Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Queer Educators in Schools: The Experiences of Four Beginning Teachers

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Queer Educators in Schools: The Experiences of Four Beginning Teachers

Article excerpt


What are the experiences of beginning queer educators in schools? (1) Building on a longitudinal study of pre-service teachers' abilities to create awareness and advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, two-spirited, and queer (LGBTQ) youth and families (Kearns, Mitton-Kukner, & Tompkins, 2014a, 2014b, 2017; Mitton-Kukner, Kearns, & Tompkins, 2015; Tompkins, Kearns, & Mitton-Kukner, 2018), we followed the experiences of four recent graduates who identify as part of the LGBTQ community as they began their teaching careers across Canada. As pre-service teachers, they took on leadership roles as trainers of an LGBTQ awareness program embedded in our teacher education program and helped to create a third program that engaged LGBTQ curricula critically in schools, and found moments to advocate for LGBTQ youth and families in schools. Based on the degree of success they felt in the teacher education program, we wanted to explore their experiences as beginning teachers. Stories from their first and second years of teaching were diverse: from feeling empowered and accepted, to feeling conflicted about coming out, to being the only person in a school environment advocating for LGBTQ students and families, to experiencing school leadership and climates that demonstrated a range of reactions--from supportive to hostile--in response to efforts that challenged heteronormativity and genderism. Given the complexities of the teaching environments in which our recent graduates entered the profession, we find hope due to their resilience and agency, yet we are deeply concerned by some of their experiences. We are mindful of the systemic levels of work that remain to be done for not only youth but also educators who experience genderism, homophobia, and transphobia in schools and society.

Context of Queer Educators in Schools and Society

Faculties of education in Canada are regularly called upon to teach pre-service educators about equity, inclusion, and social justice, including the discrimination LGBTQ youth and families experience (Province of Nova Scotia, 2014; Saskatchewan Ministry of Education, 2015). In our Bachelor of Education program we have been mindful of these calls to action and have responded accordingly (Kearns et al., 2014a, 2014b, 2017; Mitton-Kukner et al., 2015; Tompkins et al., 2018). Dejean (2010), however, notes that in many teacher education programs there is "discursive silence around queer matters in education" (p. 234). It is important for us to consider the experiences not only of LGBTQ youth but also of the LGBTQ educators we send out into the field. For we are aware that

no number of classroom discussions about gender stereotypes and homophobia will create a nurturing environment if teachers and parents are afraid to come out. A school that's a protective community for LGBTQ adults is a school that's going to be safe for kids. (Butler-Wall et al., 2016, p. 24)

We are mindful that sexual minority and gender non-conforming individuals have not enjoyed the same protections or experiences in law or the workforce as their cisgender and heterosexual (CH) peers. In Canada, up until 1969, non-heterosexual relations could be punished by law (Egan & Flavell, 2006). In 2005 gay marriage became legally acceptable in Canada, yet there is still a "pervasive homophobic culture of threat where physical, emotional, and psychological violence remain realities for many queer persons in everyday life, learning, and work spaces" (Grace, 2006, p. 828).

Having an education degree certainly does not protect LGBTQ teachers from experiencing homophobia and transphobia. In a study of 19 lesbian educators in Ontario, Khayatt (1990) revealed that in the late 1980s it was imperative to conceal the identity of participants, as they could experience harassment, or even job loss, for speaking about their school climates. Khayatt (1997) asked the question whether one should "come out in class"? …

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