First Year Teacher
8th Grade Reading Teacher
Q: What do you have in common with your students?
A: Being openly gay and transgender in the classroom was simultaneously the easiest and most difficult decision I’ve ever made.
I never had any teachers who were openly LGBTQ, so when I came out as transgender, I made a promise to myself that when I became a teacher, I wouldn’t allow myself to be closeted and risk letting a single student go through my class feeling like there was something wrong with them or like they had to hide who they were.
At the start of this school year, a student introduced himself on “Meet the Teacher” night and explained that he was transgender and went by a different name than was on the roster. It was an instant flashback to having to talk to my professors on the first day of class, fingers crossed that they didn’t react negatively. So I told him what I would have wanted to hear—to let me know if his pronouns or name ever changed and that I’d support him however I could.
On Monday, he introduced his group of friends to me. By the end of the second week, over a dozen of my 8th graders had come out to me. By the end of the month, they had started bringing their friends from other grades to be introduced. Before the end of the first quarter, I had students that I’d never even met before coming to my room and asking, “You’re the trans teacher? Can we talk?”
Q: Does it matter that students and teachers have things in common?
A: Finding common ground with our students is essential to our jobs as teachers. When we see ourselves reflected in someone else, it helps bring us together.
One of my main goals in stepping into the classroom was to make sure that my LGBTQ students had the openly queer adult role model in their lives that I so desperately needed in my life growing up. Being a middle schooler is difficult but being an LGBTQ middle schooler takes even more strength and courage.
Growing up, I didn’t have the vocabulary to describe what I was feeling; I didn’t add the words “gay” and “transgender” to my vocabulary until I went to college—I just knew that the way I felt wasn’t what everyone else was experiencing. I didn’t think any of my teachers would understand, so I never reached out to them about the anxiety and confusion I was feeling over my identity.
So despite the difficulties that being out in the classroom can pose, I live my truth so that my students feel empowered to do the same. I’ve lived their fear of being discovered, their hopes for acceptance, their pains of rejection, their dreams for a safe space—they see me, and know that I see them, that they aren’t alone, and I think that makes all the difference.
One point of common ground has turned my classroom into a safe space for so many students that otherwise might not have felt secure enough to open up to me, so just imagine the endless possibilities if we work to find even more in common with our students.
Eoin (pronounced "Owen", he/him) teaches in in southern-most tip of Texas in the Rio Grande Valley on the US/Mexico border. Connect with him on Twitter @eoinstein.
Photo (c) 2017 Kristin Leong
Dear Mr. O'Shannon, Words can't describe what an impact you have made. You are so accepting of everyone, no matter the backstory or identity. Thank you, for sharing your story and telling us about how you came over your hardships. You're such an inspiration, especially to the LGBTQ+ kids. The day I met you is one that I will always remember, because you made the fact that I changed my name and pronouns feel so natural. You have such a love and passion when you teach. I hope you keep teaching for generations to come. Thank you, sir, for everything.
Humanizing the gaps separating teachers and students.