Editorial: Students need trust and support from teachers and parents

April 11, 2017
Jonathan Teghtmeyer, ATA News Editor-in-Chief

This editorial was surprisingly difficult for me to write.

Not because I didn’t know what to say or how to say it, but because I had so much that I wanted to say.
I wanted to chastise Progressive Conservative leader Jason Kenney for saying, in relation to having schools disclose whether children attended a gay-straight alliance (GSA), that parents had a right to know what their students were doing at school.

I wanted to criticize Wildrose leader Brian Jean, for caving to fringe group pressure and waffling on the issue, after first coming out strongly against ­Kenney’s problematic statements.

Most of all, I wanted to condemn the group Parents for Choice in Education (PCE), for creating and inflaming hysteria among some parents through its Parental Consent Is Key Facebook campaign. It blatantly stokes fear in a crass attempt to raise donations by using statements like “Your child’s school may be keeping secrets from you,” “Help us warn parents,” and “Children are endangered in Alberta schools” … “Donate.”

 

"Sometimes, as adults, we forget how difficult adolescence can be as young people try to figure out their identity and how they fit into the world."

 

I essentially wrote and rewrote different columns on this topic about three times. Each time I was unsatisfied with the result, largely because there was too much to say and too little space to say it in.

Then I realized that my best argument was one that focused not on the parents or the politicians but on the kids — they are, after all, the reason we need to have GSAs.

Simply put, GSAs (or queer-straight alliances) are about providing a safe space for young people to chat freely and openly about their thoughts, questions and struggles with sexual and gender orientation. It is about providing an opportunity for queer, questioning, straight, cisgender and other students to come together, share and demonstrate support for each other.

Sometimes, as adults, we forget how difficult adolescence can be as young people try to figure out their identity (and not just sexual or gender identity) and how they fit into the world. And so it is good that we would provide them with a space, if they want one, to ask the questions and to find out how ­other young people are thinking on these matters. It is valuable that we would ensure that a caring and compassionate adult is present in the room to help them access further supports if they are necessary. And it is important that we would allow them a chance to explore these questions a bit at school before they go home to discuss it with their parents.

This is not about keeping parents out of a child’s life or education. This is about recognizing that young people may need time to work up the courage to talk to their parents about how they are feeling. I think, in most cases, that GSAs will end up empowering students to have the conversation with their parents, by helping them feel safe in their thoughts and feelings instead of afraid.

I recognize that this means parents will have to trust schools and teachers to believe that this will happen safely and freely, but I think that most parents are OK with that. Furthermore, I think that undermining the trust in schools is harmful to everyone involved. 

I think we can all agree that student success is most often achieved through the engagement of supportive parents, but teachers should not be left in the position of guessing whether the parents will be supportive or not on these issues. 

Instead, children should be encouraged to engage their parents if and when they feel safe, and parents should be encouraged to talk with their children about what is happening at school. 

In the meantime, teachers should simply focus on how they are supporting students and ensuring that schools are safe and welcoming places for all students. ❚

I welcome your comments — contact me at jonathan.teghtmeyer@ata.ab.ca.