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April 6, 2023

Teaching While Queer with Sarah Wilt

Teaching While Queer with Sarah Wilt
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This week host, Bryan Stanton (he/they), speaks with English Teacher Sarah Wilt (shey/they). The two talk about demisexual identity, working as a virtual educator for a Christian School, and past careers in Juvenile Detention and Camp. 

To be a guest or to hear more episodes visit www.teachingwhilequeer.com.

Follow Teaching While Queer on Instagram at @TeachingWhileQueer.

You can find host, Bryan Stanton, on Instagram.

Thank you for listening to this episode of Teaching While Queer Podcast! Please help support the podcast by leaving a review wherever you listen to the podcast. 

You can find host, Bryan Stanton, on Instagram.

Follow us on Instagram at @TeachingWhileQueer

To be a guest or to hear more episodes visit www.teachingwhilequeer.com.


Teaching While Queer with Sarah Wilt

Intro: [00:00:00] Teaching While Queer is a podcast for LGBTQIA+ teachers, administrators, and well anyone who works in academia to share their stories. Hi, my name is Bryan Stanton, a queer theater educator in San Antonio, Texas. Each week I bring you stories from around the world centered on the experiences of LGBTQIA+ folks in academia.

Host: Thank you for joining me on this journey and enjoy Teaching While Queer.

Hello everyone and welcome back to another episode of Teaching While Queer. I am your host Bryan Stanton, and I have the privilege today to be speaking with Sarah Wilt. 

Hi Sarah, how are you doing? 

Sarah: Hi. Thanks so much for having me today. 

Host: Awesome. I'm so glad that you're here. Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself?

Sarah: All right, so as you said, my name is Sarah Wilt. I use she them pronouns. I go by Mx. Wilt in the classroom or Teacher Wilt, depending on[00:01:00] content area and so I teach currently at a private Christian cyber charter school teaching ninth and 10th grade English. Before that I've worked in juvenile detention as well as theater and girl scout camps and things. So, 10 plus years with working with kids in various capacities in alternative ed and I identify as non-binary bisexual demisexual. Yeah. So I guess that's my elevator spiel about myself. 

Host: Awesome. You are our first guest or my first guest that identifies as demisexual. So for the sake of the audience, would you mind explaining that term so that we can all be in the know as we go into the conversation. 

Sarah: Yeah. So Demisexual falls under the asexual or ace kind of umbrella where it's not really focused on physical appearance for attraction. The best way I like to say it is that, Kind of [00:02:00] just like talk nerdy to me. If you've ever seen that meme is kind of the best way to describe it. Of I'm more attracted to kind of like pansexual where they're attracted to personalities, but I have to have like an intelligent connection with somebody and so basically for me at least, I'm attracted to like someone's intelligence or the fact that we can hold a intellectual kind of depth of conversation of, I like to tell people I really hate small talk, like talking about the weather and things like that on like a first date or something, be like boring.

I'd be like, I never wanna speak to you again, kind of thing. But if you can sit there and be like, let's talk about your past and your history and that I can get into. So just very Intellectually minded where I have to get to know somebody and kind of a depth there before I am willing to like start a relationship with them, I guess would be the best.

But yeah, the meme of talk nerdy to me is probably the best. 

Host: What a great connection. And it gives you that like visual of being like, this is very clear what I mean. Well, thank you so much. I preferred that [00:03:00] people define words for themselves, especially if they identify within that community.

So let's talk a little bit about what it was like for you as a queer student. 

Sarah: As a student. Well, that's gone way back. So I can say that I was raised very religious. My mom's side of the family is Byzantine Catholic, which are the ones that still chant in Latin to this day. And my dad's side of the family is Roman Catholic.

So just more modern version of that, but so raised very religious. So I have a lot of my head thinking about this morning before getting on was this idea of like passing. Especially in like the demisexual pi and bisexual community is, you know, outwardly I was always dating men or I always had this idea of like, oh yeah, I have crushes.

But still in my, like Penn Tucky community was singing the country songs, but from the male perspective, some things where it's like, it's okay because it's country, but it's like I'm not singing the females version. Things like that. And then came. [00:04:00] As bisexual, ironically, where I was dating a guy.

And he and I both came out as bisexual at the same time. After we broke up. And so it was a whole joke in middle school of that we've turned each other gay. He has gone on to. Go fully gay and date a wonderful guy from Canada. Wish them all the best, but I continued on being bisexual dating women kind of in the closet as you do in school where it's behind your parents back.

Had a lot of bullying and that scenario of people calling us names. Had someone in high school say he would rather sit on the floor than sit next to me in a class because he didn't wanna catch my. Which is tons of fun. That's a whole, you know, rabbit hole we could go into, obviously if everyone has, I think some of those stories, if you've come out before 18.

And then the kind of non-binary demisexual side of things didn't really. Come to me until college where a lot of people just [00:05:00] started calling me Ace because I was so focused on academics. And I had a long term boyfriend who's now my fiance at the time. But a lot of it was, I was just focused on being a nerd.

I was focused on learning things. I wanted to interact with the professors more than my peers. I had no interest of going to college parties. Along with finally kind of being able to express myself in terms of gender and also just working with. Kids a lot of the time where I couldn't buy female shorts because they're too short and things like that.

So you then had to explore of, oh, I'm just buying men's pants because I have to have them shorter, or I have to have them longer to fit me. And then it turned into a lot of like, why is it labeled man versus woman and that whole rabbit hole. So yeah, I would say that's kind of a speed run through of my wonderful childhood of and.

Ends with again working in juvenile detention, [00:06:00] kind of connecting with at risk kids cuz I connected with that idea of connecting with students and children to kind of make a difference there. And then started working at my current position in the wonderful world of the pandemics when online learning.

Kind of flourished. And so I have thanks for all of my you know, work benefits from the pandemic there. 

Host: Absolutely. It's so funny cuz I have that same struggle when it comes to like, clothing or any product. Like if it's labeled for man, I'm like, I'm not buying that. Like, I'm literally like, I don't wanna buy that. Nope. 

Sarah: Yep. And it's fascinating. If we wanna go down that rabbit hole of my mom love her to death, if she listens to this, like, no offense mom, but of she's really struggled with that in the sake of, she can only conceptualize it as like, oh, well you're doing this because you're a teacher. Or you're doing this because you have to dress conservatively, and it's like hard to kind of explain that to an older generation of like, no I'm doing this because I think the binary [00:07:00] is ridiculous and I like these clothes better, kind of thing of a lot of like button-ups.

She'll come up and be like, just unbutton a few more buttons. Show your neckline. And I'm like, No, I'm cold. Like I didn't know. 

Host: Fashion is pain. You must suffer.

Sarah: Especially if you're gonna present as a female. Don't even get me started. 

Host: Yeah. Yep. I was just, got back from a trip to New York City and it like really dipped down into the twenties while I was there, and I just saw these women walking around in these mini dresses and whatnot and I'm like, Oh God.

Like I know you look beautiful, but it is freezing right now. Yeah. What are you doing to your legs? 

Sarah: Yep. That and heels. Where heels, like so many, I feel like heels are just ballerina shoes. Like the point shoes where it's like you're killing your feet and killing your arches, but you're like, no, it's, I look fabulous. Nope. Not for me. Yeah. Take tennis shoes any day. 

Host: Absolutely. As a technical director for a theater company or for a high school theater company, I [00:08:00] definitely am. Tennis shoes all the way. Yep. I tried being the person who like dresses nice and wears nice shoes for a while. But I was constantly in pain.

Yep. So let's talk a little bit about your experiences in educators. So you started working with youth in juvenile detention and now you work at a Christian on online school. Yes. And both of those communities from the outside perspective would be, seem like that there are places that might be toxic towards LGBTQ people. So tell us a little bit about your experience there. 

Sarah: So yeah, I mean, I can go even further back to experiences. Working at like Girl Scout camps was probably my first experience working with kids. And very early on working at summer camps was told, because it was an all female environment, was always told That I wasn't peppy enough or I never had enough energy or, and then it slowly started to turn into, well, you're [00:09:00] intimidating and you're aggressive towards the children.

And it really like fizzled me as like a teen working in these environments being like, what am I doing wrong? Like, I'm trying to be more peppy. Is it because I'm trying to fake it? And it wasn't until ironically I started working in juvenile detention that it because it was a co-ed environment that it was.

That I was good at my job. That it was a confidence, it was an assertiveness and even just a leaning more masculine. Kind of attitude that it was, you are not what we imagine this female stereotype of being pretty and pink, which again is nothing to Girl Scouts is, you know, I think it's a wonderful organization, but just again, for me in my growing up was very clashing against where I was trying to find my identity as someone who doesn't identify as entirely female.

And they were trying to further push me in that box, in that realm. And so then working in juvenile detention, Interesting in the sake that it was like the first co-ed environment [00:10:00] that I really worked in beyond like the school system where most young adolescents were male that we brought through.

And the females are crazy. Just females that end up in Truman Health detention are a little extra crazy, which is fine. They're wonderful too. But really got a taste of kind of the world of alternative ed. And this idea. Kind of breaking out of tradition and what we see as a normal school environment and reaching kids kind of where they're at in that capacity.

So we saw people of all ethnicities, backgrounds and so that was really my first experience of, I think everyone has kind of a story of kids being like, kids don't really care in that regard. And. Kind of meeting them where they're at and realizing in some capacity of me saying my story where I have a tattoo on my wrist from some self-harm when I was younger and things like that where people would notice it and say like, oh, what is that?

And me able to explain like, I've been through that darkness, I've come out of it. And really kind of touch them [00:11:00] to be that like positive mentor. Not that entirely touches on just even queer stuff. In my own classroom. Again, we go back to that idea of passing. Because in a Christian school system I, my class is labeled secular, which is a plus.

But I lean more towards this idea of everyone's weird, everyone has baggage, everyone has some weirdness to them. We're not. And so I said something my first year of teaching. That I have a sticky note on my desk here of if you are normal then you're weird, so you might as well just be weird.

And my students started like quoting that back to me and I just set it off the cuff, like whatever it was, you know, I was like, yeah, everybody's weird. And so it's kind of become a motto for my classroom of like, accept your weirdness. Cuz if you're, if you appear kind of this normal, this passing, people are gonna question of what are you hiding and what is it that you're, you know, that you're trying to be, and they'll think you're fake or you're all these things.

So if you just [00:12:00] accept your authentic self and lean into the weirdness and kind of proactively get ahead. It's better. And so that's in my classroom, what I teach of. I work for a cyber school that is based out of Pennsylvania, but we work with students all across the us all over the world. So I have students who, English isn't their first language and I have students where they are no longer in brick and mortar school because of bullying and things like that.

Or because of other health issues. So kind of leaning into that side. Helps. Even though, you know, some people will be like, well, that's passing. You're not, you know, out and proud in a capacity. But I think that is more of a like a universal theme or a universal lesson that more people can connect with without stigmatizing the, oh, you're trying the queer agenda, or something along those lines.

Host: Absolutely. I also think that like there is merit in just understanding your circumstances and I had a guest. Towards the beginning of my se [00:13:00] season. Her name's Dr. Lulu and she's a pediatrician. And one of the things that she shared was like it's less about coming out and more about inviting in, and so that makes it sacred. Right. It's mine to share. And I think that's so powerful because I do get, I get really frustrated with outings. I was outed when I was a teenager, and so like all of. Social media pressure from people. And even like queer baiting, just as a concept like, just really irks me because it's like we are forcing people to share things that they may not be ready to share or accusing people of doing things when maybe they're just not ready to tell that story. 

Sarah: Like a hundred percent is a level of almost. There's, I mean, it's toe fold there of gatekeeping of you can't do certain things and pretend you're part of the community.

Pretend in quotes. There again, not that passing unless you're out and proud and you're sit here and say, I [00:14:00] am this and I'm gonna wear rainbows every day. And then the other side of it is this idea that this. If you are, if you're not speaking up about it, then you're part of the problem, which again, I don't think it needs to be as like black and white.

And, you know, we could go in a whole rabbit hole of like how it's this, like, I don't wanna use the term fetishizing, but like this idea of like making it, it's a cool, trendy thing if you have to have the one Asian, the one black person and the queer person. And it's like a. Instead of authentic.

Yeah. Tokenism. Tokenism, that's a better word. 

Host: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And I get so frustrated with that. I was teaching at a conference in New York while I was there. And one of the things I talked about is that like we see this happen with black communities, Asian communities, queer communities where like, Those teachers have to become the banner holder, and I really want someone to do a study of tokenism and burnout.

If you have to be the teacher who waves the banner and protects these children because you [00:15:00] are queer, and so that's your community. What is the burnout like for you compared to a cisgendered, heteronormative person? 

Sarah: A hundred percent. It's interesting cuz you mentioned, I went to a teaching conference last fall and I was talking to people that were 14 years teaching, like 14 years in and they're at this conference because they're like, I had to change something in my.

And discussing with them of, again, I started teaching during the pandemic was my first like official, we wanna call it classroom per se. And talking to a lot of them was emotionally in terms of burnout. I'm at the same level as someone who's had 14 years just teaching. And you know, we talked a lot about like why that is.

Some of it is, you know, that we have to wave a banner. Some of it is even tokenism of I'm the youthful. Guru at my job where everybody looks at me and goes, you're a millennial, so you know, tech stuff. And I'm like, well, I do, but that doesn't mean I wanna help you 24 7. Like I do have a [00:16:00] full-time job over here.

So I think I absolutely would be fascinated of like queer teachers starting out as well as just like how the pandemic has affected like young teachers starting out. Because the two of those things I feel. We've been isolated in some ways, but we're also like leaning more to an online space, which pros and cons for both of those things.

Host: Agreed. It's so funny because in I'm getting my master's in theater pedagogy and I've been talking a lot about how universal Design for learning, which is really about leveling the playing field, providing equitable experiences for all students regardless of culture and ability level. I find it to.

So easy in the virtual space. And I struggle so much in the physical classroom, so there really are perks to both. But I teach in Texas and much of the state is really like, we just need to get back to what things are like in a physical classroom. We wanna try to [00:17:00] limit the amount of virtual work that we're doing.

Which I think is not actually being able to provide an equitable experience for everybody, cuz some students might do better. Okay with the online work, and some students might do better with the physical work. So I'm trying to like bridge that gap without people noticing. So that way it's not like, oh he's still teaching.

Like, we're in the pandemic. We are. But it's not gone, but it's not, yeah. We're still here. It's still happening. But I find that so interesting because I rather enjoy. Teaching online though in Texas, I only had like six weeks of it. I had the end of a school year and the beginning of a school year, and then we jumped back in the classroom and I was teaching hybrid for a school year, but that was.

I think much more difficult because I was teaching people face-to-face in my classroom and people online at the same exact time. There was no asynchronous option. No. 

Sarah: There's a lot of working two jobs. 

Host: Yeah. Right. [00:18:00] And so that I think is another level of that burnout that we're talking about when it comes to working virtual education was this like, it's not just that you are a virtual teacher. And that you adopted, it's now that you are an everything teacher all at once, everything. 

Sarah: I mean, isn't that just teaching in general? Just so many images of just the hats? Yes. All the hats we wear. Just throw another one on. Why not of? Yeah. And it's fascinating of pre pandemic and even a little bit still, like you're giving that like pushback of everyone's like, go back to normal of experiencing.

People, I don't wanna say looking down on, but it's like we're not taken as seriously when we're cyber schools. It's like, oh you know, it's almost seen, and I mean, I take this as a compliment, but people have compared me to like Twitch streamers or like an influencer. And I'm like, I mean, that's pretty cool.

I do get on camera every day and I have to watch chat and I do everything online. But that comparison of like, well, you're just like creating content and that it's more on the students, which a hundred percent, like there is some [00:19:00] capacity of not having a student in front of you, not being able to control that environment.

But as we're discussing, there are some other leeways of connecting with students and. Again, that idea of alternative ed for students where they've been massively bullied in brick and mortar schools or they're having a lot of health issues and need some of that space to be able to go to doctor's appointments.

I've also had students who like work in the film industry in Hollywood and, you know, need that capacity. So again, just goes back to kind of more flexibility. Kind of giving a more modern pushback to traditional schooling of what that should look like. Which pros and cons do I think cyber school teachers and teaching online became kind of the butt of the joke in a lot of the pandemic.

But I appreciate that we kind of got a little more. Credit, I guess that like, this is difficult. Yeah. It's really hard. Thanks. 

Host: It really is. It really is. So, given that you've [00:20:00] kind of caught an atypical background when it comes to teaching have you ever had situations where students are either intentionally or inadvertently homophobic in your space?

Sarah: Goodness, that's a good one. I mean, I've had like insensitive, not about queer stuff, but I've had comments. I make a rule in my classroom just because it is secular and because we are focusing more on English than the outside world, which again, there's some push and shove there of I make a rule kind of unspoken that we don't.

Directly bring up politics. And that is something from like the pandemic of I've just said like we are not gonna explicitly state it. So that's helped. But I I think there's also a level of when you're working with kids of like, I don't wanna say like thick skin but a level of knowing depending on the grade level, that what they're saying is not necessarily them, it's just what's spoken to them.

Especially. A cyber school environment. What I think has been more of an issue for me is because in cyber school [00:21:00] you are taking yourself into these people's homes. So there's a lot of things with like parasocial relationships and influencers of you make this deeper connection because they feel like you are there with them.

And I've had some concerns or more anxiety around parents listening, which is not me. Like, oh, I'm trying to hide something, but just. A level of you never know who's there listening. And later I'll have parents come to me and say, oh, I was listening to your lesson, or I was there while Johnny was doing this.

And I'm like that's great. I'm so glad every mistake I made in that lesson is now like promoted to you. My lessons are also recorded for students again, for that differentiation so they can watch it later. And I've had parents similarly watch it back. So I would say, Pros and cons, but never a student necessarily.

And again, that might be because some of the like passing realm of I of bisexual and non-binary kind of, I don't, I'm not super out and proud rainbows everywhere. But the students that know, [00:22:00] no, I guess is the best way to put it. So I would say I've had more pushback from parents. Students specifically.

I've actually had more students reach out to me and feel more comfortable saying things like, Hey, I need to change classes because there's someone with my dead name in this class. And I like, can't even focus. Or students who have, because it's their own space, a flag in the background. And I message them and I'm like, Hey, is that the lesbian flag?

And they're like, yeah. And I'm like, oh, that's awesome. Like, good for you. So I would say, yeah, not as much from students. Again, probably cuz some of that passing. And also just like me creating an environment where weirdness is okay and kind of leaning into my own weirdness to be like, yeah, I didn't sleep last night.

Let's get going, kind of thing. And like leaning into some of those for them to feel like, yeah, it was okay to not be a hundred percent on any box, I guess, if that makes sense. I don't know if that answered the question. 

Host: Yeah, sure. I think that you brought up an interesting point about dead names in the [00:23:00] class.

struggle because in public education all the paperwork has to be the legal name that is on the birth certificate, unless the parents go out of their way to advocate for changing it. And so, I will be looking at or sending emails, and I always bcc my transgender non-binary students who go by another name because I don't want other people to be like who's this person? Yep. And so it's a real thing to like see a name pop up. So that would be another thing, like if I were to host Google meets with my students, Their dead name is gonna show up on the screen. And there's no, and there's no way for us to change it. 

Sarah: Yep. And there's, at least, so we use Zoom as our online. And so we changed recently recently as in like the past year. So since the pandemic of, we used to Zoom, used to allow users individually to change their name. And now for just security purpose. Weave and attendance [00:24:00] at our school at least changed it so that only the teacher has the ability to do it.

But then it becomes a lot of anxiety of like, oh, I have to wait until I see that student pop in and then I have to remember and hope that nobody read their name while it's there. And I've had some, it's interesting cuz in one of the concepts in the cyber world that I've seen with students is students who either a.

Physically are transitioning. And so there's that like awkward second puberty. That they prefer just to be in a cyber school environment so that they don't have to be on camera or in a public setting. Cuz we've all been through that when your voice cracks and things like that where you're like I don't wanna be around people.

I've had that as well as people who have changed just how they express themselves and are kind of playing around with kind of some identities to see what fits. And some push. In the world of parents where they've taken them out of brick and mortar because they were bullied for that sense of wanting purple hair or for wanting to wear a dress.

So I've had both of a student, again, had to move a class because a [00:25:00] student came in mid-year and they said, Hey, that's my dead name. Dealt with it, you know, brought it up to admin and they were willing to move because it wasn't super big issue. It was just, here's a different zoom code, different time period of the day.

I think the more difficult ones are students to share with me or want to have a name different than what's on my roster, but the parents give pushback or it's, you know, like you saying some technology and things or explaining it. Other people in the school of like, Hey, this student who's gonna show up like this on every other thing likes to go buy this.

And they'll be like, okay, all right. I guess. And sometimes it's okay if we put it under the premise of like, it's a nickname or it's their middle name. But yeah, sometimes it's a little confusing of, then you start using different pronouns and things and people get more confusion, I guess, than it's. Of, you know, it's, I don't wanna, again, be the queer agenda to be like, you should allow students to change those things on [00:26:00] documentation, but at the same time, it's kind of like you cause further, not even harm to the student, but just further confusion in the school system because we constantly have to be bringing up the topic of, hey, they're trans, or Hey, they're identifying as this now.

And constantly mentioning those things instead of just being like, yeah, this is this. 

Host: Yep. And I think it's such an interesting thing because of the fact that like there are federal laws that protect students' health. And gender dysphoria is the actual medical condition associated with transgender folks.

And so by having to constantly bring this up, we're actually. I don't know, borderline violating that specific. Right. And I wish there was a better way for the schools to handle it like that. Parents, or, I don't know, even students would be able to put like a, call me this. And it's happened in my role where it's like, This student [00:27:00] has a nickname.

They go by Andy. Instead of Andrew. And so it's like, if we can put this nickname in there, right, and parents can put this nickname in there, then why can't we put this person's. Actual name versus their dead name. 

Sarah: And I will say that I've seen not at like a high school level for myself, but I've seen where my younger sister just graduated college and that was something of my sister goes by a nickname and.

Was very quick of on all of her IDs for college. They put her nickname because she put it as, this is my nickname. And so I think that's kind of, again, we talk about this idea of like passing. Is I think that's where people are finding that gray area of, they're going, oh, it's just a nickname, or this and that.

And then they're. Universities or groups that kind of are a little more, I don't wanna say liberal thinking, but a little more open to that are shifting and saying, okay, we're just gonna call you your nickname. Which for my sister was kind of, she got thrown off cuz she's like, nobody's called me that since I was a child, but sure, let's run with this.

But [00:28:00] I think in that capacity of like dead names and trans kids, that's something that if we could just move towards that of like preferred name and then make that the standard with, you know, instead of. Dead name, preferred name, and parentheses next to it. Preferred name and then for legal purposes if needed, you know, other name kind of situation.

I find it more because again, I work with students from all over the globe, so we have students where very interesting names. I find it more of a pushback when it comes to pronouns of teachers saying, can we put on the student's ID card, whether they're male or female. And I'm like, no, let's not. But it's, they mean it in the sake of, they wanna be able to email the parent and be able to say, Hey, Susie was in our class, she did this.

And not have to say one way or the other of but then of course I, as the English teacher, which confuses everybody and come in and go, well, you know, there's the singular pronoun they that you could just put. [00:29:00] Emails and nobody would question it. But I even have people where I use, they, them, they're in emails and people come back and they'll be like, just so you know, this student is female.

And I'm like, just so you know, I wasn't aware of that. Or like, this is a copy paste email I sent to every student. And it's just easier to write. They then there. So I think that's more where you get the pushback. Again, as an English teacher, a lot of people would be like, what do you mean singular, pronoun?

They you, how do you not know better? And I'm like I do know better. Actually.

Host: It's so funny because I'm reading I'm reading a book right now on queer social movements and their impact on like, queer educational justice and one of the articles or chapters in there always does the he or herself, Oh she / himself like, and I'm just like, just say they.

Right. It's so many more. It's so easy. 

Sarah: So many more, like, I [00:30:00] just think of like the printing press of if you're paying for letters, that's so many more 

Host: And a slash Like for no reason. 

Sarah: A special character. Oh my goodness. Yeah. No, could just say them and it would just, Shorten the sentence.

Host: Yeah, absolutely. One of the things you mentioned about your sister, I found that really intriguing because I thought to myself, like for a transgender student who maybe hasn't been able to do the paperwork side of it yet. Because you know, when you're starting college, you're generally 18 years old or 17 for some people, and you're just getting out there into the world on your own.

That could be your first affirming identification. And how powerful would that be? 

Sarah: Oh my goodness. I think for a lot of people, college in general, or like your post-secondary schooling is like your first experience. Of like deciding who you are in the world where I quote a comedian that I [00:31:00] cannot think her first name's Taylor.

Taylor Thompson, I think is her name, but she does a comedy sketch where she talks about being in her twenties and she does more with mental health, but her whole joke is in your twenties you get to decide. You get to look at all of your things that you have from your childhood and you look and decide, is this an issue or is this just my identity?

Which is of course like a funny joke of mental health, but it's this idea of you get to choose what about. Your childhood you wanna hold onto. And that first idea of being an adult where you can say, I want, I prefer to present myself this way, or I'm not gonna mention this about my childhood unless I want to.

And that idea of I can now write the narrative instead of it being written about me, I think is a big realm of adulthood. It's great. 

Host: I think that's huge. I have been looking into research methods for one of my classes is focused on access, equity and inclusion. And so there's a lot of focus on disabled people [00:32:00] and so much of the research in many of the models of disability don't include the disabled person in that model.

Like the perspective comes from doctors, the perspective comes from researchers. The perspective doesn't include voices from the actual community. And so that idea of like just being able to. Take over that narrative. It is very much that childhood for most of it is your parents telling you who you are.

Sarah: Or society. 

Host: Or society. Exactly. Yeah. Especially with the onslaught of social media. And there's something you were saying about like, Breaking down another binary, you know, normal and non-normal. And I was just thinking about like social media and how your students probably benefit from that conversation because you question, oh, that person is presenting as completely normal, and that makes people [00:33:00] go, huh?

What are they hiding? And so a lot of. Social media is, I'm presenting this. 

Sarah: Oh yeah it's fascinating to my cuz both ninth and 10th grade we go over concepts of persuasion. Which I mean, I'm not gonna humble brag, but everything you learn and to survive is taught to you in ninth and 10th grade English.

That's a little as someone who, you know, has dived deep into the curriculum. But we talk a lot about persuasion of in argumentative techniques of logical fallacies and secondary motivations. And even in storytelling of that, fiction stories can be persuasive and kind of that idea of agenda, which.

You know, the conservative side of the more traditional families will hook onto and be like, yeah, there are agendas everywhere. You know, you gotta watch out for these people pushing these agendas. But I think I have, surprisingly, in my world of cyber school, that's the unit, you know, we'd go over everything else in the English gambit, but that's the unit that a lot of my students hone in on [00:34:00] and they're like, I really appreciated this unit, or I actually use this in my real life.

And I think it does connect to that idea of more and. In our very, like internet virtual world, being able to know the difference between like reality and fake is very blurred. And so being able to pick out some of those logical fallacies or thinking outside the box even of just what they're saying to me is not necessarily what they mean or that they could have a secondary motivation is like fascinating that's.

My students latch onto, but I think it is a hundred percent to your point, that they're living in this virtual space. And I've done, again, a lot of research in the world of parasocial relationships and influencers. Because again, you compare me to Twitch streamers, how many times I'm gonna start researching it apparently.

But that idea that if I'm gonna reach them and connect with them, at that point, we have to reach kids at where they're at. And that's, you [00:35:00] know, I'm doing that by coming into their. I'm sounding like Santa Claus now, but coming into their home to via a computer screen. You know, but if I'm gonna build that relationship, it's almost I feel like as an educator I need to be privy to knowing what impact I'm having.

So a lot of that kind of level two of reaching kids where they're at. And also I think it's important then to know if I'm leaning into this new non-traditional school environment of what impacts does that. Post pandemic adolescent development, some of those things, which is fascinating. 

Host: You're one of the, I think three or four, I've had three or four English teachers on, and I think that is so interesting to me that it's like the place where you can go to teach life lessons.

And someone else pointed out, like, as long as they're reading and writing, find a news article that's going to, you know, provide a positive outlook on something or a different perspective on something or [00:36:00] give them options. 

Sarah: I think English is the only core subject I'm thinking through different core subjects.

And it, I will say that this gives some, like, struggle for students in my classes. But it's the only core subject where I have to. It's not about having the right answer, it's more about how do you back up your answer and can you find proof for it? Can you express your ideas? And it goes from this idea of they say that up until, I think it's like third grade, you read and write to like learn those skills.

And then after third grade, you're reading and writing to learn different material. Like those are just the ways to express your thoughts or to get ideas from other people. Which, you know, we could go into the hundred word gap in things for students, where if you don't learn how to properly read and write by third grade, that's a whole issue.

But I think that's where I fall into it is teaching students how to. Socially advocate for themselves and better express themselves. Because if you have the words and [00:37:00] you have the abilities to write your ideas down, then like that's we're saying, you know, you get to then control the narrative because you have the ability to tell your story or to, you know, to express yourself.

And I think that's, Again, not to like pat myself on the shoulder, but huge thing in life when it comes to, you know, ninth and 10th grade skills right there. 

Host: Absolutely. So you had worked at Girl Scout camps and juvenile detention. What draw you, what drew you into education? 

Sarah: Ooh so ironically the other jobs were.

Kind of a means to an end. Not to say again, I love those jobs. And I have wanted to be a teacher since eighth grade. Was kind of like my big focus of, I knew I wanted to work with kids. I really enjoy that kind of like nurturing side of mentoring and those kind of things since Girl Scouts. And so it was leading just kind of in [00:38:00] what capacity?

In what like realm. And. Again, with the kind of being demisexual, I think I always enjoyed learning and finding like knowledge of things. So when I was younger, again from like eighth grade, I was like, I think I'm gonna be a professor. Like that sounds great. Just give me like, people give me kind of some dignity and I can just do research all the time.

And then, Have kind of slowly through different jobs narrowed down of like, no, I do like working with kids. And then it was in girl scout camp of Oh, I prefer the older kids cuz I don't have as much energy. Like you all who work with elementary school, you're saints. I swear cuz can't do it.

Yeah. Clap all around cuz I do not have that energy. Of you know, I have, I save my energy for the end of the day with my own family. That's my energy. But, and then going on to juvenile detention really sparked a passion for me in terms of alternative ed. And this idea that it doesn't have to be the brick and mortar classroom, this traditional mindset.

So I would say it wasn't necessarily that I like fell into [00:39:00] education. It was. That I always knew I liked learning and I enjoyed knowledge and helping people learn things. It was just in what capacity that was gonna be of, you know, whether that was gonna be working with adult education in prisons or doing something more of like in theater or something of those realms.

Thought about in college, but it, I kind of just finally landed on, again, thanks to the pandemic, funny how that works of this idea of virtual learning. Which now, of course is blown up and becomes this whole, like, how do we include VR and how do we include ai? And so I think it's just, I don't wanna say it's the way of the future, but I think it's an interesting alternative to the traditional brick and mortar classroom, which I guess I've just found my passion in 

Host: both of my master's degree are online.

So I absolutely thrive in that environment. I got my master's in legal studies and it was literally, Writing, reading and writing. And I was like, yes, I can write [00:40:00] papers for days. I cannot take 

Sarah: tests. But also just the pedagogy of you wanna meet students where they're at and learning doesn't necessarily have to happen in a classroom.

And people learn in different ways. And I think virtual learning allows that to happen. And I think we're still, not to say that my school is great in this, cuz I think we're still very road of like, come to class, do your notes. But I think. Post pandemic is the big question of what is education gonna look like, and it's gonna be more virtual in that capacity because of that.

Host: I agree. I think that we need to embrace the future that we have been doing this in desks facing the teacher for almost a century now. So when does the entire pedagogy change? All right. I've got a couple of questions to kind of round out our episode. The first is, if you were talking with a brand new LGBTQ plus teacher and they had some concerns about being their authentic self in the [00:41:00] classroom, what advice would you give them?

Sarah: would say don't be knocked down. Again, I think it goes back to thick skin. Not in the sake of like, you need to be some warrior again, we talked about like, you don't have to be that person who's the banner and the flags. But I think embracing your weirdness in a capacity of, you know, knowing your limits.

I think especially with teachers starting out, it's very hard to balance. I don't want to lose a job or I don't want to lose the ability to have a job because of. My ethnicity and who I am. But I would also argue that there's a second side to that coin of if your school community that you're in is not gonna be accepting of you because of who you are, is that really a school community you wanna be in for the long run?

And it's, you know, we could talk about that's a job, but end of the day, I think the biggest thing in education is that you're finding. Communities and you're finding admin who will support you both as a teacher [00:42:00] and as a person. And I think that would be more beneficial. So I would say thick skin, knowing you know, your limits and not being, doesn't have to be out and proud, throwing rainbows around.

But also don't be afraid and scared of who you are because of that. Like, don't hide who you are because of a job and that your students will appreciate you for it. 

Host: Absolutely. I think that knowing your environment is so incredibly helpful because if you feel that kind of feeling in the interview, I've had a friend who is like interviewing all over the country right now for orchestra teacher positions, and he's like, Nope.

I think after that interview I can say that one, they're not gonna hire me, and two, I wouldn't have accepted. And I think that knowing you have a. And it can be real hard because like life is expensive. But you do have a choice and your choice should focus on your safety because you won't [00:43:00] realize you're being traumatized until the trauma is done.

Sarah: Yep. And there's then, you know, pushbacks of microaggressions and things like that, that if, you know, you try to hide yourself in an interview and then later. Come out slowly or any of those that, you know, it's not, it's better to be upfront of the best advice I've gotten as an interview is two-sided where you are interviewing for a position, but it should also be you interviewing them and asking questions of, you know, what do you do in this scenario and how do you support teachers like this?

And so I think even if you're just an. Asking some of those questions for some of that inclusivity and realizing what kind of community you would then be a part of is important. 

Host: Yep. I agree a hundred percent. I've talked about that extensively on the podcast. Just we have to do our part to make sure that in the interview we're asking the questions that are gonna make us safe.

Last question for. [00:44:00] What can students, teachers, allies do to help move the needle toward inclusivity for LGBTQ students? 

Sarah: That's like the big thesis level question right there. I 

Host: know it is. 

Sarah: Of I think I've seen this a lot in the world of education and I think sometimes it's taken as like, again, a punchline or a joke.

But I think knowing. Ultimately as educators, we're not trying to harm children. Like we're not trying to impose things. And to not see us as the villain, but to see us as partners in. Helping, you know, that idea of it takes a village of we're partners in helping raise a child and to be more open-minded instead of, I think a lot in education.

Now, is this closed off of? Well, they're trying to push an agenda or you are the bad guy. You're trying to push this on my children and coming at it, I think. [00:45:00] Positive environment of, you know, instead of yelling at us or seeing us as the bad guy of approaching us as a partner in education, both as a student, as a parent, as admin, you know, trying to form partnerships instead of sitting on different camps, I think, and that can go for everything outside of education too.

Don't sit in camps, see each other as like actual human beings and just reach out and try to be like, Hey, how can we, you know, bridge gaps instead of sitting in camps and going, well, I as the parent or I as the student. And you don't understand, cuz you're a different camp of like, no, we're all in the same school building.

Like, we're all trying to reach the same goal. So I think that is, don't see us as the villain. Don't try to put us in a box breaking more binaries. No one fits in a. Of making partnerships, I think is a big thing of, you know, even reaching out and being aware of, Hey, you're now part of helping my child, or you're part of my education, let's, you know, work together instead of different [00:46:00] camps there.

Host: I agree. I think over the last probably five years, which is unfortunately how long I've been teaching The idea that teachers aren't human, they're just teachers has kind of really blown up. And so I think just a reminder that we are all human and we are all here supporting your child. With what they need.

Will go a long way. Just remembering that. 

Sarah: Yeah. And even just as a student of, you know, that we're not the bad evil wolf trying to catch you and Oh, I'll give you a zero. We're, you know, we're helping you. It's on, you know, student advocacy there. 

Host: Yep. Absolutely. I've had students where I'm like, Hey, dude, I grade you on effort on some things, but when you put zero effort, it's a zero, so I don't know, like that's not on me. Yep. 

Sarah: The statement. The statement [00:47:00] where it's, you gave me and I went, I didn't give you a grade. I was not the one who just picked it out of a hat. That was not, I didn't do that. I did some math calculations. Tough for me as an English teacher, but I did the math calculations based on your effort.

Host: Yep. I do my best to use rubrics so that way there's a less confusion, like if this is what you've done, you can see where your mistakes are. But I'm also one of those folks who like gives everybody opportunities to redo. Yes. Whereas my district has a little bit more strict policies of if they passed, they don't get to redo, and I, I understand that high school is a different game than it was when I was a kid. And things are incredibly competitive and so many people were worried about ranking. Like I'm actually looking at a musical for maybe next year for a musical theater class that's called Ranked.

And it's literally about high school class rankings and the stress that causes students. And so, I think that it's [00:48:00] so necessary for us to just remember that not only are teachers. But so are students. 

Sarah: Yep. And they're still, we're all just trying to figure it out. 

Host: We are all just trying to figure out.

Thank you so much. I've had a really great time with this conversation and I appreciate you so much for being on the podcast. 

Sarah: Thank you so much for having me. 

Host: All right, everybody. I hope you all have an amazing day, and thank you for joining us on Teaching While Queer.

Outro: Thank you for tuning in to this episode of Teaching While Queer. If you're enjoying the episodes, please leave a review wherever you are listening to our podcast. Check us out on Instagram @TeachingWhileQueer and if you're interested in being on season two of Teaching While Queer, please visit teachingwhilequeer.com.

Have a great day.[00:49:00] 

Sarah WiltProfile Photo

Sarah Wilt


Teacher Wilt has worked for their current private cyber charter school for three years, teaching 9th and 10th grade English. Prior to coming to working in cybershop, Teacher Wilt spent 10+ years working in alternative education environments including theatre, Girl Scouts, juvenile detention, and various summer programs. They hold a a bachelor's degree in English Secondary Education with a minor in History from Juniata College. Beyond academics and day-job as a teacher, Teacher Wilt also has a strong passion for the preforming arts, nature conservation, and being a major video game, Dungeons and Dragons, and anime geek.