Can you believe it’s already almost fall? It feels like summer flew by, mainly because I spent the whole summer working, which was not part of the original plan. Somehow we made it through, and we’re in back-to-school mode.
My kiddo has actually been back in school for a month now, and as much as I love the languid days of summer, I love the routine of fall. There is comfort in the routine of the day. Get up, make his lunch, walk to school, come home and work, pick him up, make dinner, homework, bath, bed. From 7 a.m. until 8 p.m., my day runs like clockwork. After the long summer, I miss fighting with my kid about doing homework (for a little while anyway!) and leaving his lunchbox in his backpack overnight. We both find comfort in not having to fight about clothes because he wears a uniform.
The beginning of a new school year is one of my favorite times of the year. This year, my kid opted not to get a new backpack because he had gotten one not too long before the end of last school year. But of course he had to get a new lunchbox and water bottle. He’s decided that everything had to be Minecraft-themed this year. I love that he knows what he wants, but Minecraft is incredibly popular in elementary school. It turns into a nightmare if something gets lost. We’re lucky because he doesn’t come with a massive supply list, so all I had to buy was some new pencils and erasers. Even though I always buy him boxes of pencils, they all disappear, or the erasers somehow end up detached.
As much as I love a new school year, they can also be stressful. What is his new teacher going to be like? Are there going to be kids in his class he doesn’t know? How do I get my kid to like reading? (I’m not actually looking for suggestions on this one!)
Thankfully, my son is in fourth grade this year and has been at the same school since kindergarten, so I don’t have to worry about some other things queer parents have to deal with at the start of a new school year. All the administrators at his school are the same, so they already know us and our family dynamic. But for parents who are dealing with a new school environment, waiting to see how they will accept your family can be a lot. Hopefully you’ve gotten to meet the administrators, but there’s always the anxiety about individuals at school — teachers, aides, outside contractors — that you have to worry about.
Establishing a good relationship with your child’s school when you’re a queer parent is incredibly important. Just because we’re not there for eight hours a day doesn’t mean our needs and desires as parents aren’t also important. There are many ways you can foster a relationship between you and your child’s school depending on your availability. The biggest thing is just making your presence known. Even if you can’t be at every school meeting, showing up when you can helps. Make a point to introduce yourself to any and all school staff. Tell them about your child, about your family. You don’t have to go all out, but being visible really does make a difference.
Last school year, I had a lot more free time, so I was constantly at my son’s school. I volunteered with the dance program; I went and read to first graders; I chaperoned field trips. At drop-off or pickup, I said hello to everyone, so even if they didn’t know my name, they knew my face. Since I was so involved, I got to be part of the community, which means I got to have more of a hand in things happening — not just at school but also within the school’s broader community. I was asked to be part of a panel to hire the new principal, and because of that I got to be on a call with the CEO of his school community. (My son goes to a public charter school.) These experiences now give me more opportunities to create change in our school community.
During the interview process, his new principal made it clear she was open to parental feedback about how the school can be a better and more inclusive place. I knew I was absolutely going to take her up on that once the new school year started. There are a lot of things I wanted to talk to her about and ideas I have to make the school more inclusive, and I didn’t want to inundate her, but I also wanted to act early enough in the school year that she could still begin making those changes happen by next school year. We actually talked last week, and here are some of the things that I brought up:
- Make school forms more inclusive. When I was filling out my son’s school paperwork, it drove me nuts that everything said “mother” and “father” instead of “parent” or “guardian.” My partner and I are my son’s primary parents, and I hate that she has to be relegated to emergency contact when she’s so much more important than that. I also asked the principal to include pronouns on forms.
- Create more space for queer kids. Before the pandemic, the school had a GSA for the middle school kids, but their programming changed and the GSA went away. I even volunteered to run it as an after school club to make sure the queer kids who need that kind of community have it.
- Be more intentional when teaching lessons about inclusion. I have volunteered in my son’s class to teach lessons on Black History or Pride, but the school should be making sure those kinds of lessons are part of the regular curriculum.
- Make sure each classroom has an inclusive library. The school doesn’t have a central library, but each classroom does. I want to make sure kids at every grade level have access to inclusive, grade-level books. There are organizations that will help with resources if school’s can’t. Pride and Less Prejudice is one that I recently worked with. They provide LGBTQ+ inclusive books for grades K through third. It was also important those books go beyond gender and sexuality to include race and disability as well.
- Teach inclusivity as a matter of fact and not a special lesson. This goes hand in hand with the books. It’s not just enough to have them in the classroom — teachers have to engage with them. But they don’t have to be special lessons, it’s about empowering teachers to pick up a book about a trans kid for read-aloud time and feeling prepared to answer questions that may pop up.
- Make these resources available to other parents and families. It’s great that the kids will learn these lessons, but parents need to be educated on inclusion as well. My son’s school is largely dominated by one ethnicity, which means it’s even more imperative to make sure everyone in the community is being educated.
My son’s principal was super open to everything I suggested and assured me she will make the moves to start enacting changes. I didn’t just give her a laundry list of ideas; I gave her resources to make it happen as well. I also told her I would make myself available to answer any questions or even come in and talk to the staff if needed. Not everyone has the interest or capacity to help educate, but if you do, I encourage you to do so. It’s a really great way to create visibility and to get to know your kid’s school community.
If all of this seems daunting, start small! We usually have a meeting with my son’s teacher at the beginning of the school year to introduce ourselves and explain our family dynamic. I do ask how they plan to be inclusive in their classroom, and most times, they do have a plan in place. Again, I’ll share resources with them to help if they need it. I’ve found that creating this open dialogue really sets the stage for a very successful relationship and school year!
What worries do you have about the beginning of the school year? What are some tips or tricks you may have for other queer parents?
Queer Mom Chronicles is a column where I examine all of the many facets of queer parenthood through my tired mom eyes.