## Trying to find math inside everything else

### The Other F Word

It’s been a few years since a student has called me a faggot.

Not that I hadn’t heard the word, of course. I do teach teenagers, after all, and it does come up. But no more than once or twice a year, because I come down hard on it. I’m pretty jovial in class, and even when I’m mad it’s a quiet mad, but that’s a time when the full-shout comes out. The student needs to leave the room and have a pretty serious talk about the power of words and hate speech. Usually it is done out of ignorance. Usually we can move past it.

Today I was walking in the hallway, having just gotten my lunch, when I heard the word, solitary, a single statement alone. “Faggot.”

It has happened before, though not, actually, that word, but rather “maricón.” That was in my first year teaching, with a student I would spar with quite frequently. When I mentioned it to my principal that year he was suitably enraged – meetings were had, parents called in, etc. And then we kept on.

There were three of us in the hall at the time, so maybe I was unclear. “Are you talking to me?” I asked.

“Who else would I be talking to?”

I told another LGBT colleague about it the next period. They were visibly upset by the news, a quiet shaking, but a deep anger. “That’s not the kind of environment I want to work in. Something needs to actually happen about this.” Referring to, of course, the habit of the school to either let slide an incident or go for a suspension, with little in between.

How did I react? Stunned silence, I suppose. That full-shout wasn’t anywhere near the surface. Why was that? Direction, intent, they matter, I suppose. When I hear it errantly in class, I am still the teacher. It is my role to teach them the error of their ways, to make clear the severity of their transgression. The anger there is a teaching tool, in its own way. It’s building on the relationship I have with the student, showing my emotion to forge a stronger connection that can avoid it in the future. Maybe the anger was gone because the relationship was broken.

When I went to the dean immediately after, the school aide immediately left to pull the student from class. But we all wondered why. The student is not in any of my classes – I have not taught them since they were a freshmen. What purpose did this serve? What’s the point?

As I spoke with my colleague, the next period, they appeared, sheepishly, at the door. “I’m sorry.” “I was just talking about some sneakers and it just came into my head to point it at you.” “I didn’t know you were going to take it personally.”

How else was I going to take it? I’m a person.

I wonder, also, if my reaction was different because I know this student so well. Did I know that it came from a place of teenage stupidity, not a place of hate? There are certainly other students where it would be much more hateful if they said it, that I know. But here, the emotion I felt the most was confusion.

My colleague felt a lot better after the apology. We both talked with the student about how hateful speech can be and how the choices we make with what we say matter. The benefits of restorative justice, I guess. No suspensions will be made, but I am okay with that, of course. We can’t suspend our way to peace. When there’s a breakdown, well, we just need to build up again.

### Being Out in the Classroom

Today I did the How I Met Your Mother hot/crazy scale lesson, which was strange this year. The past two years I did my statistics unit in October/November, so this lesson fell pretty early in the year. So I had a lot of fun because I was able to play with students’ expectations by using the androgynous names, the fact that the year is still new and they don’t know me as well and as less blatant about asking things, made for an overall enjoyable experience.

It’s funny because I don’t come out with intention every year, but it can sorta happen at times. I feel like this year my students still don’t really know across the board. And if they don’t know about me yet, they definitely don’t know about the other 3 gay male teachers. [4 out of  11 male faculty members seems like a lot. (The joke is that my old principal only hired either attractive young female teachers or male teachers that weren’t competition for the ladies’ attention.)] So I’m wondering if I played the game too well this year.

When I think about last year, there’s three moments that stood out. First was this lesson, which could plant suspicions but nothing confirmed. Then in December I did a lesson about the definition of a function. At one point, I ask for examples of functions that would map from the domain of people. Things like age and weight are examples, whereas race and hair color do not, since you can be more than one race or have more than one hair color. Then they say eye color, and I say it’s not, because someone could have two differently colored eyes. “In fact, my boyfriend has two differently colored eyes – one brown and one blue.” But if no one says eye color, it might not come up. And sometimes students jump in and mention that fact themselves. The third moment is when a student asked me who my Valentine was, with my response of “my boyfriend.”

For the current seniors and juniors, I feel like word spread quickly. The current sophomores a little more slowly, but by Feb 14 everyone knew. But this year it’s been somehow different. Partly it is due to the Common Core. I moved function definitions to the very beginning of the year, and so, I don’t know why, I said “I know somebody who has two different colored eyes” instead of specifying. Maybe I thought it was too early in the year? But then this lesson shifted later, so those two natural moments didn’t occur.

I mean, this didn’t stop individual students for talking about it. Most of my lunch gang knew because we’ve just had many more conversations and it came up. But my answer to “Do you have a wife/girlfriend?” Is always no, and the conversation often ends there. I won’t push it if they don’t, because we have math to do.

But because it wasn’t across the board acknowledged, somehow today was weirder. Maybe I’ll address it tomorrow.

This was longer than I thought – leave it to #MTBoS30 to make me ramble. I’m not sure what the thesis of this post was, other than “This can be surprisingly difficult to navigate, even if you aren’t trying to make it difficult or trying to navigate it at all.”

### Have Fun With It

Earlier this year, there was a little Bard panel for the current students that I was invited to as an in-service teacher to speak at (with others). The session was about being an LGBTQ teacher, since those pre-service teachers wanted to know how go about it. (Are you out to your students/coworkers, etc.) I told them that I was out to my students, but only when it was relevant. I wasn’t going to announce it on the first day, but it would come up at some point, and I would be truthful. My students last year found out pretty early, because someone asked in Advisory and it spread around.

This year, though, while a handful of students had asked privately, and while there were some rumors from the 10th graders, they mostly didn’t all know until February. So when I taught my statistics unit in November, I decided to have fun with it. I was doing Dan Meyer’s How I Met Your Mother lesson and updated it a bit. See, I wouldn’t just use Dan’s list of fabricated ex-girlfriends. (For one thing, the start dates are too early.) So I made my own, see if you can spot it:

Yeah, I specifically chose all the names so they were all androgynous. And during the lesson I only referred to them as my “exes” (much like Ramona Flowers did in Scott Pilgrim) and using “they.” So I never assigned gender to the people. The students did, though, and I thought it was super interesting to see who assumed they were girls, who assumed they were guys, and who actually caught on that all the names could be either (only 2 or 3 did).

Just playing that tightrope game made me smirk throughout the whole lesson. Mostly because it was just a game, as walking that tightrope while trying to actually hide your sexuality would be terrifying. But since I wasn’t trying to hide, it was fun. And that was my advice to those Bard pre-service teachers: have fun with it. Because if you’re comfortable enough to have fun with it, they’ll be comfortable, too.