Making It Better for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Students through Teacher Education: A Collaborative Self-Study
Source: Studying Teacher Education, Vol. 8, No. 3, November 2012, 209–225
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
In this self-study, two educators – a university professor and a classroom teacher, who facilitated a workshop titled “Sexual Diversity in Secondary Schools” in a faculty of education in a mid-sized Ontario city – reflect on the feedback provided by teacher candidates on workshop evaluation forms in relation to their experiences as teacher educators delivering the workshops.
The authors studied their LGBT workshop delivery to improve their future practice. They engaged in a self-study of teacher education practices because this is an inquiry approach that encourages teacher educators to focus on their teaching practices while engaging in scholarly endeavors.
The authors conducted a survey to 134 teacher candidates, who participated in their workshop, and asked them for a feedback on the workshop.
The authors identified four tensions that arise from teacher educators’ efforts to match their pedagogical purpose with the learning needs of teacher candidates.
In particular, the authors consider (1) their commitment to this work; (2) why they taught the way they did; (3) the impact their approach had on teacher candidates in the workshops; and (4) what the study revealed about their teacher education practices.
(1) Commitment to this work
Among teacher educators, there is usually a desire to share their knowledge of a topic with teacher candidates. This desire exists in tension with a recognition that they need to learn for themselves and internalize understanding.
The authors experienced this tension between telling and growing as presenters.
On the one hand, the topic was so vast that they could not “cover” it in a mere two hours.
On the other hand, they worried that their commitment to the topic might blind them to the learning needs of teacher candidates.
Reflecting on their experiences through the lens of self-study helped the authors to understand themselves and their motivations. They realized that their personal experiences led them to engage in the political act of addressing an important social issue. At the same time, their focus on the identity formation motivated them to engage teacher candidates at a personal and professional level, not a political one.
(2) Why they taught the way they did
The authors examine the philosophical assumptions underlying their pedagogy in the workshops. They also explore how their experiences with equity work and their understanding of the literature on the effectiveness of equity courses and workshops guided our actions. Their respect for teacher candidates as learners prompted them to invite their feedback so that they can adjust their future practice to better connect with their personal and professional identities.
(3) The impact their approach had on teacher candidates in the workshops
While interested in challenging teacher candidates with new ideas and perspectives, the authors were always mindful of teacher candidates’ need to feel safe.
The findings of the survey reveal that the general tone of comments overall, along with responses to the question on comfort levels, indicates that most teacher candidates were comfortable with the topic and with the workshop delivery. The vast majority were also comfortable with the topic.
Only six indicated any level of discomfort with the topic, with none expressing discomfort with the workshop delivery.
(4) What the study revealed about their teacher education practices
Another tension the authors experienced was between confidence and uncertainty.
Through the components of the presentation, the authors sought to instill confidence in teacher candidates so that they can address LGBT issues and confront homophobia. At the same time, they sought to convey the sensitivity and complexity of the issues. Teachers engaged in this work need to understand the school landscape, including policies and procedures related to discipline and curriculum.
More than 40% of teacher candidates identified ways in which they can create more positive spaces in their classrooms. This included comments about the importance of creating safe classroom environments to addressing bullying in the hallways to explicitly addressing LGBT issues in the curriculum.
The authors conclude that the two-hour Sexual Diversity in Secondary Schools workshop that they presented in a Bachelor of Education program is one example of how LGBT issues might be taught to teacher candidates. Through this self-study, they came to better understand their students and ourselves. They discovered that teacher candidates are increasingly receptive to discussion of LGBT issues, particularly when portrayed in a manner that is respectful and open. Such presentations, they suggest, should build basic knowledge, examine implications for safety and school climate, and consider how they as teachers can address these issues in both modest and significant ways in the classroom and in the school.
Teacher educators need access to resources to support this work, which might include curricular resources and guest speakers. By addressing LGBT issues with teacher candidates, teacher educators can contribute to making schools a safe and supportive space for all students.
The process of studying their practice during this workshop led the authors to better understand how they navigate the tensions at the core of teacher education.