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Join AACTE Webinar on Integrating LGBTQIA+ Identities in Teacher Ed Curriculum

Queering the Curriculum: Advocating for and Affirming LGBTQIA+ Identities in the Teacher Education Curriculum in Challenging Times is a webinar intended for faculty and staff who are preparing teacher education students to work with all students, with a special emphasis on important curricular considerations for LGBTQIA+ candidates, cooperating teachers, and K-12 students and families. Join nationally recognized experts as they discuss how recent legislation that targets LGBTQIA+ identities has the potential to shape teacher education and how teacher educators can respond via curriculum and instructional decision-making.

I started teaching high school in 2001 at a large public high school in New York City, highly regarded for its theater and arts programs. Two-thirds of the students identified as female and one-third identified as male; several students were openly gay. It was a rare and different environment for the time; though there was growing recognition and acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community we were not yet at a moment where, when surveyed, 20% of the generation that I taught identified as LGBTQ+.

Teaching in New York City, and this particular school, allowed me opportunities to integrate LGBTQ+ history in ways that I might not have felt safe doing in other schools. Early in my career, I saw the way students’ faces lit up when they felt represented in the curriculum. Conversely, I also learned how to address and navigate homophobic comments that students made in class, often based on preconceived ideas they learned outside of school. Neither my colleagues nor the administration weighed in on what I should or shouldn’t teach. It seemed right and accurate to me to teach LGBTQ+ history, so I did. It was only later, as a doctoral student, that I started to understand the level of support necessary to effectively and meaningfully bring this history into our classrooms.

My dissertation focused on legislative, organizational, and pedagogical efforts to integrate LGBTQ+ history into high school United States history classes. After months of conversation with my advisor where I stated and restated that I wanted to write about something that students would care about and that would help young people better navigate the world in which they live, he handed me six books on various topics in LGBTQ+ history, told me to read them and get back to him, and, in doing so, reminded me how rarely taught this history is and how much I didn’t know. Overnight, I had a dissertation topic and more direction than I felt like I had a day earlier. Little did I know, in December 2013, that I also had a career path.

Three chapters of my dissertation were based on oral history interviews with teachers from different parts of the country, all of whom included LGBTQ+ history in their classes throughout the year. I struggled to find teachers to interview. There were not many teachers who brought LGBTQ+ history into their classrooms and some who did were too nervous to go on the record and talk to me about it. I ultimately interviewed 13 teachers, all of whom had their reasons for believing that LGBTQ+-inclusive history classes were essential for students. One of the greatest commonalities among this group, and something that I’ve heard countless times over the course of the last decade, was the assertion that teaching LGBTQ+ history would be much more accessible for teachers if it was part of their teacher education programs. It is difficult to teach what we don’t know, especially topics that might also require navigating challenging conversations. Preparing teachers to do this work with their students, then, could be a game changer for future generations who want to teach LGBTQ+ history and need to feel properly equipped to do so.

As a professor of social studies education at NYU I make conscious efforts to include LGBTQ+ history in the classes I teach. In my global history class we talk about gender and sexuality in ancient cultures and societies as well as more modern topics, like legislation and actions that uplift and discriminate against people who identify as LGBTQ+ in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. In my Master’s seminar, we discuss the impact of teachers’ and students’ identities on the way that we teach and learn history, focusing on the need for representation and equity in our classes. As a social studies content mentor in our residency program, we regularly have conversations about efforts to promote and/or restrict teaching LGBTQ+ history, the myriad reasons why we need to teach this history, and strategies for integration in different contexts. The majority of my students, like most of the teachers I meet and work with at conferences and professional development sessions each year, never learned this history. They can speak to what they see happening around them, but their knowledge of the past is limited. Deepening their awareness through their coursework provides them with the foundation to meet all of their students’ needs.

When I speak to teachers about teaching LGBTQ+ history they tell me that they’re motivated to include this history in their curriculum because students ask about it and want to learn it. In an age of book bans, “Don’t Say Gay/Trans” laws, prohibitions on transgender girls participating in interscholastic sports, and censoring curriculum for political gain, students are more aware of what they aren’t learning and teachers, though frightened, have a better sense of what they have long omitted from their lessons. Against this backdrop, then, it is imperative that we center LGBTQ+ identities in teacher education and build emerging teachers’ skills and confidence to do the same with their students.

Stacie Brensilver Berman is a visiting assistant professor in the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development at New York University and works extensively with high school teachers on developing curriculum and navigating the challenges in introducing controversial issues in classrooms.

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