Primary school teachers' conceptions of pedagogical responses to concepts of diverse sexualities

Year: 2017

Author: Van Leent, Lisa

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Queensland primary school teachers are typically unsure about addressing non-heteronormative themes and issues as they arise as part of their everyday experiences. Primary school teachers need policy support from employers at systemic and site-based levels. When they respond to non-heteronormative situations, they grapple with perceived media, community and employer expectations and are unsure about employer policy, referring to non-existing policy as part of their perceptions of their pedagogical responses.

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 (Jones, 2010). Primary schools are places in which queer practices, queer investigations and 'queer friendly' are taboo.

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). The teachers' constructed 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 seeks to explore two key questions. First, how do some primary school teachers in Queensland, Australia respond to scenarios in which gender and sexuality binaries are challenged, perpetuated, understood, and explored by students. Second, what drives teachers to respond in ways that perpetuate and or challenge hegemonic discourses of gender and sexuality. The results reveal that teachers typically feel uncertain about responding to non-heteronormative themes and issues, for example, basing their pedagogical responses on non-existing policy.

Learning about teachers' conceptions of their experiences in this study brings to light the contemporary need to focus on the primary school context. Understanding the everyday experiences of teachers helps policy makers, curriculum developers and teacher educators understand the contexts in which teachers are working. A multi-pronged approach is needed so that teachers can respond in pedagogically informed and equitable ways to LGBTIQ+ themes and issues that arise as part of their everyday work.