The importance of role modelling

It had taken me almost an hour to drive to the school. During that time I had thought about everything that could go wrong. “What are the children going to say when they see me? Are they going to laugh? Am I going to be ridiculed? What about the staff? What are their reactions going to be? Perhaps I will be escorted off site?”

I was spiralling. I considered ringing the school, stating I was ‘unwell’ and then heading home to cocoon myself away from the imagined baying mob. That was the easier option.

I was angry with myself for agreeing to do this in the first place. I was scared. Petrified to be more precise. I questioned myself on whether I could still ‘teach’ –  after all it had been a good few years since I had taught so many lessons in one day. I suspect most modern headteachers spend very little time in the classroom because of the enormity of the role. Well that was my experience (and excuse).

The cause of my anxiety was not that of being a former head back in the classroom but by the fact I am trans. And being trans in Britain can be awful. And as a trans teacher the situation is made even worse knowing that a fifth of the British public don’t even think I should be employed as a primary teacher. Good job I was heading to a secondary school then.

Somehow, I managed not to turn the car around, arriving at the school in good time. Despite the staff room poster telling people to get over me I still wanted to follow my instincts and flee. Instead, I took a deep breath and went into ‘fight mode’ – not literally but more of a focused determination. I’m not quite sure how (probably the fact I like a challenge) but I stepped into a classroom to teach as Claire for the first time ever. I turned the dial to teacher setting and went for it. The absent years were forgotten. It was as though I had never been away and the pupils certainly played their part. We interacted and discussed. We reflected and analysed. More importantly we treated each other with dignity and respect. The labels were there, recognised and considered but the one that ultimately mattered was the label that said ‘human being’ –  the one label that connects us all.

At the end of each lesson I was thanked. Some pupils shook my hand and others high-fived me on the way out. It was not what I was expecting. The feedback from the pupils was very revealing too. One pupil said: “You inspired me to be who I want to be and that people different from me are the ‘same’…they are still human.” Another pupil added, “The use of a personal story was really powerful, emotional and inspiring and helped me understand how to be a more compassionate person towards others.” There were many positive messages but the one that will always stay with me was a pupil who said they will ‘remember me forever’. It revealed just how important teachers are as role model and the lasting effect we can have.

For many pupils I was probably the first openly trans person they had met. I wasn’t abstract. I was real. Through my visibility, openness and honesty they realised I was just like them. I certainly wasn’t someone to fear or exclude.

As I headed home it felt good to be back in the classroom again. I was back where I belong, doing what I think is right – being a positive trans teacher role model who makes that all important positive difference for young people. Especially if they just happen to be trans.

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