Gay and Lesbian Families in the Early Childhood Classroom: Evaluation of an Online Course and Teacher Concerns with This Issue, Megan Elisheva Beren
Meeting the needs of young children requires communication, coordination, and trust between families and early childhood teachers. Talking about families is also an important theme in the classroom. This is how children make sense of their own identity and place in the larger world. When a child’s family is composed of same-sex parents, teachers have reported feeling unprepared and uncertain about how to build an inclusive classroom environment (Turner-Vorbeck & March, 2008). Some early childhood educators have expressed discomfort in introducing this topic into the classroom because of religious, moral, and/or cultural beliefs (Duke & McCarthy, 2009). Others have feared reprisal from other parents, supervisors, or the school district. Gay and lesbian families, in turn, have felt invisible, silenced, and excluded. This is a challenging area with strong feelings on both sides of the controversy. Overall, the topic has rarely been covered in teacher education programs, curriculum guides, or professional development courses (Souto-Manning & Hermann-Wilmarth, 2008). In this study, I examined the value of an online professional development course on gay and lesbian families in the early childhood classroom, as well as educators’ experiences with these families. Teachers completed the course online, and then assessed its value, via a survey, in knowledge conveyed, comfort with the content of the course, and helpfulness of the tools provided. The findings confirmed that most teachers received no training on the topic of gay/lesbian families in their teacher training programs or current job setting. They felt uncomfortable with their lack of knowledge, and the majority wanted training that included tools for being inclusive and welcoming; however, they were not interested in specifically discussing the topic with the children via a comprehensive curriculum. Online training was a comfortable modality and could be an avenue for providing professional development on this topic.
Key Words: early childhood, education, gay and lesbian, family, same-sex, online course