The issue of how LGBTIQ awareness and sensitivity should be approached in classroom teaching remains controversial and one way to address the issue is through pre-service teacher (PST) education.
Attitudes and the ability to teach LGBTIQ student are formed through the way PSTs’ past experiences influence their understanding of LGBTIQ content and their willingness to transform their developing teaching practice.
According to Dr Megan Adams of Monash University, many barriers are present in Initial Teacher Education (ITE) courses and when PSTs enter schools during placement experiences.
“The political and power structures of universities position gender and sexual diversity as controversial topics in teacher education,” she says.
A study by Dr Adams, Dr Louise Jenkins and researcher Blake Cutler, also of Monash University, surveyed Master of Teaching pre-service teachers about their emotional experience as they prepared to work in classrooms with LGBTIQ students.
The researchers aimed to understand how PSTs’ feelings of comfort are influenced by their emotional experience when preparing to work with LGBTIQ students.
Project researcher Blake Cutler noted the importance of these findings in developing future pre-service teacher education, “Many LGBTIQ students face discrimination and homophobia at school, which can negatively impact their wellbeing and academic performance. Education faculties are uniquely placed to provide initial support and foster pre-service teachers’ understanding so that they can make positive changes in their future classrooms”.
Study participants were PSTs enrolled in an Inclusive Education unit during their final semester of a Master of Teaching course at an Australian university. They were asked 1) About their perspectives in relation to their feelings of comfort when working with LGBTIQ students as they enter the teaching profession and 2) How they discussed their emotional experience in relation to working with LGBTIQ students.
Often LGBTIQ issues are not discussed in sufficient detail in ITE courses, so the unit syllabus was designed to facilitate greater dialogue about LGBTIQ inclusive practices. In tutorials, the participants discussed a number of scenarios around LGBTIQ-inclusion with a practicing teacher who is an LGBTIQ ally in their school.
The scenarios included: language use and associated pronouns, supporting students through gender transitions or coming out, and environmental issues such as catering for students beyond male/female bathroom facilities.
The PSTs’ previous experiences with LGBTIQ people in familial and social settings featured in their comments regarding broader emotional experiences about teaching LGBTIQ students. For example, one said, "Having a lot of LGBTIQ friends meant having an emotional understanding of LGBTIQ people and issues that brought about ‘strong feelings of comfort.’”
Dr Jenkins notes, “The desire to be an LGBTIQ-inclusive teacher is not without its challenges. Employing gender-inclusive language, working within particular religious settings and having the appropriate knowledge were all identified as potentially problematic by some participants”.
There are calls for teacher educators to include LGBTIQ content in Initial Teacher Education courses as a means to support PSTs’ comfort levels and ensure the representation of LGBTIQ diversity more broadly.
See Cutler, B., Adams, M. and Jenkins, L., 2021. Working towards LGBTIQ-inclusive education: perceptions of pre-service teachers’ comfort and emotional experience. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, pp.1-16.
Image by James Wheeler