Faculty currently doesn’t offer specific courses for inclusion, sexual orientation, or gender identity
UVic’s campus is usually empty on a Saturday afternoon, which made the sound of Hayley Kiyoko’s “Curious” echoing through the hallways of the MacLaurin building seem much more out of place.
But it wasn’t the most interesting thing coming from MAC D114 on Feb. 24, as 30 education students took two and a half hours from their weekend to attend a workshop on a subject that they say is missing from the education curriculum at UVic.
With a broad and infectious smile, third-year education student Kelly Vernon welcomed each of his peers to the workshop, titled “Queer in the Classroom.” When the classroom had filled up, Vernon took his place in front of the Pride flag pinned to the chalkboard to discuss the issue of inclusivity in school classrooms.
After giving a territory acknowledgment, Vernon made sure to state that he wasn’t an expert on the topics he was about to discuss. But after he had realized that UVic didn’t offer any classes that cover sexual orientation or gender identity for educators, he felt like it was his responsibility to take on.
“Ever since my gender studies class in first year where my world view was flipped on its head, I have said that these topics should be mandatory,” Vernon told me after the workshop. “Teachers especially should be educated on this topic because in the end it’s all about inclusion, keeping students safe, and creating citizens that are respectful of differences.”
UVic is not the only university that lacks training for its teachers when it comes to supporting LGBTQ2+ and non-binary students and discussing the topics of sexual orientation and gender identity — otherwise known as SOGI education.
“74 per cent of new [K-12] educators (in their first 5 years) reported that they had not received any formal instruction in their B. Ed. program on whether to address LGBTQ2+ issues,” Vernon noted. “The lack of information is not just at UVic, but is an issue throughout Canada.”
So what’s the impact of these findings?
“Having teachers that are uninformed or uncomfortable dealing with SOGI education actually ends up leaving their students with not only a lack of information but also the idea that it isn’t really that important or is somewhat taboo,” Vernon said.
And considering that 70 per cent of students in Canada— LGBTQ2+ or not — reported hearing homophobic expressions every day in school, it’s clear that there is a need for the next generation of teachers to be comfortable with addressing SOGI issues in the classroom.
“I think UVic absolutely has a responsibility to promote an inclusive classroom environment in its education program” said Carly Jederman, a third-year elementary education student at UVic. “Any topic that directly relates to future students and their wellness and safety, which I think includes these topics, should be a top priority in teacher education.”
When reached for comment, Kerry Robertson, Manager of Teacher Education in UVic’s Faculty of Education, said that the faculty are mandated to discuss issues of anti-bullying, equity, and gender expression, and do so in a number of classes.
“They appear in different courses as topics within the courses,” she said, “but there is not a particular course that would be called ‘gender expression’ for example.”
“It should not be students’ responsibility to educate other students.”
Over the course of the afternoon, Vernon debunked myths, gave book recommendations, showed videos, and led group activities, all with the aim of providing students with the tools to create inclusive and safe classrooms for all students.
“I do feel more informed after this workshop,” Jederman said. “I think opportunities to attend workshops like this not only give resources and information to help us as teachers help future students, but also help to develop empathy towards situations that not everyone has had first-hand experience dealing with.”
The workshop was also attended by Dr. Georgia Sitara, a professor in UVic’s Gender Studies department. Her presence and ongoing support of Vernon’s endeavours means that the workshop could count as a co-curricular credit on students’ transcripts.
And while Sitara was happy to help Vernon, she made it clear that UVic could be doing more for SOGI education.
“I was a bit surprised to hear that students who are training to be teachers are not provided with information or a rigorous toolkit to ensure that their future classrooms will be safe, inclusive spaces,” Sitara said.
Continued the professor, “It should not be students’ responsibility to educate other students.”
“I am happy to present my workshop each year for the students in my program. However the university should be addressing this directly,” Vernon agreed. “If incorporating a SOGI class into the curriculum is not an immediate option, then setting up mandatory workshops not run by volunteers should be a high priority.”
“We’re just actually undergoing a program review, so it’s those kinds of things that we want to hear about,” said UVic’s Robertson when asked about a potential curriculum change. “Having students identify which things in their experience they feel have been well-covered and which they would like to see more of — that’s awesome.
“If students are coming up with things that they would like to see more of, then that only really helps us.”
The workshop finished on an optimistic note, as Vernon gave students potential scenarios and encouraged them to take their thinking beyond the classroom.
“I think as future teachers, one of the most important things we can do is to model the behaviours we wish to see in our students,” Jederman said. “By modelling that it is okay to be yourself and express how you feel, and model how to treat others, we are creating a school culture that is accepting of everyone and open for students to be themselves.”
For more information and resources on LGBTQ2+ training for educators, Vernon encourages people to visit www.sogieducation.org.
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