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Safe and Productive Field Experiences for LGBTQ+ Candidates Covered in Upcoming AACTE Webinar

Growing up in a small, conservative community, I learned early on to keep my true self hidden. My sexuality was a secret I guarded fiercely, aware that in the close-knit circles of my hometown, it wouldn’t be accepted. This knowledge cast a shadow over my youth, but it also ignited a flame within me — a determination to find a path that led beyond the confines of narrow-mindedness. Education was my beacon, my compass guiding me through the fog of fear and judgment.

I clung to the belief that if I could excel in school, make it to college, and become a teacher, I could escape the suffocating atmosphere of my hometown. This goal was my lifeline, pulling me forward through years of silent struggle. And eventually, I made it. I was accepted into a teacher education program, a tangible step toward the life I yearned for — one where I could be true to myself without fear.

But the journey was far from straightforward. In one of my final field experience placements I was assigned a cooperating teacher, Mrs. H, who was known for her expertise in classroom management and innovative teaching methods but who, I soon discovered, harbored strong negative opinions about the LGBTQ community. She often made dismissive comments, cloaked in humor but cutting deep, about “people choosing to be gay.” 

If students would talk about their sexuality, and if it did not align with her opinion of heteronormativity, she would immediately dismiss the conversation and tell students that it was “not appropriate to talk about things like that in school.”  Even though it went against everything I stood for, I stayed quiet, convincing myself that my personal life had no place in my professional setting.

Hoping for support, I turned to my college faculty, explaining the situation and how it conflicted with my personal identity. To my dismay, their response was a stark reminder of the reality I faced: professionalism was paramount, and I was advised to align with the values of the school. “If they don’t agree with the LGBTQ community, then you should keep your personal life private,” they said.

This response from my college faculty, though disheartening, became a catalyst for my professional journey. It illuminated the harsh reality that the path to inclusivity and acceptance in education is fraught with challenges, but it also reinforced my determination to be part of the change.

Now, years later, I serve in a role that allows me to directly impact the next generation of educators: I coordinate and support student teachers. This position is more than a job to me; it’s a platform to advocate for the values I once desperately needed support for. My experiences as a student teacher, grappling with my identity in a non-supportive environment, have profoundly shaped my approach in this role.

In my work, I emphasize the importance of creating inclusive and accepting educational spaces. I encourage student teachers to embrace diversity, not just in their teaching materials and methods, but in their understanding and acceptance of different identities. I share my story, not just as a cautionary tale, but as a testament to the resilience and importance of staying true to oneself, even in the face of adversity.

I also advocate for policies and practices that support diversity and inclusivity within educational institutions. Drawing from my own experiences, I work to ensure that student teachers feel safe and supported, regardless of their background or identity. I want them to know that they are not alone and that their personal experiences and identities are strengths, not liabilities.

In every interaction with aspiring educators, I aim to instill a sense of responsibility and compassion. I believe that as educators, our role extends beyond imparting academic knowledge; it’s about nurturing an environment of understanding, respect, and acceptance. By doing so, we can help shape a future where every student, regardless of their identity, feels valued and empowered.

My journey from a fearful student teacher in a conservative setting to a proud LGBTQ advocate and mentor has been transformative. It taught me the power of resilience, the importance of advocacy, and the impact of empathy. As I continue in my career, I carry these lessons with me, committed to fostering a new era of inclusive education, where every student and teacher can be their authentic selves without fear.

Join AACTE for More than Just “Cool with it” Webinar on December 4

In a moment where state legislatures across the country are enacting laws designed to silence and render invisible LGBTQIA+ K-12 students and families, how can we ensure that our LGBTQIA+ teacher education candidates are entering field experiences that are safe and affirm their identities?

We need teachers who are more than just “cool with it” to be working as mentors and advocates for our students.  We hope you can register and join AACTE on December 4 for an upcoming webinar: More than Just “Cool with it:” Navigating Safe and Productive Field Experiences for LGBTQIA+ Students 

This is the first of two webinars from AACTE’s Topical Action Group (TAG) on LGBTQ Advocacy and Inclusion in Teacher Education. The TAG has invited several panelists, one of whom is Sara Reichenberger, a Field Experience Coordinator at the University of Kansas, who will share the importance of equipping ed prep program faculty and staff with skills for mentorship and advocacy.

Sara Reichenberger
Field Experience Coordinator
University of Kansas

Reichenberger is a seasoned educator, administrator, and staunch advocate for inclusive education. Holding dual master’s degrees in curriculum and instruction, and educational leadership from respected institutions, Reichenberger is currently a doctoral candidate in higher education administration. With a rich background spanning over twelve years in K-12 settings, she has worn multiple hats — from being a teacher and instructional coach to an administrator. In her current role as field experience coordinator at the University of Kansas, Reichenberger melds her profound expertise from the classroom with her commitment to safe and inclusive learning environments. Her research focus notably explores the experiences of LGBTQ+ women leaders in higher education, a testament to her dedication to promoting diverse voices in educational leadership. 

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