Students react to teachers asking for pronouns


Photo by Cora Flynn

Social studies teacher Nicole McCarn teaches her second period AP Psychology class on Sept. 15. Like many of her colleagues during the first week of school, McCarn offered her students a chance to write their pronouns and preferred name on a name cards on their desks. This was part of the MCPS push to provide transgender and nonbinary students an easier way to come out to teachers.

The first day of school is stressful enough for most students, but for senior Javier Charme, it was especially nerve wracking. Not only did Charme have to balance a new schedule, new classes and being in person for the first time in 18 months, but he also had to come out as transgender to all of his teachers. This stress is not unique to Charme. 

When starting a new semester, transgender and nonbinary students typically carry the extra burden of ensuring their teacher calls them the right name and uses the right pronouns. However, for many students, the push this year for teachers to ask students for their preferred pronouns and names has made that process a little bit easier. 

The increase of teachers making an effort to respect the gender identities of students is not a coincidence. There has been a conscious effort made by MCPS to train teachers differently, particularly during their mandatory pre-service training. The WJ staff was given a presentation focused on gender identity titled, ‘Creating a Welcoming Environment for All’ which was given by Dylan Kapit, a former WJ student.   

“This issue was put at the forefront of teacher training and was given a lot more attention in comparison to other years,” social studies teacher Nicole McCarn said. 

The effort paid off for many students, such as sophomore Gray Ball. Ball identifies as transmasculine and uses the pronouns he/him and xe/xem. The process of coming out to each of his teachers was a lot easier this year.  

“In the first week of school, I had almost every single one of my teachers ask my pronouns. Like with the questionnaire or write it on your name tag. The past couple years, there was none of that, but this year it’s like a complete change,” Ball said. 

The change also helped Charme who felt a lot more comfortable talking to his teachers.

 “I feel it’s an improvement actually and it is just way easier and more approachable to the teachers,” Charme said.

Though most agree this is a positive change, there is room for improvement. Depending on how teachers ask, it may seem like they are forcing students to out themselves to their entire class which can be stressful to the students and in some cases, can threaten their safety. Writing on notecards or private surveys is one solution to provide students with more privacy and time to get to know their teachers while still acknowledging their choice of whether or not they want to share it with the entire class.

“There is kind of a mixed crowd around school so I don’t know who I’ll come across that’s going to be transphobic or homophobic. So it’s a little bit scary letting the whole class know that, yeah I am not cisgender. That’s kind of a big statement to share,” Ball said.

Although this is a big step in how MCPS, specifically WJ, support nonbinary and transgender students, there is still considerable work to do, as non-cisgender students continue to face challenges at WJ.  

“I don’t really go to the bathroom during school time because again, I don’t know which one I would use. It kinda makes me feel isolated. Like, again going to the bathroom is so much easier if you’re cis and then I can’t really do that. I don’t know if I pass well enough. I don’t know what people would see if I go to the one I want to go to,” Charme said.

Despite the big changes that still need to happen, at the end of the day it really is the little things that matter the most. Names matter. Pronouns matter. It matters when teachers put in the work to respect and see each of their students. And it matters when MCPS makes an effort.