Elizabeth is a Grade 8 student who has two dads. Elizabeth’s dads made a special point of meeting with her teachers, the school principal and social worker at the beginning of the school year, to make them aware of Elizabeth’s family composition and to ensure that their daughter would be studying in a supportive and sensitive environment. The entire educational team made a commitment to creating an equitable and inclusive atmosphere in the classroom and in the school.
The first week of school was a bit nerve-wracking for Elizabeth, who had recently moved with her family to the community. But Elizabeth’s social skills were very well-developed, and she tended to make friends easily, so she settled in with ease and soon felt quite comfortable. She liked her Homeroom teacher who made a point of ensuring that students had an opportunity to get to know each other during that first week of school.
One day, a student in Elizabeth’s class made a heterosexist comment during a discussion about families in Canadian society. Her comment revealed that she assumed that all families were headed by two opposite-sex parents – a father and a mother. Elizabeth felt uncomfortable, and she could see that her teacher did too. He was clearly determined not to let the student’s comment pass, and he gently probed her comment and invited other students to participate in the discussion. To underscore the message he was trying to communicate, he said to the class, “We can never assume that there is only one kind of family because Canadian society is very diverse. In fact, our own class is representative of that diversity. For example, Elizabeth has two dads, and so I think it’s especially important that we make sure to include everyone when we talk about families.”
Elizabeth felt her face turning beet red. She sank down low in her seat and studiously examined her notebook. Although she was very comfortable with her family’s difference, she was just getting to know the kids in her class and had not yet said anything to reveal any information about her parents to them. She just felt she didn’t know them well enough yet to trust them.
Elizabeth’s teacher was sensitive to the dynamics in his class, and he immediately noticed Elizabeth’s discomfort. During the class, he moved the discussion on and said nothing further about Elizabeth, her family, or the issue of diverse families. However, as Elizabeth was leaving the classroom, he asked her if he could speak to her briefly. She stayed back, and when all the students had left the room they talked about what had happened.
Elizabeth helped her teacher understand why she felt uncomfortable with what had happened. He apologized, and thanked her for helping him learn an important lesson. He assured her that he would never again single her, or any other student, out because of something that was different about them. Elizabeth smiled and thanked him. She left feeling like there was someone she could turn to if she ever had a problem, and who she knew would understand.