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Believe Me the First Time

By Dale Weiss

Home > Archives > Volume 30 No.3 - Spring 2016

By Dale WeissAdd to Cart Purchase a PDF of this article

Lois Bielefeld

的知 not a boy! I知 a girl! I知 a girl! I知 a girl! I followed the words echoing through my suddenly silent 2nd-grade classroom. There sat Alexis on the floor with Diego; puzzle pieces were strewn across the floor.

展hat痴 wrong, Alexis? I asked. 添ou sound upset.

摘very day someone asks me if I am a boy or a girl, and every time I answer that I知 a girl, but they just keep asking. Why can稚 they believe me?

I thought back to the many conversations I壇 had with Alexis about this topic since the beginning of the school year. Alexis is a bright, confident child who expresses herself with ease. When I heard someone ask her if she was a boy or a girl, I would check in: 滴ow do you feel when your classmates ask you about your gender?

And each time her reply was pretty much the same. 的知 OK. It痴 not really their fault. They just didn稚 know.

Several times I asked Alexis if she thought it would be a good idea to discuss this issue as a class溶ot to call attention to her but to explore in general the issue of gender. Each time she responded: 哲o, I don稚 think we need to do that.

展hy not? I once asked.

釘ecause it痴 not that big a deal.

I told Alexis that if she changed her mind, she should tell me, but I felt tugged in two directions. As a teacher, I frequently explore the 妬sms with my students (racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, and so on) as a critical piece of teaching from an anti-bias perspective. At the same time, I wanted to respect Alexis decision to hold off葉hough for how long, I was not sure.

Now I pulled Alexis aside. By this time she was in tears. 的 tried to be patient with people. I said they were asking me because they didn稚 know. But I don稚 understand why they don稚 believe me when I say I am a girl. Why do they have to keep asking?

As I gave Alexis a long hug, I thought about another student, one who壇 been in my class two years prior. Classmates often expressed confusion as to whether Allie was a girl or a boy, too. And, as in Alexis situation, classmates often did not accept her response. I flashed back to the time that year when we were discussing a story about children who wore uniforms to school. I壇 asked my students if they would like to wear school uniforms. Allie痴 arm shot up in the air with fierce determination. 添es! I would totally love it if kids wore uniforms in our school. That way all of us would be dressed the same and kids would finally stop asking me if I am a boy or a girl.

Alexis and I Plan a Teaching Unit

Back in the present, I said to Alexis: 的 think it痴 time to deal with gender issues head-on with our class. Would you consider developing and leading a unit with me? The tears were gone. 的 sure would!

The words spilled out of my mouth before I realized I壇 offered to co-create a teaching unit with a student. I felt excited at the idea, but I壇 never done it before. I often respond to issues and interests that emerge from my students by developing a unit傭ut collaborating with one of my students on creating and teaching a unit was definitely a first.

滴ow about if we meet after school on Wednesday? I値l check with your mom.


By this point in the year, we壇 already had numerous and ongoing discussions about ways to build a supportive community in our classroom預nd how, when we make a mistake, we can repair harm with one another. So we had a context for talking about gender in ways that would support Alexis. She was well liked by her peers and accepted as an integral part of our classroom community. I did not believe Alexis classmates were intentionally trying to bully her葉hey were genuinely confused about her gender identity. However, I wanted my students to understand that consistently questioning someone about their gender identity can be experienced as bullying.

A few days later, we began our collaboration. 鄭lexis, why don稚 you first look through the books in our classroom library and pull out anything that addresses issues of gender and accepting people for who they are.

Twenty minutes later she brought over her book selections. I was excited to look at her pile until I realized it consisted of only seven books.

展ere there any others, Alexis?

哲ope, this was it.

When I looked through the books she brought me and thought about the books we had, I realized she was right. 展ow! I exclaimed. 典his sure doesn稚 seem like enough books when the topic of gender is so incredibly important. Definitely one of those teacher moments when I realized I needed to do far better.

Alexis had already read each of those seven books. I asked her what she enjoyed熔r perhaps didn稚 enjoy預bout the books.

典here痴 nothing I didn稚 enjoy. But what I did enjoy is that when I read these books, I felt accepted for who I am.

A few days later, Alexis ran up to me when she arrived at school. 溺s. Dale, I thought I壇 bring you one of my books from home in case you want to read it. The book was Meet Polkadot, by Talcott Broadhead.

典ell me what the book痴 about, Alexis.

典his book is so cool! It痴 all about a person named Polkadot and how when they were born, they didn稚 get called any gender.

鄭nd what do you like most about this book?

的 like that the book celebrates whatever gender someone feels they are, and that it痴 all really OK! You can borrow the book if you壇 like to.

的壇 love to, Alexis. Thank you for sharing this book with me. Now I knew that Alexis viewed herself as an integral participant in shaping our unit.

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