2 min

Teaching the teacher

The Inqueeries About Education program at the University Of Toronto is working to abolish taunts like “fag” and “dyke” from the vocabulary of Ontario students.

Inqueeries is a program designed to attract would-be teachers who are already aware of the problem of homophobia and want to combat it. The elective program, now in its second year, works with pre-service student teachers and instructs them on how prevent homophobia in school. Tara Goldstein, one of the program’s two instructors, says that when her students come back from a practice teaching session, they’ve seen what a problem homophobia can be.

“They see the homophobia in the schools, the name calling, ‘fag,’ ‘dyke,’ used to hurt and put down others,” says Goldstein. “[Students] say ‘That’s so gay’ as a way of describing something uncool or boring or generally unpleasureable.”

Goldstein says the name-calling is a big issue, but so is extending the curriculum to include lives of gay men and lesbians. Those in the program also focus on making children from same-sex families feel included.

“Children from same-sex families learn about a whole range of diverse families [in school], but there’s not mention of same-sex families,” says Goldstein. “They aren’t affirmed in the classroom.”

The Inqueeries elective seems to be having an impact. Goldstein recalls one pre-service teacher who came back from a placement and talked about reading a story about a same-sex family to a classroom of kindergartners. The associate teacher was pleased – it wasn’t something they’d covered in the classroom before.

To practice dealing with homophobia, student teachers role-play, rehearsing acts of homophobia and trying to interrupt them. “We play them out and brainstorm different ways of dealing with it,” says Goldstein. Goldstein says homophobia among elementary and high school students can be attributed both to a lack of understanding and intolerance. She says she wants to believe everyone has good intentions, but knows this is sometimes not the case.

“Sometimes teachers will explain to a student what the words mean and they notice an immediate change,” says Goldstein. “Other students are well-aware of what they’re saying and they say it to hurt. We try to make it clear to them that the teachers and the school will not tolerate it.”

Reactions to the program can be different, depending on where a pre-service student is placed. Many come back from their placements and share stories of success. Some of them have more resources where they do their placement than others. Goldstein says the level of comfort they have with the teacher whose class they’re assisting is a factor.

“Some find they can’t do as much as they want to,” says Goldstein. As for the Inqueeries program itself, Goldstein has received only positive support from her associates.

“A lot of my associates are very glad that there’s a class like this,” says Goldstein. “When we teach anti-homophobia in our compulsory classes, such as School And Society, some people jump right in, others are concerned. The least amount that people want to do is stop the name-calling.”

Goldstein says in the end it comes down to a no-tolerance process in the classroom in order to stop homophobia. “We’re building a community of potential school leaders.”