Queer trans teacher who goes above and beyond to ensure everyone is included named teacher of the year

Owen Bondono, who teaches ninth grade at Detroit's Oak Park High School

A queer transgender teacher who puts inclusion at the core of his lessons has been named Michigan‘s teacher of the year.

Owen Bondono, who teaches ninth grade at Detroit’s Oak Park High School and serves as faculty adviser for the school’s Queer-Straight Alliance, has been recognised for his passion for helping students.

In his application to the contest, the teacher wrote: “Every teacher has their own purpose, and once you find it, let it be a guiding light for every decision you make in your classroom.

“Ultimately, teaching is an expression of my love of humanity. My way of making my mark on the world is making the next generation better. I know that growing the next generation of humanity is a community effort, so I will create that community wherever I find it.

“If we could provide every student with a classroom where they feel safe and seen, we would see learning increase by any metric.”

Trans queer teacher Owen Bondono, who teaches ninth grade at Detroit's Oak Park High School

Owen Bondono, who teaches ninth grade at Detroit’s Oak Park High School (Fox 2/screengrab)

In a release, governor Gretchen Whitmer praised Bondono for the extra work he has put in during the COVID-19 pandemic.

She said: “Owen is a shining example of the teachers who have stepped up and found creative ways to reach and educate our students.

“I’m proud to know that whether we’re in the midst of a global pandemic or not, there are teachers across the state who will go to the ends of the earth to ensure our kids get a great education.”

LGBT+ kids need to know their future is possible, teacher says.

Speaking to Fox 2 Detroit, Bondono said: “My goal is to always make sure students whether they are marginalised because of their race, their ethnicity, their gender identity or their sexual orientation, that they feel safe in school.

“I know from a personal standpoint how vulnerable you feel when you’re not safe and how when you feel that vulnerable everything else takes a back seat.”

Speaking about the importance of inclusion in schools, he said: “I want educators to see that it’s urgently necessary that we support these students. I want students to see that they are supported and loved and that their future is possible. I want parents of LGBTQ students to see that their children have a future.

“[Students should know,] no matter what you may be going through and what you may be feeling, there is a whole community of people that exist in this world who will love you and if you don’t feel loved right now we already love you.”

Bondono believes he is the first trans teacher to win the state plaudit — and is now in the running to be named national teacher of the year.

Oak Park superintendent Jamii Hitchcock told the outlet: “I can say without a doubt that Owen has dedicated himself. He doesn’t just talk the talk he walks the walk every single day to ensure that equity and justice is served.

“Every time he walks into the classroom it has an impact on the students he teaches.”