Let me just start by saying I can't be the only one who talks to themselves in their heads giving sound advice, yet can't take it...I just can't be. All of us are listed on invisible sign-up sheets. You know those things that we stand up for, voluntarily voice our opinions about, will be a spokesperson for, have people ask us what we think, and represent the opinions of all other people who are on the sign-up sheet with us. That being said, I am an avid advocate for children...maybe it goes back to my special education roots, but I will fight day and night for their rights, their equality and I will never apologize for it, it's simply who I am. That is one invisible sign-up sheet that I did register on of my own free will and volition (side note: I love that word, it's all fancy-pants) yet I have been added to other invisible sign-up sheets that I never voluntarily wrote my name on. I'm talking mainly the forced assumption that I have to be an advocate and spokesperson for all gay people everywhere. Sorry, that's just not me...I can't represent all gay people or take up every cause just because I'm gay, that's like asking someone with red hair to represent and speak for all redheads everywhere. It's just silliness. Anyway, back to my point, so I was at school the other day (duh, I'm a teacher, where the hell else would I be???) and my class was having lunch when a table of little boys called me over. Now, this is not strange they call me over for all sorts of things-Can you help me open my applesauce?, Who is your favorite super hero?, What time is it?, Can I go to the bathroom? etc.-or to tell me a random story, usually about a video game. However, as mentally prepared as I was, I was not ready for what these little seven-year-olds came out with. Here's the scene as I came to a lunch table of 4 boys.
A-Hey Miss ___, guess what?
Me-What? (I've learned it's best to not actually guess)
A-M likes J! (You all remember J, he's the little boy who made my emotional brick wall nearly crumble with his statement that he loves me and class.)
B-Yeah! He told us in the lunch line (nodding emphatically, as if since they never believe me I obviously won't believe them).
Me-Really? (Internal conversation with myself, "Let-it-go-let-it-go-let-it-go" "No, it's too important" "Let-it-go-let-it-go-let-it-go, this is so not a good idea!")
A-Yeah! But as a FRIEND. (friend said in a sing-song voice)
At this point I look over at M, who is also sitting at the table turning eighteen shades of red, and J (sitting across from him) who is squirming in his seat something fierce. Against my better judgement I had to sit down and address it, because I can't just let it go, it's too important.
Me-Well, if I was J, I'd feel really special. I mean, I know M, and I know that he is a really coo kid who has parents who love him and teach him right from wrong. M shows great character, and has a lot of friends. If he likes someone (glancing over at him as he is trying to become invisible), or just likes them as a friend, they must be pretty special.
B-I'm his friend, and I think he's a good friend to have.
Looking back over at M who is no longer turning eighteen shades of red or trying to make himself invisible, and J who is no longer squirming but smiling, I know I made the right choice. For me, the choice was made immediately for me when I saw how uncomfortable M was. I can't have a child feeling bad about themselves, that they have anything to hide or fear in my class, or developing a complex that there is something "wrong" about them at the young age of seven, they already have enough of that thrown at them from the media and in some cases their homes. I had a bad feeling that this conversation was coming after M had told me in private the other week that he liked J. Let me just clarify-the bad feeling I had was that I didn't want to address this topic, I'm not out at work and I don't want to do anything that would raise any suspicion with staff or parents. While I am very good at my job, I am all too aware that it can be quickly taken away at a moments notice simply because people know (or think) I'm gay. That being said- I love the fact that he feels comfortable and safe talking to me, but I hate the fact that he is going to grow up in a very conservative homophobic area. As a class we have talked at nauseam about how it's okay to be ourselves, anyone can be friends with anyone, and that no one is allowed to make fun of other people for any reason-having freckles, wearing glasses, types of clothes, grades, etc., but it still made me nervous having this conversation. (Side note: it's adorable watching him get all flustered around J, he starts stuttering and looking down at the floor scuffing his shoes on the ground, it's so cute it's hard not to laugh.)
So for me, I have to be an advocate for all children in my class, if it's in the best interest of my career or not, because if I won't, who will?