in that moment because I wanted to convey to my students that for me, sexual orientation is just one part of my identity and not something shocking or wild. However, it is also okay if you choose not to disclose your sexual orientation or gender identity to your students (I did not do so when I taught sixth grade). It is up to what you are comfortable with. If you are an ally, I encourage you to voice it! You have a level of privilege in being an ally; model what allyship looks like in your advocacy for all students.
4. Include LGBTQ+ history in your curriculum
I teach eighth grade English language arts so it is a bit easier to include LGBTQ+ history in my curriculum. However, the easiest way I’ve found to include diverse histories is through my daily warm ups. For example, on Transgender Day of Remembrance my students read a short excerpt about what TDOR is. Students then answered standards aligned questions based off of the passage. I gave my principal a heads up, but there was no issue. Here are some resources for including LGBTQ+ history in math, science, and social studies classrooms.
5. Create or support your school's Gay Straight Alliance (GSA)
My school has a “Diversity Club” that was founded before my arrival. Our mission is to create and maintain a safe, inclusive school environment in which every student can succeed. We want to teach all students to be tolerant and accepting of their peers to build a bright and colorful future.
Some things our Diversity Club has done in the past are a Silent Protest for GLSEN’s Day of Silence to draw attention to the silencing effects of anti-LGBTQ bullying, “How to Be An Ally” training from Time Out Youth, and created poster presentations of famous LGBTQ+ people of color and their activism. Figure out if your school has a similar club, and if not see if there are colleagues that will join you in creating your own!