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Transgender and Gender-Creative Students in PK–12 Schools: What We Can Learn From Their Teachers


by Elizabeth J. Meyer, Anika Tilland-Stafford & Lee Airton — 2016

Context: A growing body of work reflects the ways in which gender-creative and transgender students are ill-served by current social climates in the vast majority of public schools. Few studies have explored this topic from an educator’s perspective.

Purpose: This study was designed to develop a conception of the barriers and supports that exist for educators working to create learning environments that affirm transgender and gender-creative students.

Participants: Twenty-six Canadian educators who all had direct experience working with gender-creative and transgender students in school settings with an average of 10 years’ experience in schools and mean age of 43. Research Design: This project is a Social Action Research (SAR) project designed to identify what are common challenges and why these challenges are present.

Data Collection and Analysis: Each educator was interviewed for 60–120 minutes using a flexible interview guide and audio recordings were transcribed for analysis. Data analysis was conducted via an ongoing and exploratory design. We also performed a cross-case analysis to compare experiences and perceptions across teachers in elementary and secondary schools as well as alternative and traditional schools.

Findings: We identified barriers and supports experienced by our participants. Barriers included: (1) the pervasiveness of transphobia; (2) high frequency of school transfers; (3) the propensity for gay and lesbian educators to take on an “expert” role; (4) ethnocentrism; (5) relying on a ‘pedagogy of exposure’ and using certain students as ‘sacrificial lambs;’ (6) the overlapping challenges of working with youth who also have behavioral and learning difficulties; and (7) the balancing act required to navigate complex issues with little training and support. Supports identified were: (1) alternative schools as sites of refuge and spaces where transgender and gender-creative students are reportedly thriving; (2) empowered transgender and gender-creative students; (3) vigilant and protective adults; and (4) best practices. Recommendations: In order to address systemic barriers we advocate for an application of principles and best practices aligned with critical, queer, and anti-oppressive pedagogies. We recommend that schools: (1) develop a more student-centered, flexible curriculum; (2) promote interdisciplinary and project-based learning; (3) model and promote creativity; (4) establish restorative justice programs; (5) reduce or entirely remove sex-segregated activities and spaces; (6) integrate discussions of gender diversity as a social justice issue throughout the curriculum.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 118 Number 8, 2016, p. 1-50
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21368, Date Accessed: 10/20/2017 3:19:32 AM

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About the Author
  • Elizabeth Meyer
    University of Colorado, Boulder
    E-mail Author
    ELIZABETH J. MEYER is the Associate Dean of Teacher Education and an Associate Professor of Educational Foundations, Policy & Practice at the School of Education at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She is the author of Gender, Bullying, and Harassment: Strategies to End Sexism and Homophobia in Schools (Teachers College Press, 2009) and Gender and Sexual Diversity in Schools (Springer, 2010). She completed her M.A. at the University of Colorado, Boulder and Ph.D at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Her research has been published in academic journals such as: Gender and Education; Journal of Educational Psychology; McGill Journal of Education; The Clearinghouse; Computers and Education; Technology, Pedagogy and Education; and The Journal of LGBT Youth. She blogs for Psychology Today and is also on Twitter: @lizjmeyer.
  • Anika Tilland-Stafford
    Simon Fraser University
    E-mail Author
    ANIKA TILLAND-STAFFORD's research focuses on children and gender justice and spans sociological and historical methods. She is the author of, Is it Still a Boy? Heteronormativity in Kindergarten (2016) and co-editor of the forthcoming anthology, Constructions of Risk: the Production of “At Risk” Bodies and Populations in Health, Education, and Community Services (2015). Her article “Departing Shame: Feinberg and Queer/Transgender Counter-cultural Remembering,” published with the Journal of Gender Studies, was selected as one of the top ten contributions to the journal’s history. She completed her PhD with the Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality, and Social Justice at the University of British Columbia. She is currently affiliated with the Department of History at Simon Fraser University as a SSHRC postdoctoral researcher on crossovers between children’s welfare, recreational programming, and psychiatrization of mother’s sexualities in Cold War Vancouver.
  • Lee Airton
    University of Toronto
    E-mail Author
    LEE AIRTON is an instructor and visiting scholar at the Centre for Urban Schooling at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto. They received their Ph.D. in 2014 from York University in Toronto, Canada, and their dissertation used affect and assemblage theories to propose a new model of theory-to-practice connection for social justice teacher education. Dr. Airton's additional publications on gender and sexual diversity issues in education have appeared in Sex Education and Curriculum Inquiry.
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