DailyAfirmation (dailyafirmation) wrote,

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My first professional collaboration with my sister— the 2007 NC Teaching Fellow Conference...

Clyde arrived at 5:40AM, and we were on the road to Greenville five minutes ahead of schedule. We met Vivian at the McDonald's on 10th street, followed her to her office, where we picked up some audio-visual equipment, and then headed over to the building where we were presenting.

She had a cart with her, we loaded the equipment onto it, proceeded to a little bit of a confusing registration (it was not in the room stated in the presenter materials we had received), and finally got to our room, with just enough time to set up the equipment.

We had a slight crises in that one of the cords (to connect the speakers to the laptop and to the DVD player) was missing. Retracing our steps, I found it in the middle of the sidewalk at a place where we turned a little too sharply and the back wheel of the cart had slipped off the sidewalk onto the grass causing the cart to jump. Evidently the cord had jumped ship at that point. 

We presented the same seminar twice today, once from 8:30–9:45 and again from 10:00–11:15. We had about 23 students in the first session, and I believe we had the maximum number, 25, in the second session. These were all college kids who are in the NC Teaching Fellows Program ("the brightest of the brightest" of future teachers), and beginning their junior year this Fall. Our session was called, "Are you IN or are you OUT?"

Both sessions went very, very well. We had lots of participation from the kids—both in terms of responding to our questions, asking their own questions, and sharing experiences.

The first item on the agenda was "Introductions" and for this, we asked each of them to fill out a pre-printed card we'd prepared asking for their name, their university affiliation (which Teaching Fellow campus they were from), their program area (i.e., their major), "What attracted you to this session?", and finally, "Describe your last really romantic date."

Vivian then asked for some volunteers to share what they'd written about their last romantic date, and I listened, taking notes, for how people did or did not "out themselves" in terms of their sexual orientation while they described their date. These are the notes I took for those who shared in the first session:
  1. Boy: We went out to a movie. We shared popcorn and a drink.
  2. Girl: My boyfriend and I...
  3. Boy: My girlfriend and I went...
  4. Girl: My ex-boyfriend and I...
  5. Girl: I had lunch in the park with my beau.
  6. Vivian: My husband and I...
These are the notes from the second session:
  1. Girl: My boyfriend and I...
  2. Girl: He made me dinner...
  3. Boy: She and I...
  4. Girl: My boyfriend...
  5. Girl: I went go-cart racing and I...
  6. Boy: Walked on the beach after dinner...
We had a discussion about who had "outed" themselves in terms of their sexual orientation (speakers 2-6 in the first group, and speakers 1-4 in the second group) beginning to dispel the myth that your sexual orientation is (only, or even mostly) about sex. It also planted the seed for a later discussion around the power of language and the importance of inclusive language to GLBT people.

This was a nice segue into the second item on our agenda, which was a discussion of my Will & Ned's Excellent Adventure poster. We gave them a couple of minutes to read through it. I watched and listened as a student here giggled, then one there, and then another there, like popcorn slowly coming to fruition in the microwave.

When it looked like most were done reading, I started with this opening to the kids in the first session, "First I'd like to share with you that this is the first time I've actually watched a large group of people read my poster, and I have to say that it was quite rewarding to hear the giggling and seeing the nodding as you were reading—knowing that you really 'got it.' That was very rewarding for me, and I thank you for that."

I then asked, "What are some of your initial reactions to the poster?"

A couple of the responses that stood out to me were:
  • "This is so true. Having come out in high school in my junior year, I can't tell you how I relate to just about everything on it."

  • "I think it is so sad that something as exciting as a 10-year anniversary, and a great celebration around it, has to be down-played and out-right lied about. That's just so sad to me."
I concluded this section of the presentation asking the following questions:
  1. Regarding the yellow path—the in the closet path—what "coping mechanisms" do you recognize the GLBT person using?

  2. The red path—the in the process of coming out, the semi-out, or the situationally out path—is a particularly laborious path. What's so stressful about it?

  3. The green path—the out path—what's so great about it?

Vivian led the next section of our presentation, which was entitled, "Implications for Teachers," and which we'd divided into two sub-sections: "Teacher-Student Interactions" and "Teachers as Employees Interactions."

This is the first time that I've ever collaborated professionally with my sister, and it was a joy to watch her as the quintessential professional and experienced educator as she not only taught, but engaged, the students.

My favorite story of hers was when she was presenting on how coming out is a process, not  a one-time event. We had a bullet in this section that said, "You (i.e., the GLBT person) don't make an announcement."

She said, "It's interesting to me how we're always asking GLBT people—'When did you know you were gay (lesbian, bisexual, transgender)?'

You know, I don't remember a day when I got up in the morning, threw open the sash, and yelled, 'I'm a raging heterosexual!'

It doesn't happen like that—not for straight people or for GLBT people. It's a process of becoming aware of your feelings and who you're attracted to. It's a process of growing up."

Clyde interjected frequently in this part of our presentation, sharing his experiences to date as a "semi-out" Pre-K teacher. It was obvious that his stories were riveting to the kids, and they asked several questions around his stories.  Also, the fact that he is a former Teaching Fellow himself, I think really connected him to these kids.

Two of my favorite "Clyde stories" were:
  • The first he told during our discussion of inclusive language—he noticed that a little girl would, when talking to the teacher Clyde worked with during one of his stints in the classroom as a Fellow, sometimes talk about her mom and sometimes about her mommy. It wasn't until he saw a picture—that the teacher had asked the kids to bring in with their family in it—in which he saw the little girl, her brother, and two women in that it dawned on him that the girl had two mothers—one of whom was "mom" and the other of whom was "mommy."

  • The second one was also about an experience when he was assigned to work with another teacher, and one day that teacher received a letter from a mother of one of their students explaining that she wanted the teacher's advice on whether or not to buy her son a Barbie doll, which he desperately wanted for Christmas. The mother went on to explain that her father (the boy's grandfather) was gay, and that she didn't want to encourage her son in any way "to turn out like him." The teacher ended up responding to her telling her that she would not buy him the doll.

    Clyde felt so strongly about this being the wrong advice that he also wrote to the woman telling her he thought it would be perfectly fine if she bought him a Barbie doll—that it wouldn't contribute to his being, or not being, like his grandfather."

    We talked about this in terms of the kinds of dilemmas that can come up. In telling the story, Clyde made it clear that, in retrospect, he should not have sent that letter behind his supervisor's back; that he should have discussed it with her. He also shared that many years later, he ran into that teacher again, and said to her, "There was one thing that happened when we worked together..."

    She cut him off, saying, "I know what it was. It was about that advice I gave about the doll. I knew you didn't agree with that response, and I've thought about it a lot over the years. And if I had to do it all over again, knowing what I know now, I wouldn't give the same advice." And he told her about the letter he had sent to the mother as well.

    He concluded the story saying, "I tell you this story for two reasons: (1) You shouldn't go behind your supervisor's back when you're working with one, and (2) people do change as they become more educated, so taking the time and energy to educate them is worth it even if it's difficult sometimes."
This story prompted a lot of questions from the kids, many of whom are future GLBT teachers (as more and more of them "outed themselves" during the course of the presentation), about how "out" one should be "on the job." Great stuff that prompted us to be able to say later, when we were "behind" in our presentation, "Oh, we've already talked about that."

The last part of our presentation dealt with how to address some of the issues when they come up. By now, everyone agreed that we do need to address things like hearing the every-popular "That's so gay!" comment, but what we wanted to talk about was how to request a behavior change without sounding judgmental and without putting people on the defensive.

We briefly covered the "RISC" model of responding to culturally inappropriate comments.

Throughout the presentation, we showed pertinent clips from the GLSEN video: I Just Want to Say.

We closed with Maya Angelou's quote: "People will forget what you said... People will forget what you did... But... People will never forget how you made them feel."

Both of our sessions were "rushed" at the end, but for the best possible reason: we had lots of interaction as we went through the presentation. In the second session, at one point, one of the students shared, "I came out as a Lesbian in junior high, and I too, suffered a lot of embarrassment. And now I'm transitioning from female to male, and working through issues as a transgender person."

I loved her delivery; it was very matter-of-fact and non-threatening, which was obvious by a number of questions that ensued about the "mechanics" (if you will) of "becoming a man." We got back on track with the presentation after her brief, educational response about "top surgery" and "bottom surgery."

Not long after that I was making a point about how, in my experience, I have found that the more comfortable the GLBT person is when using language that is essentially outing him- or herself, the more comfortably it tends to be received. If you're all nervous and uptight about saying, "my boyfriend" (if you're a guy), then the person that's hearing it is probably going to be a little antsy, too.

And at that point, I turned to the transgirl and said, "And I'd like to thank you for sharing just now, because I think that you exemplified exactly what I'm saying. The way you just talked about yourself as a transgender person; you came across as very comfortable about it, and I know I felt very comfortable hearing it, and I'm guessing several, if not most, people in here probably surprised themselves with their own reactions. So thank you for that."

After each session, we were shown the results of our evaluations by the students, which were in the format of:

Rating Scale:  5-Strongly Agree   4-Agree   3-Undecided   2-Disagree   1-Strongly Disagree

___  This session provided information I can use in my classroom.
___  Handouts and materials were helpful.
___  The presentation was well organized.
___  The presenter(s) used time effectively.
___  Time allotted for this session was appropriate.
___  I was given the opportunity to ask questions.
___  The presenter answered my questions.
___  The presenter used effective visual aids.

I would recommend the presenter for future TF Conferences.     Yes    No
I would recommend the presenter to my Campus TF Program.   Yes    No

We had lots and lots of 5s, and taking the quick glance that we were offered at the end of each session, we only saw one 1 (in each session) and that was in "Time allotted for this session was appropriate."  As I mentioned, we did rush through the last several slides in each session; however, it was due to the rich discussion that took place throughout the presentation.

During the second session, when I was doing the Will & Ned portion of the presentation, Clyde glanced through the introduction cards from the first session to see some of the responses to the question, "What attracted you to this session?" which we hope to use in the descriptions and marketing of future sessions.  One girl had written, "Because I'm a fag hag." Hysterical.

So, the three of us left there feeling very good about what we'd done, how it had been received, and "making a difference." A couple of kids saw us in the hall as we were leaving and thanked us again.

A couple of those comments:
  • "Thank you for being here. I was so afraid some 80-year old straight lady was going to be teaching this session." (Not that there's anything wrong with 80-year old straight ladies.)

  • "I just can't believe they had a session like this at this conference. It's so neat."

We had a "celebratory lunch" at a Ruby Tuesdays in Greenville, at which Jeff (my sister's husband) joined us briefly. Vivian and I were each served a Bloody Mary at two minutes to noon on a Sunday in North Carolina. Egads!
Tags: accomplishments, advocacy, family, travel, will & ned

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