Care and Feeding

I’m Worried My Peers Will Still Call Me by My Deadname

A teenager holds books. A name change form is in the background.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus and eForms.com.

I am a rising tenth grader. I came out to my parents as nonbinary, masc leaning (I’m afab and most would consider me to be a demiboy but I prefer the umbrella term of nonbinary). They were very supportive. I am now in the process of socially transitioning. I have changed my pronouns at school to he/they (And everywhere else). Now I’m changing my name. (My parents know and support this.) My birth name was very feminine (think Isabella). I’m changing my name to a much more masc name (think Matthew). Here’s where my problem comes in. I go to boarding school, and next year I want to be known by my new name, not just my pronouns. My school is rather progressive and almost everyone was supportive of the pronoun change (those who mattered were), and I’m sure they will be of the name change. Next year, what do I do when someone deadnames me? And how can I deal with playing on the girls’ sports teams and going by a masculine name? When people hear that name, I fear they’ll question my right to be on the team. My main sports—field hockey and rugby—are very close-knit teams. I’m afraid of people not being accepting.

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—High School Name Change

Dear HSNC,

If your school community was supportive of your pronoun change, I imagine they will support your name change as well. Of course, I cannot guarantee that, but it’s a good sign!

Before school starts, send an email to your guidance counselor, coaches, and teachers introducing your pronouns and your new name. Let them know that your parents are aware and supportive of your name. If you don’t know who your teachers or coaches are yet, you can ask the guidance counselor to forward your message to them.

Since your teammates already know you as your deadname, it may be a good idea to introduce your name from the get-go. Think about what would make you most comfortable–would you like to introduce yourself on day one, or would you like your coach to do this? Do you want to send the team an email? Or do you prefer that your coach simply start referring to you by your new name to signal the change to your teammates? If your peers slip up and accidentally deadname you, correcting them immediately is perfectly fine–you’re not being rude, you’re advocating for yourself.

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GLSEN has a helpful online guide to inform LGBTQ+ students of their rights in school. However, I am guessing that your boarding school is a private institution, and so I am not sure whether or how Title IX (the education law that prohibits discrimination based on gender) applies. Since you will be away from your parents, I think you need to make a plan with them for what to do if you are feeling unsafe while away at school. I am not trying to alarm you–I sincerely hope that everything is smooth sailing. I still think it is good to have a plan in the event you feel you need to leave.

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Finally, you need a good support system at school, like a Gender & Sexuality Alliance. If there isn’t one currently, maybe you could start one with some friends? If starting a club isn’t something you’re interested in, think about who your support system will be–which friends, teachers, or counselors can you reach out to during this transition when you need to talk?

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Good luck, High School Name Change, and enjoy your summer vacation!

—Ms. Holbrook (high school teacher, Texas)

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Our elementary school will have four new teachers next year. What can parents do to support the new teachers, in addition to the usual things like donating school supplies?

—How to Help?

Dear How to Help,

This is an easy one. Offer them as much positive feedback as possible.

As teachers, we spend most of our days in a vacuum, absent any feedback or praise except for the occasional kind offering from a student. That can be incredibly hard for teachers and especially for new teachers who work an enormous number of hours to make the school year perfect while navigating the complex bureaucracy of a school and wondering if they are doing well at every turn.

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Knowing that their work is appreciated can mean everything to a teacher in the midst of any school year but particularly in their first year.

A kind word of praise is wonderful. A well-timed note can be remarkable. An email to an administrator praising the work of the teacher can be miraculous. During my first year of teaching, a parent wrote a letter to the principal praising my work with her daughter, and she sent a copy of the letter to both me and my superintendent. I still have that letter today, and 24 years later, it still means the world to me.

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You can also offer to volunteer in the classroom or establish a system of volunteering for parents if the school permits this and the teacher would appreciate the help. I’ve always encouraged parents to spend time in the classroom, and I received enormous support in my first year of teaching. Parents planned picnics and parties, assisted during science lessons, assembled bulletin boards (back when I cared about bulletin boards), and worked with small groups on math and reading. One parent would arrive at the school at 6:30 AM with me every Monday morning to help me prepare for the week. We’re still friends today.

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Not every teacher is comfortable in their first year with volunteers, and not every school allows for it, particularly during the pandemic, but if it’s possible, it can make the day much easier for any teacher.

It essentially comes down to appreciation. Teachers spend more time with your children than you often do in a given day. We work incredibly hard to help these children be successful. We come to love our students and often think about them even after the school day has ended. Knowing that this love and support is seen and appreciated can be all a teacher needs to get through a hard day and onto the next.

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It’s far less tangible than glue sticks or construction paper, but its impact is far more profound.

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—Mr. Dicks (fifth grade teacher, Connecticut)

My daughter has had the most incredible fourth grade teacher this year, and she is feeling extremely sad as the school year ends to know she won’t have this teacher anymore next year. She is already talking about doing an after-school class next year that the teacher teaches (in a subject she doesn’t really have any interest in!), and I know it’s just to stay connected to this teacher.

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What can I tell my daughter to help her move on? Is there an appropriate way to encourage her to keep connected to this teacher in some way? For instance, my daughter loves writing, and I could see her enjoy writing to her teacher. That said, her teacher is so stretched for time as it is, I want to be respectful of all she has to do, and I don’t want my daughter to be one more thing she has to tend to! For what it’s worth, the affection seems mutual, but I also know this teacher is very nurturing, and she probably is this kind and sweet with all of her students! We feel so lucky to have had her this year.

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—Profoundly Grateful

Dear Profoundly,

There is nothing wrong with allowing your daughter to stay connected to her teacher, either through their afterschool program, the exchange of letters, or the occasional drop by to say hello. While teachers don’t always remain in touch with former students, many do, and we certainly know how to establish boundaries, draw lines, and protect our time when necessary.

But an ongoing teacher-student relationship is understandable, and most teachers appreciate it. For a full year, we often spend more time in a given day with our students than we do our own children, especially at the elementary level where we spend the majority of our day with one class. Saying goodbye to them at the end of the year is hard. When they come back to say hello or stay in touch, it’s often very much appreciated.

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I recently wrote to four of my high school teachers for Teacher Appreciation Day, and within a week, all four had written back. I hadn’t seen any of them in more than 25 years, but like me, they were thrilled to hear from a former student. I’ve already exchanged multiple letters with two of them, and I’m having lunch with one next month. I can’t wait.

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The most unexpected and joyous benefit of teaching for me and many teachers has been the long-term friendships that I have maintained with students over the years. Many drop by the classroom after school to say hello and update me on their adventures. Some became my children’s babysitters as they grew older. Others have turned to me for guidance in high school and college. I’ve been invited to graduations and weddings of former students over the years, and two years ago, I officiated the wedding of a former student who is about to give birth to her first child.

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As I mentioned to the previous letter writer, we teachers spend an enormous amount of time with our students over the course of a school year. We get to know and come to adore our students, then they fly away, some never to be seen again. When a student chooses to remain in touch, it can mean the world to a teacher.

No need for your daughter to move on. She’s come to care deeply about her teacher, and her teacher undoubtedly cares deeply for her. She’s got a friend and mentor in the world now.

Lucky her.

—Mr. Dicks (fifth grade teacher, Connecticut)

We currently live in Georgia. My son missed the September 1 birthday cut off for pre-k in our area last year, so we have him registered to start pre-k here in the fall. My husband, however, just accepted a job in New York where the birthday cut-off is December, so my son would have been eligible for pre-K in New York this past year, and he’ll be eligible to start kindergarten in the fall.

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We’re moving in the fall. Should I enroll him in pre-K in New York, or start him in kindergarten there? He’s great with numbers, has most of his letters down, is getting pretty good at spelling his first name. He loves science videos, but is not interested in “learning” he says. (We’ve been talking a lot about growth vs. fixed mindset.) I’m so confused and conflicted. Your thoughts?

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—Start or Wait?

Dear Start or Wait,

I believe the answer to your question is: it depends. On one hand, I think your son will be fine starting in kindergarten this year. Knowing a few letters and numbers should put him at least on par with most of his peers, and maybe even a little ahead of others. Most kindergarten teachers start from scratch assuming the child has had no prior exposure to an academic setting. So, any basic knowledge of numbers and letters would likely be seen as a bonus.

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That said, an argument could also be made to place him in pre-k. Relocating from Georgia to New York is a big move, especially for a young child. Giving him some time to adjust in a less stressful learning environment may better position him for success in kindergarten. I think your choice will ultimately depend on how well you think your son will adjust after the move. If your son typically deals with change well, go with kindergarten, if not there’s no harm in enrolling him in pre-k this year.

—Mr. Hersey (elementary school teacher, Washington)

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