I finally did it :)

I haven’t blogged for a while as I have been pretty busy but this is something I feel I need to share. I have been a teacher for 5 and a half years. In this time I have taught hundreds of children. I became a teacher to try and make a difference to these pupils, not only educationally but also in their lives outside of school. Take away all of the crap and pressure from the government, I absolutely love my job, more than I thought I would. It gives me the opportunity to affect the education of many children and help them grow into adults. I believe developing positive relationships with them is essential, this allows them to respect you more as a teacher too. There were things I went through in school that I didn’t feel comfortable talking to anyone about, let alone teachers. So I wanted to be approachable and if there were students experiencing similar things as I did, I want them to feel they can talk about them.

Just over a year ago I did my first whole school assembly. I was extremely nervous about it and wanted to make a positive impression to the pupils. Quite often kids switch off in assemblies, I wanted to talk about things that were current and would inspire them. After the assembly I wrote a blog about it; The Assembly Bug. In this assembly, I focused on homophobia and shared the story of my sister and a friend of mine who I played football with. At the time I wanted to share my story but I lacked support of the Head and after contacting Stonewall decided it was a bad idea without it.

We now have a new head (who is an awesome guy). Two weeks ago I had an upper school assembly to year 10 and 11 pupils. I decided once again to try my luck and ask if I could share my personal struggles with coming out in school. I was ecstatic when the head agreed, he gave me full support and I left his office with a huge smile on my face. I have previously blogged about how I was bullied at school but I felt unable to be completely honest. I was worried that if pupils or parents read my blog, my secret would be out and it could affect my job. It seems ridiculous really that someone should feel they can’t be themselves in all walks of their lives because of the opinions of others.

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Theme of the week for my assembly was forgiveness. This was perfect as it fitted with my story. When I was in year 10, I told my ‘best friend’ that I had a girlfriend. She then told everyone my secret. I wasn’t ready for everyone to know and wasn’t mature enough to handle it so made the decision to deny it. In hindsight (powerful thing that), I wish I had just admitted it and been honest. I even lied to my own twin sister to start with. It would have been so much easier. However, I didn’t really know anyone else that was gay and I hadn’t been exposed to it much. It was all new and even though it was only 13 years ago, we have come a long way since then in accepting it into society. I then became ill with glandular fever which I have now linked with me not coping well with all that happened. I didn’t talk to anyone about what I was going through, possibly because I didn’t really understand what was causing it all. I really wish I had had more courage to talk about it to teachers but it is what it is, I can only learn from it and try and help others deal with it in a better way than I did, by sharing my story. The point I wanted to make to the pupils was sometimes forgiveness can set you free. I forgave the girl, myself and let it go so I could move on and accept who I was. They care so much about what other people think of them, when they let go of that, they can lose the fear of being different and just be themselves.

So I shared this story with the pupils. It was an extremely nerve racking experience as I wasn’t sure how they would react. At the end of the assembly I then showed a picture of me and my girlfriend. It was interesting to see their reaction as I didn’t actually say what the secret was when sharing the story. Some of them were shocked, others already had their suspicions.

After the assembly, it was almost like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. I could finally be who I was and more importantly, share my experiences in my teaching. I have taught many PSHE lessons about discrimination, same sex couples, gay marriage or bullying and I just wanted to share my story and opinions but I couldn’t. Now I can and I feel empowered by the experience. The feedback from all the staff and pupils has been really positive. It sparked conversations with pupils telling me how brave I was for sharing it and how they respect me more for being so honest, that it inspired them, I even had a member my tutor group hug me and tell me she was proud. They had been waiting apparently. I have even had a few girls come to me and share their stories and struggles, I think it’s good for them to speak to someone they know has been through it. It is easy for pupils to forget that teachers have been through things too, we are human beings not robots. The worry I had about negativity was unnecessary, so far no one seems to care and I have a feeling it will stay that way. We have come a long way in 13 years, pupils are openly gay and so much more accepting than they ever used to be. But that being said, there is still a long way to go. I just hope that by me coming out, I have taken a positive step towards changing perceptions of gay teachers and I urge and fellow teachers to follow suit and have the courage to share your stories with pupils. They have a lot to learn from you.

I am happy I can finally be myself and be honest when I talk to the pupils. Now I don’t have to worry about them asking me if I’m gay. They already know 🙂

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The Assembly Bug

So, yesterday I did my first ever whole school assembly all on my own. I loved it and now I am hungry for more!! It has been a while since I last blogged and interestingly, my last blog post was based on homophobia after seeing this photo…..

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This is the exact same photo that inspired my assembly. I got given the calendar last year and asked for an upper school assembly slot as I had a sports psychologist in to help. Not only did I get given that upper slot but was also given a whole school assembly on a monday morning. My first thought was ‘what a stitch up.’ However, when I came across this photo I knew I had to try and make a difference to the minds of some young people. At least I had the opportunity to influence or challenge the thinking of the ones that I came into contact with. The theme of the week was inspiration…an ideal theme to try and flip on its head. Anyone that knows me will say that I like to try and do things differently, not because I want to stand out from the crowd, but because I want to make a lasting impression on people. Especially when there is a powerful meaning behind it.

So, off i went and started sharing some of my ideas with colleagues. Not only did I want to touch on homophobia but I also wanted to encourage young people to not discriminate against anyone because they are different. This covered race, religion, disability, appearance, interests and nationality. I decided to create my own video for them to see, I used a friend of mine who is in a lesbian relationship and then a disabled PT from the local gym. Both of these had valuable opinions to offer and the message came across loud and clear. Don’t let others put you down for being different and don’t be afraid to accept that you are not the same as everyone else.

I then used my sister as a more personal example. The pupils really related to me having a personal touch and talking openly about how it affected her. I also used this video. It is a perfect example of how no matter who you are, you should be given the chance to love and be left alone to do so. Everyone should respect other peoples differences, even if they do not believe it is right, why comment and make someone else feel negative about their situation. This video depicts all that my assembly was about. Love has no labels, an excellent campaign. It had a very powerful message and a positive affect on everyone in the hall. If you haven’t seen it…it is a must.

After the assembly, I had numerous teachers and pupils come up to me and say how good it was. That wasn’t why I wanted to do the assembly, I did it for the pupils. Even if I could have a positive affect on only a handful of pupils then I would have been happy. There are often times when assemblies are just a formality, when pupils sit there and switch off. Because of the current issues and the personal touch, it seemed like the whole room actually wanted to listen to what I had to say. As a younger member of staff, I feel they related to me more.

I then opened my emails this morning and it made all of the planning and work that I put into it worth while. One of the pupils thanked me for the assembly, saying she had struggled personally and felt alienated for being gay. Was afraid at how her parents would react, she also mentioned that the LGBT pupils in school all agreed and it had a positive affect on them too. I feel more needs to be included in lessons on same sex relationships to help young people come to terms with it and then in the long run, reduce that figure. If more people start taking steps like I did to highlight the issues, then maybe eventually we can work with other campaigners to educate young people and reduce the amount of discrimination against anyone for being different. No matter what it is.

Gay – Let’s get the meaning straight….

I have been a teacher for the last 4 years and this is a topic I feel passionately about. @Stonewalluk are doing some fantastic work and have been for a number of years. More recently, they have distributed posters to secondary schools to display in classrooms. I think these are great and can be an excellent tool to try and deter pupils from calling each other gay as an insult. Here is an example of one of them.

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The sad thing is, that many people do not question the use of this term. This week has been anti bullying week. I have seen numerous pictures all over Twitter and Facebook. One of these pictures shocked me to my core. It is the picture that has had me thinking all week and inspired this blog.

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It makes me incredibly sad to think that young people would consider taking their own life because they are being bullied for being who they are. I ask myself why? What could we change to discourage this kind of behaviour. Why do people feel the need to bully others just because they are different to them? Let’s be honest, in this day and age it is far more accepted to be gay and Stonewall have done so much to help us get to where we are today. So what can we do moving forward? And more importantly, how?

As a teacher, I believe we can have an influence on this. If young people are educated about this issue at an earlier age, then this could be of help. I think part of the problem is that some parents and grandparents still don’t accept it. I know this is now becoming more of a minority but negative opinions can be passed down. The secondary school that I work in, deliver lessons on diversity during PSHE. This has included race, religion and sexual orientation. Opinions shared with me from the pupils have been positive, with comments such as “who cares if someone is gay” and “gay people should be allowed to get married.” Which has now been made legal. But somewhere along the line there is still an issue.

I was driving home from school this week when Macklemore’s Same Love came on the radio. That’s when I decided that I was definitely going to try and change some of the opinions of people in school. I have an assembly coming up in March and the theme is inspiration. I have decided to focus this on encouraging pupils to be themselves and to accept others if they are different. I am going to try and create a video and include real stories from people that I know. If you would like to be involved and think your story can inspire someone to be themselves then please get in touch.

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I then decided to do some research. One way I believe pupils will be more forthcoming and talk about their problems rather than not dealing with them, is if they have role models. I then found this video. It’s the #proudtoplay campaign. Sports stars who have recently had the courage to be who they are and come out. Tom Daley was an inspiration to many young people when he released his video. What was upsetting was the number of negative comments on social media sites, this is what needs to change. Until they have role models they can fully relate to or even know, then maybe they will not change their opinions or they are too naive to understand.

I then remembered seeing an article on twitter about a teacher that came out to pupils in an assembly in 2010. He had a lot of courage to do that and ended up inspiring a lot of young people in his school. Teachers are in a position to be a role model for all that they teach, so why have we not heard more of these stories. I decided to find out why. I am saddened at what I found out. I came across this article. It outlines that a teacher who came out was bullied and ended up leaving. There was a complete lack of support from the senior leadership team. The main worry is a backlash from parents, and it’s frustrating that people cannot or will not see the bigger picture. I am hoping these barriers will change over the next few years and teachers who can be role models will have the courage to come out, but more importantly, will come out because they know they have the support of the school. Teachers share their private lives and experiences to let pupils know they are human too, and gay teachers have a lot to offer but are afraid to do it. Not because they do not want to but because they are worried about what it will mean for their job. I guess only time will tell……

The important thing is that times are changing. Being gay is more accepted today than it has ever been. If we can try and stop the ‘banter’ that can actually be taken as bullying, then more young people will feel more comfortable being who they are. Perhaps this and giving them role models to speak to about experiences and guidance on how to deal with it might prevent the 21,000 suicide attempts in the next year.

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