Transgender Teacher? That’s Me


Transgender Teacher? That’s Me

by Sophie E. Gilbert

I heard about One Teacher in Ten in the New Millennium through a Facebook group for transgender professionals.

It was the summer of 2014 and I was fully transitioned in my personal life, with my workplace transition still to come. I wrote my essay “There is Uncertainty, but There is Also Hope” about the concern I had that the rural high school where I worked might reject me for being transgender.

A couple of months later, I revealed my plan to transition to my principal. He seemed somewhat amused at first, but he quickly assured me of his support. Within a few days, the superintendent informed the school board of my plan in closed session, and then he held meetings to create a plan of action. During the week before Thanksgiving. I was to tell teachers and staff in a meeting after school that Monday, with a letter informing parents mailed out the following day. On Friday I was to say a few words to my students in my classes. After Thanksgiving, I would show up to school as my true self.  

I began the week of the big revelation by speaking of the urgency I felt in making this transition as I watched my colleagues’ solemn faces. After the meeting, many came over to offer their support.

By Wednesday, the entire school knew. As the mail came to the homes of my students, parents began texting their kids. My principal said he could see the message spread across the school commons during lunch, one kid getting a text and then telling others, who then told even more. He peeked into my afternoon classes to make sure I was okay. If my students knew, they showed no sign of it.

Since we assumed the students already knew, I felt it was best to have my talk with them on Thursday. The superintendent wanted to wait until every single parent had the letter, but he reluctantly allowed me to move forward. I was to wait until near the end of each class period. The principal would enter and make opening remarks on the subject. Then, I was to tell a greatly abbreviated version of the speech I gave the faculty. Afterwards, the biggest concern that students expressed to me was that I might not be their teacher anymore. I assured them that I would be their teacher at least for the rest of the school year. I kept that promise.

That evening, the principal informed me that a parent had sent the letter to a local news station, which was sending a crew out the next day. Initially I refused to be interviewed or filmed, but I relented when I realized that they were going to out me on television with or without me. I told my story to the entire county on my last day as the gender I was assigned at birth.

When I saw the news story later that evening, I wondered if it had been the district that alerted the media. It was too neat. The piece cast the best possible light on the district’s handling of my transition.

In my first week as a female teacher, parents expressed concerns that I was going to use the girl’s restroom, that the students would be too distracted by my appearance, that I was doing this to indoctrinate my students with liberal views. Two families pulled their children from my class. Both students sat in the office to complete assignments that I sent for them.

Since I was to have no direct contact with either student, I was unable to monitor them and check for understanding. Both students had not turned in work I sent for them. When I submitted final grades for the first semester, the principal pulled me into his office to question me on why the grades of both students dropped after they left my class.

After winter break, the superintendent insisted that he examine all of my students’ papers to satisfy the families of the two students. They were claiming that I was biased against them for taking the students from my class. Of course, they had no problem showing bias against me by pulling those students in the first place. I was pressured about every instructional choice I made after that, until they informed me that they intended to non re-elect me. After it was official that I was not coming back, the administration ignored me for the remainder of the school year.

In the previous year, the same principal expressed how pleased he was with my teaching, and how thankful he was that I signed my letter of intent to return. In my fifteen prior years as a teacher, I never had a bad evaluation. Ever.

After numerous interviews this past summer, I accepted an offer to teach at a continuation school in San Jose. My new students are good kids who have been through many trials in their young lives, and my recent struggle only makes me better able to relate to them. I feel completely accepted on campus. If I had somehow survived at my previous school, I doubt I would have ever felt the acceptance I now feel.

I am a teacher who happens to be transgender, and I will continue to teach for as long as I choose. There will always be uncertainty in life, but now I know that hope can lead me through darkness and help me find the light.

Transgender Teacher? That’s Me

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