DiCo, left, with students from the AF Brooklyn High Speech & Debate Team on Senior Signing Day.
It’s nice that LGBTQ people have a special month, but to me, Pride is year-round. Particularly in my ten-year journey as an educator, I’ve come a long way. A few weeks before I started Teach For America Institute, I anxiously came out to my parents. I remember my mom started crying on the phone and said that she and my dad suspected I was gay but were praying they were wrong. On the first day of Institute, I remember we had to write a reflection on what we were most nervous about; most corps members wrote about managing the classroom. But I wrote about having no clue what to wear because teacher clothes are so gendered, and I didn’t want to look like all the other women.
At my old school, when my wife would accompany me to Speech & Debate tournaments, I would introduce her as “my friend” because the administration in my building threatened me for wanting to start a Gay Straight Alliance and were notorious for outing kids to their parents over the phone.
By the time I applied to work at Achievement First, I was just starting to explore my gender identity, and I decided I wanted a different story at AF. At my demo lesson, I calmly told the kids to call me DiCo – not Mr. DiCo, not Ms. DiCo, just DiCo. I remember one eyebrow being raised and a hand shooting up to the air to which I just nonverbally gestured, “Nope. No questions. Put your hand down and let’s move on.” In my six years at AF Brooklyn High, I have felt so supported by the faculty, families and most importantly, kids. This gender-non-conforming journey has taken me to different pronouns, different articles, different restrooms, but every step of the way, my community has had my back.
In terms of how my identity has informed my teaching practice, I think my queerness actually gives me a big advantage in terms of relationships with kids. I am super open on day one: I show the kids a picture of the TinkerTots toy where toddlers have to put the triangle shape into the triangle hole and the square shape into the square hole, and I explain that to me, gender feels like being a unicorn-shape trying to fit into holes that just don’t work.
I remember my first day teaching kids at AF Brooklyn High when I had the talk with them about pronouns and gender. One kid stuck around after class and told me that he felt like he had to step up his game because I had just started the year off by treating him like an adult by being so vulnerable off the bat.
It’s important that I am so open with my students because I had no openly queer role models growing up, and I want to make sure that my kids do. Representation matters. I wish that someone would have told me in high school that it was okay to be unapologetically me. I want my students to accept who they are without shame and self-hatred. I am proud to represent exactly who I am – this month and year-round.
K.M DiColandrea teaches Latin and coaches Speech & Debate at AF Brooklyn High.