A little while ago I read the third edition of One Teacher in 10; during that review, I lamented how the stories felt somehow “less.” The stories seemed more constructed and less authentic. Like the teachers were intentionally dramatizing their lives to make them more “screen-worthy.” Internally, I remarked to myself, “I bet the second edition, published during the first half of the Bush years, is more interesting thanks to the many struggles that paved the way to today.” And, lo and behold, I was right.
This second edition of One in Ten was published in 2005. And all though it is difficult to believe it has already been 18 years since that date (!), the stories within are timeless.
Much like how in the first edition I read of brave educators pushing the frontiers of identity and activism, so here does the audience see much of the same. Teachers, many of them freshly out of college, struggle first-hand with the hardship of balancing pedagogical idealism with the gritty reality of education in the face of bigotry. Thankfully, many of them overcame the hardships of their personal struggle and became a better person and teacher as a result. As such, I will not spend a lot of time rehashing what I have already talked about twice.
Instead, I want to briefly talk about one aspect of the book that made me think and that is the notion of being closeted. It simply can’t be done. After reading all three editions and listening with rapt intent as teacher after teacher told their story, I realize that even if it is not a big ceremony, Queer teachers can’t stay closeted– closets are for jackets and the fine folks of Narnia.
Teachers don’t have to strive to be the perfect role-models in their students lives; I don’t think it is healthy to believe that you have to take a personal interest in all of your students. Aside from the fact that it may cross a line, it is impossible. That being said, Queer teachers do have a role in actively shaping perception: by prescribing what is and what is not appropriate speech; by existing as an open and complex individual; and countering the many forms of societal ignorance with measured response, teachers have a role, albeit minor, to help youth transition to some sort of fully-functioning adulthood. An adulthood that includes an informed outlook of society imbued with critique of stereotypes.
It sounds like a loaded role but it really is not. At the end of the day, it means creating a safe space for students of all creeds and identities; that is done through simple efforts at respect. Queer teachers have a responsibility to demonstrate first-hand those ways in which respect may be utilized. Here, then, respect is less the warm, liberal version and more the concrete materialistic version of a shared humanity.
It sounds abstract but I suppose what I am getting at is that things won’t get better unless people– Queer teachers– actively make it better. That requires visibility and an effort to work with students at their own level. It requires being able to present one’s self as a purposeful adult that exists beyond the pale cliches of television and film. It means being out.