What keeps me awake at night - Running away from coming out

2nd November 2012 at 00:00

I'm a newly qualified teacher at a secondary school and I'm gay. I'm not "out" at work, apart from to one close friend, and I have recently been wondering whether it would be a good idea to let other teachers and pupils know. As far as I'm aware, there are no other gay teachers at my school.

I work in a rural area and many of the children have conservative views, so I know there could be problems. My biggest worry is how I would react to unkind words from pupils. I would be happy to answer questions about being gay; it would be the under-the-breath comments that I would find hardest to take.

I would love to become the trailblazing gay teacher who challenges stereotypes (I'm a very feminine woman) and I believe there is potential for change within schools. I know how much difference coming out could make, but do I have the confidence to make it happen? I have visions of going into meltdown at the front of the classroom; "dike" written on the board by pupils who can't even dish out abuse that's spelled correctly.

I do know that I would like to be in charge of how people find out. I'm not ashamed of being gay, but I'm still scared of people's reactions. If I do come out, will it blow over by next term or will it be something that I have to battle pupils, fellow teachers and parents over for years?

So I feel in limbo. I'm fortunate to have the opportunity to have an impact on the next generation, but I also find myself fearful of breaking new ground, just like teachers before me. Am I asking too much of myself? After all, I've only been in the profession for seven months.

But I can't help going back to the statistics. If the estimates are correct and 1 in 20 people in the UK is gay, that means there are approximately 90 gay pupils at my school. Yet the support they need is not there because teachers, including gay ones like me, don't know how to approach the subject.

Change is needed. A friend of mine works in the US and has set up a gay-straight alliance at his school. I would love to be part of something like that, but at the moment I don't feel I have the endurance, confidence, willpower or strength for it. And that is the problem. Many gay teachers feel alone, just like their gay pupils.

My mantra to my pupils (and to myself) is Edmund Burke's quote: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." Yet that is what I and many other teachers find ourselves doing. Not because we want to, but because we simply don't know what else to do. Teachers don't always have the answers. And as for the answer to this particular question, I don't have a clue.

The writer is an NQT at a secondary school. To tell us what keeps you awake at night, email david.marley@tes.co.uk.

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