• Dr. Amie Weinberg

Our Students; THEIR Pronouns

Mr. Cross, teaching is not about the teachers; it’s not about us. The focus should be and must be on our students and their best interests.

You are not justified to ignore students’ requests for correctly addressing them. Professional educators have an obligation to learn students’ monikers, to correctly pronounce their names, and to honor their gender identity. You cannot project your personal or religious beliefs onto your students.

Byron Tanner Cross is a Loudoun County, Virginia teacher who is dreadfully confused about his role as a professional educator. He is a physical education teacher who refuses to honor students’ gender identity if different than that assigned at birth. His reasoning? “[I]t’s against my religion…it’s lying to a child,…and it’s sinning against our God."

While Cross is entitled to dissent with school board mandates, he distorts teachers’ authority to impose personal or religious beliefs onto others, especially impressionable youths. Instead, educators should connect with and honor each student as a unique individual and endeavor to strengthen their self-esteem. It is beyond teachers’ scope to adjudicate upon students’ personal lives or religious beliefs, or to question their gender identity.

To consider Mr. Cross’s posture, I’ll share two examples from minority religions in Loudoun County, Virginia. Could Jewish teachers prevent students from working, socializing, or participating in sports from sundown on Friday through sundown on Saturday? Could that Jewish teacher honor the Sabbath and extend her beliefs and rituals to her students? And what about Muslim teachers who fast, pray, and reflect during the holy month of Ramadan? Might these educators require students to do the same? These cases clearly illustrate the absurdity of an educator imposing personal beliefs onto learners.

Pre-service educators learn the significance of pronouncing pupils’ names correctly, of using only student-approved nicknames, and of getting to know each learner uniquely. Doing so helps facilitate positive student-teacher relationships that are necessary to progress from surface level learning to deeper understanding (Fisher, Frey, & Hattie in Visible Learning for Literacy, 2016). Teachers understand that students learn best from those who show interest in and treat them with esteem, not from those who disregard their gender identity.

Just as we call Lakeisha “Kisha” and James Michael “Mikey,” educators demonstrate trust and high regard for students by using correct pronouns. Refusal to do so exposes disrespect and egocentricity, which are antitheses to a foundation for learning.