My name is Theresa and I am in the 7th grade. It is so important for teachers to be understanding and respectful of students’ experiences so that school feels like a place where all students belong and are accepted. Feeling a sense of belonging at school is important because it helps students feel more comfortable with their environment. I have attended a few different schools and want to share what it has been like for me. This is important because speaking up about my experiences helps create change.
When I was younger, I had trouble at school because I would often get angry. I felt frustrated by the schoolwork. It didn’t make sense and I would leave the classroom to get a break from feeling overwhelmed. Staff at school tried to put me back in class. A lot of times, I wasn’t ready, but they would still try to make me rejoin. I felt like my teachers didn’t understand me and just wanted me to get back to the academic work, but I couldn’t. I wasn’t ready and was still learning how to calm myself down. Trying to make me go back before I was ready made things worse.
I had one teacher who responded differently. Instead of trying to make me go back in her room, she asked me what was wrong. She listened to me. She compromised with me and found ways to help me. Taking just a few minutes to ask me what was wrong and help me problem solve made a huge difference. I felt understood.
As a trans youth, I have had hard experiences in school. One day during remote learning, I had my preferred name and pronouns listed on my Zoom screen. During class, my teacher told me in the chat to change my preferred name and pronouns, saying that what I listed on the zoom screen was not appropriate and that I was being disruptive. In that moment, I felt really disrespected and became so frustrated that I had to leave the Zoom session to calm down. I felt that my teacher did not care about me or what was important to me and I did not feel understood. This made me feel like my teacher saw me as very different from the other students.
I have also encountered peers who made homophobic or transphobic remarks. The teasing affected me big time, making it so hard to concentrate in school. Instead of focusing on my schoolwork, I would think about the teasing. There were times when I thought, “what’s the point in going to school, if people are going to treat me this way all of the time?” As a trans youth, there are so many things that I have to think about that other kids don’t. Which restroom will I use? Will my teachers use my preferred pronouns and name? Will my school support me to freely express who I am? Do I belong here?
There are so many things that teachers can do to help us feel that we belong. Once, one of my teachers asked me if I would like to change my school email address to my preferred name. For weeks, I had been waiting for the right time to talk with my teachers and ask for this change. But as it turned out, my teacher started the conversation and I felt so happy. It felt like she understood me. She didn’t make a big deal about it, she just asked me what I wanted. I felt that she was being kind and really cared about helping me feel comfortable. This made my year!
One way to make schools more safe and supportive is to make sure that teachers take time to learn about students’ experiences. Teachers could get better at listening so that students are able to express themselves. It’s important for teachers to understand that students sometimes need support. We want to do the schoolwork, but sometimes we can’t because we need help. We need to feel heard and understood and that helps us learn. When I feel understood, I know that my future is going to be bright because I can be successful at school. Feeling a sense of belonging at school and being able to express ourselves freely plays a big part in what we do in the future.
Thank you for listening to my statement and I hope that you will continue to fund Safe and Supportive Schools.
Theresa speaks about relationships with teachers
“One way to make schools more safe and supportive is to make sure that teachers take time to learn about students’ experiences.” —Theresa
“We want to do the schoolwork, but sometimes we can’t because we need help. We need to feel heard and understood and that helps us learn.”