I’m in Hartford, CT this weekend for the True Colors conference. There is snow on the ground! The forecast high for tomorrow is 33 degrees – during the day! This Californian is struggling, hard. But I’m glad to be here!
True Colors is “the largest and most comprehensive conference in the country focused on LGBTQ youth issues.” Even though I’m no longer a middle/high school teacher, I’ll always be passionate about queer and trans youth. I’m here to facilitate a community building workshop, as well as to sharpen my youth empowerment skills and knowledge from attending the rest of the conference. On the plane here, I was finalizing a You Need Help response to a non-binary teen, who’s deciding when and how to “come out” while still in high school. Needless to say, I’ve got education and school-age queer and trans folks on my mind.
I taught for about five years, at a few different schools in East Oakland, CA. It was incredible; the kindest, most creative, most inspirational people I’ve ever met in my life have all been former students of mine. Mental illness took me out of the classroom, but I’d love to go back in some capacity someday.
My most meaningful experiences in teaching were the handful of times that students “came out” to me; I’ve always lived by the “be the adult you wish you had as a child” credo and I’m so happy they had a queer adult they could trust to work through that with. But second most meaningful were the handful of times students told me I was their “favorite teacher.”
I didn’t have a favorite teacher when I was in school. I felt like none of them understood me, didn’t teach “why” things worked, just how, which was frustrating, and didn’t ground the material in anything that felt relevant or meaningful to my own life at all. I know this is very much a result of foundationally-embedded issues in public schools, and there’s little individual teachers can do about it. But a few still manage to push things forward. That’s what I tried to do, though I wasn’t always successful.
My favorite teacher today is Carlos Cabana, an 8th grade math teacher in East Oakland. He’s the most genuine, loving, kind, tender, caring, intelligent, creative, and hilarious man I’ve maybe ever met. He’s a math teacher who lectures 0% of the time – instead every single lesson is a group project, wherein students must collaborate creatively in order to solve a meaningful and relevant problem. He explicitly built community in his classroom as well, and it shows: it’s a joyful, empowering, vibrant place. Watch this video if you want to simultaneously thank goddess he exists and curse the fact that every teacher you ever had wasn’t as amazing as him:
When I first met him, I wanted to teach like him, but the more I got to know him the more I wanted to be like him.
Did you ever have a teacher, coach, principal, etc. that you felt genuinely cared about you, and provided you with tools to empower yourself, develop as a person, overcome adversity, build resilience, love yourself, and/or advocate for positive, lasting change in the world? Let’s reminisce in the comments! What did they empower you to do? What felt possible because of their care? How did the time spent in their classroom affect the rest of your life? Maybe your responses will be the push I need to get back into the classroom?
And maybe, if it’s that kind of day, you can also share your least favorite teacher and how they traumatized you, but hopefully we can keep the balance of stories on the positive side – teaching is really, really tough, and we don’t need to bash teachers too much!
Or, you know, I’ll be around, so like, we can chat about queer and trans youth, schools, being an out trans teacher, or you know, whatever! Let’s do this!