This section covers options you have to start supporting trans students in your classroom. There’s a focus on steps you can take no matter your discipline without undertaking a significant redesign of your course. In this section, you’ll find an overview of practices you can implement early on in the semester as you establish rapport with your students, some general practices you can embrace throughout the semester, and recommendations for how you can proceed if you or someone else in the class misgenders someone.
Supporting Students on the First Day or in the Syllabus
The contact we have with our students on the first day and in the syllabus can set the tone for the rest of the semester. Here are some options for how you might create a more inclusive environment for trans students right from the start.
- If you ask students to introduce themselves to their classmates on the first day, you can encourage students to share their pronouns along with their names. To avoid putting pressure on students to come out, you can ask “what are the pronouns you’d like to use in this class?” or make it clear that sharing pronouns is optional.
- If you typically read students’ names off a roster for attendance, consider calling out last names and allowing the students to provide their first names on the first day. (This eliminates the need for a student to provide a correction, which can be a source of anxiety for those who are not currently able to change their legal name.)
- If you usually have your students make name cards for their desks to be used during the first few weeks (to help you and other students to refer to them by name), let them know they can write their pronouns along with their names. You can model this and signal your support by providing a name card for yourself with your pronouns.
- At the start of the semester, give a survey (on Google Forms or by passing around blank notecards in class) where you ask students to fill out a notecard with their name, pronouns, and any other information they’d like you to have.
- Before the first day of class, email your students asking them to provide their pronouns and/or chosen names. (Use the phrase “chosen name” instead of “preferred name” to avoid trivializing how important it is to correctly gender people.)
- If possible, take a minute to explain why you’re inviting students to share their pronouns. This can provide helpful context for students who are unfamiliar with the process, and signal your support for transgender students in your class. If you’re looking for some inspiration for your explanation, My Pronouns might be a useful resource.
- In your syllabus, use language that signals an inclusive space for transgender and other LGBTQ students. For example, in a section that spells out expectations for participation, you might specify that students should be conscious about referring to each other by the correct names and pronouns. You might also let students know that they should feel free to email you if their pronouns and/or name changes in the middle of the semester. See sample LGBTQ+ and non-sexist language syllabus statements for inspiration.
Generally Supportive Pedagogical Practices
Beyond the first impression, there are a number of steps you can continue to take to signal your support for trans students.
- Consider putting your pronouns in your email signature or on your office door; this can help to communicate to your students that your classroom is a safe space. You can also add your pronouns on Canvas, Zoom, or Perusall (click on your name and “edit profile”).
- If you teach a large class and aren’t able to learn all your students’ names, but want to call on them without making an assumption about gender, you can say “the person in the blue shirt in the back row” instead of “the woman in the back row.” Alternatively, you can ask students to remind you of their name when you call on them.
- When speaking to the class, avoid using terms that presume a gender binary; you might replace “he or she” with “they,” “mankind” with “humankind,” or “freshman” with “first-years.”
- Avoid dividing students up by gender for class activities unless there’s a clear pedagogical reason to do so. In those cases, give students a heads up ahead of time about how and why you’ll be doing it, so that they can make a plan for how they want to engage and/or let you know if they have any questions or concerns.
- Include LGBTQ topics and scholars in the curriculum. See Vanderbilt’s resource on “Teaching Beyond the Gender Binary” for a review of some common pitfalls to avoid when diversifying your curriculum.
- If students are struggling with using the singular “they” correctly in their writing, direct them to a resource such as the Indiana University Libraries’ Style Guide for Gender-Inclusive Writing.
What to Do if You Make a Mistake
It is likely that you or someone else in your course may misgender someone at some point. While such mistakes are unfortunate, it is possible to apologize, correct yourself, and continue with the conversation. This section provides some sample language that you can adapt.
- If you misgender a student or use the wrong name, correct your mistake quickly—i.e. “I’m sorry, I meant to say ‘they’”—and move on. Try not to draw too much attention to the situation, as it may make the student feel uncomfortable.
- If one of your students misgenders a classmate, you can also correct them quickly; i.e. “actually, Katie uses ‘they’ pronouns.”
- Don’t worry about explaining why you made a mistake – the student will probably be very familiar with this, and understand it was an accident. By making an efficient correction, you can model for your students that they can quickly learn and correct a mistake.
When you do make a mistake, it is often a sign that you might benefit from practicing using the correct pronouns. In private, you might spend some time using the person’s correct name and pronouns in a sentence. If you find yourself stumbling over using “they” as a singular pronoun, you might also want to practice using it in your daily life when you don’t know the gender of a person you’re talking about (e.g. “The delivery person already dropped off my package. It looks like they placed it outside the garage door.”).