Appalachian education student aspires to teach lessons in individuality

  • Appalachian State University graduate student Judson MacDonald ’17 attends March for Equality, his first pride march, in Santiago, Chile in May 2016. MacDonald said he values transparency with his students and colleagues.

Judson MacDonald ’17 wanted to be a teacher ever since he walked into his kindergarten career day in one of his father’s oversized business shirts, but he wasn’t sure there was a place for him in education.

Representing people who may not conform to the mainstream is important to MacDonald.

“I never knew of any openly gay teachers,” he said. “Even though no one said you can’t be gay, the implication was that teachers were straight women or straight men.”

A James Patterson Scholarship recipient, MacDonald majored in Spanish education and was named Appalachian’s 2016-17 Outstanding Student Teacher of the Year. He also received the first-ever College of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Student Teacher of the Year award in May. He is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Romance languages and is from Cary.

The opportunity to be part of the Appalachian Community of Education Scholars (ACES), a residential learning community for future teachers who live, learn and perform community service projects together, brought MacDonald to Appalachian.

“I credit so much of my growth and professional development to this university,” he said. “I felt that I could be me and I was able to contribute to this place in some way.”

Choosing to be transparent

As a gay person, MacDonald said he spent a lot of time thinking about how he would present himself in the classroom when it was time to begin student teaching.

“I choose to be transparent about my life, just as any other teacher would, so that I can do my job as authentically as possible,” he said. “My sentiment behind this is an example of privilege where straight teachers don’t think twice about putting family pictures or pictures of their partners on their desks. There are harmful assumptions in this.”

MacDonald said that he wants to demonstrate to his peers and students, especially those who are LGBTQ, that LGBTQ people are present and living their lives.

“These narratives do not have to linger in the shadows,” he said. “‘Mr. MacDonald’ and ‘Judson’ are the same person. If you know who you are and you can live that every day, people notice. It’s a huge privilege to let people get to know you.”

A classroom that reflects reality

Two years ago, he attended the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ) Education Conference for Teachers and Support Staff in North Carolina, which he said helped him create an atmosphere of acceptance for individuality and gave him a model to do that in his own life.

MacDonald values transparency with his students and colleagues. Awkward situations prompted by questions such as “Do you have a girlfriend?” are valuable, teachable moments. He wants his classroom to reflect reality. Placing a picture of a partner on his desk or talking about a significant other at school, just as a straight teacher would do with a spouse or partner, are experiences that he finds important to normalize.

“I am not the first nor the last gay person with whom my students will interact,” he said.

In his student teaching, MacDonald said he tried to remember one thing about each student in his class that made them unique. He built in time to interact one-on-one and get to know his students.

“I hope they remember me as someone who taught them to be authentic,” he said, “and allowed them a safe and happy space for that hour they had me.”

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