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Compassion starts in the classroom
Educator Andrew Deacon believes being a teacher means setting students up to be socially responsible citizens of the world.
May 23rd, 2019

I cannot get enough of teaching! It’s in my blood. I was born to teach. I was also born a gay man. 

As a youngster, I can recall coming home from school, venturing off to my bedroom and playing school. I had a mini-chalkboard nailed to the wall and I would use it to teach  class subjects like reading, writing and math. I remember awarding my “students” certificates at the end of the school year for things like “most improved” and “high achievement.” My favorite day, of course, was graduation when I would see my students off to their next chapter in life. I would don my father’s high school graduation robe and march in a make-believe procession, while Pomp and Circumstance played in the background.  

My teachers showed me compassion

As I entered middle school and went on to high school, my love for teaching continued. At this time, I also noticed that I was different from most children. Most of my friends were girls, and I felt attracted to the boys in my class. My peers caught onto my difference as well.  

Frequently, I would hear, “you act like a girl,” “you’re a fag” and “you’re such a homo.” During my junior year of high school, I was suspended for asking a guy out on a date. The principal deemed my behavior as sexual harassment. This sent me the clear message that I wasn’t accepted in my school for being gay.  

Image of Andrew Deacon in front of students in his classroom

One might ask why I would ever step foot inside a school again, having had such a negative experience.  But despite my challenges, my teachers made a notable impact on me. They accepted me for being who I am and showed compassion toward me. Because of them, I became motivated to fill their shoes and be the type of role model they were. After all, it was the positive ways in which my teachers spoke to me that drove me to persevere in my education. 

My journey to the classroom

I graduated summa cum laude from Manhattanville College in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in art history. I also completed the college’s honors program. While at Manhattanville, I co-led a studio art and art history program for homeless children, ages 5-12, called Creative Expressions Through Art. It was through this program that I came to realize that the next step in my education would be the pursual of a teaching degree and certification!  

Image of Andrew Deacon

When contemplating whether to pursue an elementary or secondary certification, I considered many factors, including my homosexuality. I asked myself: 

“How will I be a teacher who happens to be gay rather than a gay teacher?” This was an important question because it was crucial to me that I was seen as a teacher first and my other attributes second.  

Ultimately, I attended the University of Bridgeport to earn my master’s degree and certification in elementary education. During the program, I interned in Waterbury at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School and completed my student teaching in grade 5 at Litchfield Intermediate School in Litchfield. My first permanent teaching position was as a second grade  teacher at Colebrook Consolidated School in Colebrook, Connecticut. Later, I transferred to Torrington where I assumed the position of a fourth grade teacher. Next in my career, I served as the K-5 Literacy Specialist for the Torrington Public Schools. I worked across the district’s five elementary schools coordinating the literacy program, working closely with administration to enhance the district’s curriculum in reading and writing, and supporting teachers in their instruction. In all of my various roles, I never felt excluded or discriminated against because of my sexuality. My colleagues embraced me for my teaching abilities and accepted me for all of the qualities I bring to the teaching profession. I felt truly blessed! 
 

Advancing my career to evoke further change

This year, I decided to advance my career by accepting the position of Assistant Principal at Vogel-Wetmore Elementary School in Torrington, CT.  It is a K-3 school that serves approximately 620 students. It is a challenging, but rewarding next step in my journey.  In conjunction with my full-time position, I am working on my doctorate in educational leadership, and I teach a graduate course in children’s literature at the University of Bridgeport. 

I have an interest in how we can use queer literature to support students' understanding of LGBTQ-issues, as well as the attitudes that school leaders possess that positively or negatively impact the ways in which they support LGBTQ students and their safety.

My career in education has afforded me opportunities beyond the classroom. I have served on the Connecticut State Department of Education K-2 Writing Assessment Advisory Committee, and I am a current member of the Board of Directors of the Connecticut Association of Reading Research (CARR). Also, I present nationally on the topic of bringing social justice issues into the reading and writing program so that students have an opportunity to explore differences and develop an appreciation for and understanding of others.

Image of Andrew Deacon talking to students while they read

In May 2016, the University of Bridgeport awarded me with the Lydia A. Duggins Award in literacy teaching and the Lauren Rousseau Passionate Educator Award in memory of Ms. Rousseau who lost her life at Sandy Hook Elementary School. In August 2016, I was named Torrington Public School’s Teacher of the Year and one of 16 semifinalists for Connecticut Teacher of the Year. Last summer, I learned that I was recognized by the Northwest Chamber of Commerce as a 40 Under 40 honoree. I’m humbled to be honored for my work in education.

You can build your own inclusive reading list featuring characters with diverse characteristics, from a range of cultures, abilities and differences. Check out these suggestions from the American Library Association to get started. 📖

It’s about more than success and achievement—it’s about respect and kindness

Being an educator who is gay has led me to believe that we need to embrace that every child has the right to learn, despite potentially inhibiting factors like academic ability, race or socioeconomic status; and such factors should not limit any student from receiving an optimal educational experience. The backdrop of our students’ lives has exacerbated the work we set off to do each day in our classrooms. Our challenges have become far greater than ensuring student success and achievement. Their lives are marked by division in the world’s people. 

We can’t escape that hatred exists in our world today. To combat this, we need to transform our classrooms into ones in which students display an understanding and appreciation of one another. 

Students must enter safe learning environments where they can reach their full potential and feel empowered to be lifelong learners. It is evermore imperative that we devote time to foster classrooms that center around respect and kindness. 

We need to set our students up to be socially responsible citizens of the world.  

While I am proud of my accomplishments, despite the inherent challenges of being an educator who happens to be gay, I cannot disregard that my students are at the heart of my success. On the last day of school in June 2016, I received a letter from a student in which she wrote, “In 5th grade, I will take all of your advice, lessons and most of all, your dos and don’ts. You have shown us to have respect and show kindness to others.”  This quote has inspired me to believe that there is no greater reward in teaching than knowing that my students are empowered to make the world a better place for all of us.

Can you see yourself in the classroom?