“Day of Silence is coming up, and every year there is a group of students at the high school I work at who participate. And, of course, there’s another group of students who taunt those participating and try to make it into a joke. Obviously I can’t directly participate myself (I’m a teacher and need to talk!) but what else should I be doing to support those who are participating?”
Question Submitted Anonymously
Answered by Sara Schmidt-Kost
Hello fellow Educator!
Thank you so much for wanting to support your students who are participating in Day of Silence. The Day of Silence is a nation-wide day of protest for students to highlight the silencing and erasure of LGBT students in schools. Participating in the Day of Silence means that students pledge to be silent in school all day. Their silence is their protest. It is unfortunate that there are some who try to take away from the powerful message of silence with their taunts and rude behavior. There are a number of ways you can address the taunting behavior and prepare your students to respond appropriately.
First, how supportive is your school culture and Administration to the students who are participating in Day of Silence? If you have an otherwise supportive school and Admin, and these students who are taunting are mostly outliers, then it should be pretty easy to get your Admin’s support to protect your students participating. You could make a preview announcement before Day of Silence informing the staff and students of the purpose of the day and ask for respect for those participating. Proactively working with the Admin and staff before the event is always better than reactively responding to negative behavior on the day.
You could also work with your Admin to create a contingency plan for those few students who might taunt those who are participating. How should staff and Admin respond when they see silent students being taunted? Will there be consequences for the students who are taunting that could be implemented, like lunch detention? Most schools and school districts have behavior guidelines, and harassment and bullying should fall within the parameters for behavior consequences. If your school focuses more on restorative practices, then you can prepare to have restorative conversations with the students who taunted with the guidance of your building’s behavior staff.
If your Admin are not as supportive, you can still bring the situation to their attention and ask for help. Coming from the lens of equity, students’ rights to protest, and anti-bullying, you can craft a well thought-out argument for your students’ rights to participate in the Day of Silence peacefully and without harassment. If your district has an Office of Equity and Diversity, you could also include a person from that office in on the conversation to help support you.
Second, in the weeks leading up to the Day of Silence, meet with your students to help them understand their goals for participating. Talk about the history of the event, different forms of protest, their rights as students participating peacefully in protest, and what to do if they are taunted. Also be sure to provide your students a safe place for them to go throughout the day—for example, they could eat lunch in your room together silently, or in an empty conference room if available. It might also be a good idea to work with your school’s counselors and social workers to make sure they are also safe people for students to go to throughout the day if they need some space or support.
Third, on the day, have a prepared speech ready to go to respond to any questions you recieve. Something along the lines of, “Today is the Day of Silence. On this day, students across the country stay silent to bring awareness to the silencing effects of bullying on LGBT students…” The more you prepare, the easier it will be for you to answer questions and step in to intervene if you see any harassment. You could also give handouts to staff with an FAQ page and a simple script for them to follow. Check out the GLSEN website’s Day of Silence page for more information.
Fourth, here’s a thought for you: why can’t you as a teacher also participate in the Day of Silence? Sure, it will be challenging, but not impossible! Planning ahead of time for a self-directed activity in your class that day might work in addition to using written directions or non-verbals. Depending on the class you teach, like Social Studies, you could also show a documentary that day about the LGBT rights movement—PBS has a great one about the Stonewall Uprising. Alternatively, you could find information about other peaceful protests like the Lunch Counter sit-ins or the Montgomery Bus Boycotts during the Civil Rights movement. There are also many examples of student-led protests, like the famous Tinker v. Des Moines case. As long as you have the support of your Administration, it would be an incredibly powerful statement for a teacher to also participate in the Day of Silence.
Best of luck to you and your students on the Day of Silence. I hope that your day goes smoothly, and your students feel empowered by their actions.
Sara Schmidt-Kost is an out, queer teacher in Minneapolis, MN. She spent five years as a leader in the LGBT student organizations at St. Cloud State University where she completed her undergrad in Secondary Social Studies Education. Sara currently leads the after-school GSA at the high school where she teaches, and she is thankful for the opportunity to support her students as they grow into amazing adults. Sara has also created workshops on LGBT Issues in Schools and LGBT Curriculum in Social Studies and has presented these workshops to groups of Social Studies teachers, other educators, and students alike.