Teacher explains how supporting trans students in schools can be life-changing

As the government prepares to release new guidance for schools on trans students, a secondary school teacher explains how his experiences have taught him the power of accepting and affirming pupils without fuss.

After a few weeks at my first school, I noticed a number of staff and students fumble over the name and pronouns of a student in one of my exam groups. I had no idea why. 

A quick glance over the student’s database notes indicated that they had transitioned over the summer holidays, and some people were struggling to keep up. 

It was interesting, I thought, that I had always known this student as a male and the idea that others were accidentally deadnaming and misgendering him seemed absurd. This student was a teenage boy, in every sense of the word, and it was obvious to everyone who met him.

I wondered whether I was seeing some genuine mistakes in an attempt to break a habit, or whether they were micro-aggressions. 

As the student progressed through his final years at that school, I continued to teach him and saw acceptance happen quickly. It was reassuring for me to see that his name and pronouns were changed on systems, and both staff and students seemed to recognise that this was a student who was now fully himself. 

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In contrast, he was still known by his previous name and gender at home. His parents acknowledged that they had a transgender child, and were aware that he had socially transitioned at school, but said they were not ready to use his correct name or pronouns.

This made communication with them tricky to navigate, and I questioned the impact it had on the student having to return to an unwelcoming household at the end of each day.

The next academic year, I noticed a student with increasing levels of behavioural problems displaying a male name on their pencil case, and one of the letters coloured in pink and blue, the colours of the trans Pride flag. While having a conversation about their progress in my lesson, we discussed the name they had written and they disclosed that they were trans, wanted to use that name and he/him pronouns. 

With his permission, I contacted his parents, who were supportive, and the relevant administration details were updated. He asked me to notify his teachers and classmates discreetly, and his behaviour problems reduced drastically. Although this student was lower down the school, it reassured me that with the right support in place, trans students could be more comfortable.

I moved school shortly after. Almost immediately, a student approached me during a lesson and informed me that the name on the register was incorrect and they’d prefer I used another, along with they/them pronouns. When I asked them why the register was still showing their deadname, they said their parents would not co-operate.

I knew that the school had the infrastructure in place to accommodate this student, but as guidance from the Department for Education is unclear, they seemed hesitant.

This particular student’s name remains incorrect on the register, and, as a result, they can expect to be deadnamed and misgendered at least six times a day, unless they have felt comfortable enough to approach a particular member of staff as they did with me.

Their attendance is lower than average and they have a number of other issues when they do attend school.

Transgender staff are also having to navigate education without guidance. An ex-colleague began using they/them pronouns, and students quickly adapted to using Mx as their salutation. They were fortunate to have a long-standing positive working relationship with the school, who actioned the changes immediately and supported them with parental correspondence.

Thankfully, response from staff, students and parents alike was universally positive, although they expressed doubts about changing jobs as a non-binary teacher and expecting the same acceptance. 

Ultimately, transgender students exist. It is alarming to me that there is such a contrast between two of the schools I have worked at and the support they offer trans students. Lack of support clearly has a detrimental impact on the education of students, in addition to transgender students being disproportionately affected by poor mental health.

With the government yet to release any clear guidance to support transgender students, it leaves schools in limbo and, crucially, students struggling.

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