Queering research in primary schools: one researcher’s experiences

Year: 2018

Author: van Leent, Lisa

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Primary school teachers are unsure what to do when diverse sexualities themes and issues arise as part of their everyday work. “Queering elementary education: Advancing the dialogue about sexualities and school” was published by Letts and Sears in 1999. Although this publication was a landmark in examining the effects of normalising mainstream gender and sexuality in primary education, however, in the following decades there appears to have been little research interest in further examining the everyday experiences of primary school teachers as they navigate these themes as part of their everyday work.
The impact of ideological commitments to childhood innocence (Robinson, 2013), heteronormativity (Britzman, 1995) and broader cultural, political and community expectations of schools appear to steer research away from the primary school context. One result of this has been that primary school teachers have been left with minimal support, meaning that some teachers are uncertain and unsure how to address queer themes and issues in primary schools (van Leent, 2017). Another is that schools in Australia remain far from friendly places for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex, queer + (LGBTIQ+) young people (Hillier, Jones, Monagle, Overton, Gahan, Blackman & Mitchell, 2010). Whilst some research in explores pedagogical practices to interrupt heteronormative pedagogies by introducing queer literature (Martino & Cumming-Potvin, 2016), primary schools are typically places in which queer practices, queer investigations and ‘queer friendly’ are taboo and subsumed by hegemonic ideologies of childhood innocence and heteronormativity.
A phenomenographic methodology was used to study the everyday experiences of primary school teachers’ pedagogical responses to non-heteronormative scenarios. Phenomenography is particularly useful in identifying teachers’ conceptions as it focuses on qualitatively different ways in which people experience and understand a phenomenon (Marton, 1986). Phenomenography provides a useful approach to understanding teachers’ conceptions of their everyday experiences. The teachers’ conceptions are captured from a social justice standpoint of equality for people who connect with LGBTIQ+ identities, including heteronormative and queer theoretical lenses.
This paper aims to reveal one researcher’s experiences in attempting to conduct research on genders and sexualities in a primary school in Queensland, Australia. The barriers and affordances of conducting such research are discussed. Learning about these experiences bring to light the systemic barriers to conductive qualitative research which seeks to learn the enacted work of teachers in schools in relation to genders and sexualities.