When I was a student teacher at Como Park high school in St Paul, I had a transgender student in one of my classes. On my third or fourth day, I was left alone by my supervising teacher. He was not around for most of the remaining weeks I was in his class. It was a challenging time for me. The transgender student was bullied and ridiculed almost immediately when I was left alone. I could tell the kids were waiting to see how I would respond. I was unsure of the proper way to react. Should I stop class and make a strong statement against the bullying students? Should I wait till after class and speak to those doing the bullying exclusively, maybe force them to apologize? Maybe they should apologize in front of the whole class? Should I contact administration? Should I ask the student that was a victim of the bullying what she wanted? What would you do? Are you sure it would be right?
In the end I fell back on what my father, the son of a Jewish immigrant whose entire family was killed in Europe at the start of the 20th century always told me; “always, always, stand up and say out loud what is right.” I thought it was important to be a role model for students and called the bullies out in front of the class, lest the other kids think its ok to be bystanders. I’m still not sure it was the right thing to do. As the semester wore on, the student who was the victim of the bullying came to school less and less often, until she withdrew. She was very intelligent and interested in learning, but you could tell school for her was agony.
Teachers need explicit training to deal with situations like this. We want our public schools to get every kid the best education humanly possible, but it won’t happen if some kids don’t feel safe. We want our schools to be places where free expression and liberty are valued, but that won’t happen if kids aren’t able to be who they want to be. I can’t help thinking, if I had had more training, that student’s time in my class could have been vastly different. This bill really is important.