Decision Fatigue Led Me to Stop Using Gender Pronouns in My Classroom

Gender pronouns are a hot topic these days. Demi Lovato made headlines when they changed their pronouns to they/them on Instagram. Then recently they announced that they were going back to she/her pronouns. You can see pronouns like she, her, he, him, they, and them on LinkedIn, for example. I highly respect peoples’ chosen pronouns, but I respectfully don’t use them in my classroom. Why not? Because in my classroom, what matters is your thinking. O yea, and there’s just too fricking much going on for me to think on my feet any more than I already have to.

Back in 2015 when I was student teaching, one way I showed professionalism and respect towards my students was to refer to them as “Ma’am” or “Sir,” from time to time. “Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen!” also seemed like a respectful greeting. The next year I was a first year teacher, and I had 5 classes of my own and 140 students. And something happened: I was entirely overwhelmed. I expended so much time and energy to plan thoughtful, challenging, and engaging lessons. Every morning I was exhausted when I arrived at school. 6th graders especially are a high energy bunch, and every day I was bombarded minute to minute by their constant streams of consciousness. They had so much input, so many questions, and needed so much direction. I never challenged my brain before with so many balls in the air at once. Multitasking is an understatement.

My Brain Just Couldn’t Manage Everything

My first year I continued to address my students in what I thought was a respectful way, using Ma’am and Sir. Then I remember one time I called on a student. I fumbled and I used the wrong one. I said, “Yes, sir. I mean ma’am. Ma’am, sir.” It was awkward. A look of surprise came across my student’s face, and there were some stifled giggles from the seats nearby. I could tell the student was embarrassed by the attention brought to her by my mistake. I felt awful. It was then that I knew I had to make a change.

My brain just couldn’t manage everything at once. I cannot stress enough how overwhelming it was during my first few years of teaching. The decision fatigue was unreal. I have not experienced anything else like it. On top of classroom management, and explaining abstract concepts like density, plate tectonics, and weather fronts, it’s up to me to address your gender on the fly? Yea, no. It’s just too much. From there on out, I dropped the gender pronouns, and Ma’am/Sir titles completely. With a few less balls in the air, things actually became a lot more simple.

This is still how I refer to my students in class. I learn names as quickly as possible, ideally within the first 2 weeks. I address students by their name whenever possible. If I don’t use their name, I say, “Your classmate,” or “They/Them.” For example, “Your classmate said Ebola. What are other infectious diseases you can think of?” A few years ago I had a transgender student. His English teacher accidentally referred to him by the wrong gender pronoun. She felt terrible. I can’t even comprehend all of the feelings my young student had in the moment, and what the lasting impact was. My colleague came to me totally distraught and told me what happened. One thing I did was explain to her my tactic for not using gender pronouns. She had never considered this approach before. I believe it opened her eyes, and she realized, like me, how this simple change could make each day a little easier. She wholeheartedly apologized to our student. And with her new strategy for the (non) utilization of gender pronouns in class, she could keep her promise that she would never let it happen again.

Gender Pronouns are Important

The gender pronoun “trend” is important. People are educating our society on who is here, and how they think. We need to ease our binary thinking and routine of categorizing people into this or that. It’s hard to exist in a society and a world that is so rigid. Humans exist on a spectrum of gender, sexuality, and so many other qualities. But I think this trend will soon run its course. My prediction for the future? Less labeling, and less pronouns. One of my favorite TV shows is The Orville. It’s like a modern-day Star Trek. In the show I like how crew members respectfully address officers – Captains, Commanders, Lieutenants, Admirals- as Sir, regardless of gender. That simplification might not fly in our society right now, because of the fallout from the Me Too movement and “Toxic Masculinity.” People are a little turned off to men right now. But I hope for my son’s future that he is not regarded as the enemy just because of his gender.

I don’t expect that everyone will agree with my approach to gender pronouns in the classroom. I’m not an HR professional, or a Diversity and Inclusion Officer. But I do know that I am reflecting some of the views of the young minds I teach. Their generation has a different relationship to gender and presentation. It is important to me that my classroom is responsive to them.

Now I Can Multitask Like Nobody’s Business

Teaching is a hard profession. After years of practice, I trained my brain to be adaptive to a demanding, overstimulating, mentally challenging environment. My brain muscles are strong and developed, and I can multitask like nobody’s business. I became a better teacher. I think it makes me a better mom, wife, driver, and cook (at home chef as I like to call myself, haha). Even though I can now handle the classroom craziness like a pro, I will continue to leave out gender pronouns for the foreseeable future. It works for me. It makes my super hard job a little bit easier. And it creates an inclusive and responsive learning environment.

If you’re the woke police, don’t come for me! Please, have mercy. I think a lot of people out there, myself included, are kind and understanding people. They are good-hearted, and they want to do the right thing. I want to be respectful of others, and do everything I can to be inclusive. For my classroom, that means placing value on your thinking, and not what you look like or how you identify. I work really hard each year to create a classroom culture that is safe and caring. I am proud of myself. I am proud of my students when I see them treat one another with respect, and act with kindness.

What are your thoughts on using gender pronouns in the classroom? How do you create a classroom culture that is respectful, responsive, and responsible? Please share by leaving a comment. I would love to hear your thoughts! To read more about me and my classroom, check out my blog posts below.

Published by How She Teaches

I teach Biology and Earth and Space Science in high school and middle school. I want to share my personal experiences and teaching milestones with anyone who wants to learn.

3 thoughts on “Decision Fatigue Led Me to Stop Using Gender Pronouns in My Classroom

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: