Academic journal article Research in the Teaching of English

Leaning in to Discomfort: Preparing Literacy Teachers for Gender and Sexual Diversity

Academic journal article Research in the Teaching of English

Leaning in to Discomfort: Preparing Literacy Teachers for Gender and Sexual Diversity

Article excerpt

Introduction

As literacy teacher educators and researchers who identify as queer, we (Sara and Bethy) have been deeply affected by the disturbing number of lives lost in recent years among youth who identified or were perceived to identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQ).1 Embedded in many narratives left behind by those youth was evidence that school was often an unsafe place and a contributing factor to the hastened end of young life. Given the resounding silence around gender and sexual diversity (GSD) (Meyer, 2010) that has long pervaded teacher preparation (Athanases & Larrabee, 2003; Gorski, Davis, & Reiter, 2013; Mayo, 2007; Quinn & Meiners, 2011; Robinson & Ferfolja, 2008; Vavrus, 2009), we argue that university-based teacher education in English language arts has also been complicit. Given our own positions within that enterprise and the commitments to democracy, diversity, and social justice we emphasize in our scholarship, we understand this problem as a moral dilemma with which we are obligated to grapple. We have sought to confront that dilemma by foregrounding GSD in our work with preservice and inservice literacy teachers. In this article, we provide an account of what happened when we endeavored to do that work with a group of preservice secondary ELA teachers in the context of a literacy methods course by reorganizing the curriculum and situating GSD at heart-center.

During the fall of 2012, Sara piloted a reorganized, GSD-themed curriculum with preservice teachers enrolled in the literacy methods course. Encouraged by the generally enthusiastic ways in which many students responded, and keenly aware of the need for empirical studies that explore what happens when preservice teachers are afforded opportunities to grapple with GSD (Greytak & Kosciw, 2014; Payne & Smith, 2012; Szalacha, 2004), we designed a study to document what happened when we enacted that curriculum with a new group that would populate the course the following spring. Initially, we were interested in how students would respond to our integration of GSD-inclusive topics, including heteronormativity and queer-inclusive literacy practices. What we found was that the curriculum put many students into "crisis" (Kumashiro, 2000a, 2000b, 2001,2002a). That is to say, our foregrounding of GSD invited complex emotional responses as students both resisted and engaged with the process of unlearning (Britzman, 1998) commonsense notions (for example, that schools are generally safe), and as they grew in awareness of how teachers-the very professionals they were in the process of learning to become-have been complicit in making schooling unsafe for queer youth. Moreover, we found that the curriculum confronted many students with the partiality of their knowledge (Kumashiro, 2001) and brought uncertainty at a time in their preparation when they expected to learn how to do this thing we call teaching. As Kumashiro (2002a) suggests, emotional crisis is central to anti-oppressive education, and as we will demonstrate, discomfort importantly shaped how some preservice teachers responded to the curriculum-that is, by resisting discomfort altogether. Others, though, were willing to move toward discomfort. In this work, we refer to that coming toward as a deliberate move to lean in (Chödrön, 2009).2 Our findings suggest that by semester's end, participants who desired to lean in to discomfort also positioned themselves to become strong advocates for queer youth.

We situate this research in calls to "strengthen teacher knowledge of LGBT issues" (National Council of Teachers of English, 2007) and expand the research agenda of LGBTQ issues in education generally (Wimberly, 2015) and literacy teacher preparation specifically. There is a growing body of literature on preparing literacy educators to organize learning environments that affirm queer youths' identities (e.g., Blackburn & Clark, 2011; Dodge & Crutcher, 2015; Hermann-Wilmarth, 2010; Kedley, 2015; Schieble, 2012), and this study builds on the contributions of that important work. …

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