Welcome to Beyond the Letters-- a new podcast series hosted by authors Kate Roberts and Maggie Beattie-Roberts and brought to you by The Heinemann Podcast. In each episode, Maggie and Kate interview LGBTQ+ educators about their stories, strategies and practical advice for what it means to truly create inclusive educational spaces for queer youth and educators, alike.
In this special preview, Kate and Maggie tell us why they wanted to make this podcast, and what kinds of topics listeners can expect to hear. Be sure to subscribe and stay tuned for the first full-length episode of Beyond the Letters…
Upcoming episodes of Beyond The Letters will feature Maggie and Kate in Conversation with: Colleen Cruz, Shea Martin, Harper Keenan, Shamari Reid, and Cody Miller
Below is a full transcript of this episode!
Kate: There were a few reasons that we wanted to do this podcast. In conversations with other educators there were two things that we saw were happening. On the one hand we saw so much change and so much growth happening in the schools that we visit, in the schools that our kids go to, in our town, in our nation, in our world where we found that queer kids, queer teachers could be more open, more free, more themselves in the world. And we were really inspired by that, and wanted to catch some of that energy. We want to talk to educators that we had encountered who had been doing incredible work to make the world a better place, and that we can see evidence of the world becoming a better place because of educators like the ones that we talk to on this podcast.
On the other hand, we also visit ... Like Maggie and I get to visit lots of different schools, lots of different towns and cities in the country, and we saw that also there were places that seemed like they were either stuck, or sliding backwards. Where there were a lot of educators that we knew really cared about these issues, cared about gay kids, bi kids, trans kids, and didn't know what to do. They felt like they couldn't move forward because of politics in their school, or in their community.
And then we saw that there were places where actually it was going the other direction. We see that rhetoric has changed in some places, laws are changing in some places. And so, we felt like it was a good time to sort of try to address what are some of the things that one teacher in a school could do to make things better for people like us.
Maggie: I am so excited about all the voices that we get to listen to, and re-listen to their stories. It's a nice span of teachers in the classroom with a variety of ages. Teachers who are cleaning up messes from snack time to thinking about how to help this new generation of teachers as they walk through the halls of academia, or their classroom placements. And so, it felt really important to Kate and I to cast a wide net, because there are so many different kinds of practical advocacy work that teachers are doing all over this country, and just to get a taste of that, and amplify their story on this podcast feels incredibly exciting to me.
Brett: And there's some incredible stories that we hear throughout the series. Why was it important to the two of you to share your identities, your stories as a part of our listening journey into this series?
Maggie: There is a mixture of luck and contemporary living that I get the privilege of sharing all of my story out loud in lots of different spaces that I occupy. My mom space, my wife space, my educator space. And even in the past 15 years it just wasn't that.
I remember interviewing for my dream job in Chicago public schools, and I tend to read pretty straight when I'm first looked at. And so, of no fault of my own old director in the interview process she asked me about my boyfriend, and at the time I had a girlfriend. And I had this moment of wanting this dream job, being read a certain way, having a mix of youth in a city at the time that wasn't where it is now, and I did not live in my truth in that moment, and I become a closeted educator while I was in the classroom. And it wasn't until I left the classroom, when I interviewed at the Reading and Writing Project in New York City, that not only was there ease to speak who I was, but there was other representation of people that looked like me, and led a life like me that I didn't also have to be the first person disrupting somebody's normative story.
And if this podcast can be that for someone out there who's asked a question, and needs some strength to go against the assumption, or the norm I feel really lucky to do this podcast.
Kate: You know, we're lucky enough to do this, and we feel very lucky, and we feel very privileged. And at the same time we are gay, right? And there's a way that I think it can be glossed over that we are a lesbian couple, that we have this, this is a big part of our story. And it felt important to be able to name that, and to name our own struggles, issues, worries. Worries for our sons in the school systems that they're growing up in, in the country they're growing up in, and to be able to do what we can.
For me, unlike Maggie, many people do know I'm gay when they first see me, and that has its own pros and cons. Like I don't have to come out a lot, but I look queer. So, when I enter into a space there's a reaction. And in my own history I would walk into middle school classrooms in particular, 'cause middle school kids live out loud, shall we say, and the class would erupt in yells and screams and taunts. And it was something-
Kate: Slurs. And so, there's a way that I remember having that be such an evolution for me, and also witnessing that evolution in the country as a whole. Because I can say that like 14 years later that doesn't happen as much. Like most of the time there's like a couple of giggles, or something like that, but most of the time there's some kid that's like, "Hey, I like your hair." Or something like that.
And I think that this podcast was important to like keep creating that space, and to, again, put the spotlight on people who are working incredibly hard to make those spaces more and more open for all.
Brett: I think one of the things I love about this series is there's definitely an invitation here to anyone who is not represented as a LBGTQ person as how to be a better ally. Can you both just sort of say more about how each of these episodes have sort of worked their way to both educate, and to sort of invite people into becoming a better ally?
Kate: So, I think the big thing for us is that we wanted the episodes, we wanted these conversations to highlight work that these educators are doing that anyone could do, right? That like whether you identify as LGBTQ+, whether you don't, but you want to be more of an ally than you are right now, and you're not sure how to start... we wanted each of these episodes to offer something that we can do to move forward.
One of the things that I think Maggie and I have both been frustrated by, and I know we share this frustration with lots of people, is that in general teachers that I've met seem to want things to be more open, more safe, more livable for people who identify as LGBTQ+. But in general we see that there's a lot of talk and not a lot of action. Like a teacher wants to move forward, but is afraid, rightly so, of parent complaints, administrative push back, et cetera.
And so, we envisioned this series as being a way for people to listen, to think about what could be my first step of action. We're not trying to convince anyone's heart or mind in this podcast series. We figure if you're listening, you're into it.
But how do we move forward with like real steps that could happen to make things better for people?
Maggie: Small things like little moves you can make with your language to have it be more inclusive. So, instead of, "Who packs your lunch at school today? Is it mom or dad?" Instead I watched a teacher change her language to, "Who packed your lunch this morning? Which adult in your life? Or which parent?" Little moves like that, or small ways to enhance your classroom library to have more representation of lots of varieties of families.
That the way that the podcast tends to move is we are all rooted together through story. And I love how we begin the podcast that invites our guest to share a little bit about their story, and then they take a quick deep dive into that work offering as many practical tips to take steps forward as possible.
We also tried to stay grounded at this opportunity to even be able to do the podcast. And one thing you'll notice is the refrain of Kate and I, as we do the podcast, we always open with kind of a little thought prompt of our own of: Why are we doing this podcast? What are the reasons that drive us to the microphone, and this space to stay tethered to the work that this is for all kids, and all educators? And there are lots of different reasons why educators are pulled to this podcast to both listen and speak their story.
Brett: Everyone's in their own learning path, and they might be coming to things at different places of their knowledge, and their learning. And because of that there's a few terms that I thought maybe we could quickly define for people right now who may know, who may not know. But either way we'll sort of share these terms based on how the Human Rights Campaign has defined these just to sort of help people with their learning.
Maggie: That's such a good idea. One of the most powerful moments is... I lost my grandmother last summer at the old age of 92. And whereas I didn't come out to my grandfather, I came out to my grandmother. And what I loved about my grandmother is that she would do her research, and learn the language to use when she was talking to me about my life. And knowing that she had to be on the internet, and asking questions of how do you talk about ... She would use language and context. Even if it was a little awkward or inaccurate it meant so much to me, because her educating herself on terms like "donor" or "partner" felt like it was an act to get closer to me.
And so, I think that's a great idea. Kate, do you want to throw out a couple?
Kate: So, one thing that we're going to do is if you find yourself not sure ... If people who are listening find themselves not sure about a term we're putting up a link on every episode of the podcast, and on this podcast linked to the Human Rights Campaign that has a pretty good glossary of terms so that you can do some research. But we know that some people bring up the term non-binary, which is a term that people use to describe if you don't identify exclusively as a man or a woman. So, that's one term that you'll hear brought up a bunch of times.
Maggie: Like I know, for me, I identify as a queer woman, and I know sometimes I've had friends be like, "Wait a second. That sounds horrible, and-
Kate: Stop saying that.
Maggie: And really it's this moment where I can say, "Oh, yeah queer is this reclamation of a former slur in some communities, and I see it as a way to reclaim an identity, and encompass a large identity I have for myself."
Kate: And I like the word queer, because I feel like it's more fluid than saying ... I mean, if you're going to be technical I'm a lesbian, but that doesn't ... I don't know. There's something about queerness that resonates more for me, because it's a little more open, a little more fluid than that one sort of scientific-
Maggie: I know. And as I hear you talk about that too, Kate, it's always nice to say, "Hey." Like I could even go up to you, someone I know quite well, it's helpful to say like, "What words really speak to you?"
Kate: That's right. "How do you want to be identified? How do you identify for yourself?"
Maggie: And because language is always evolving, what I find so beautiful, is that new terms, or new terms to me evolve as our language evolves. And then it creates space to say, "Ah. I never really identified as that, but this term that's me." And so, that feels ... Sometimes I feel stressed, 'cause I'm like, "Am I using the right word? Is it butch femme anymore? Is it something different?" I think positioning yourself to like have a favorite website, like the one we're recommending, bookmarked to always ask the question of like, "How do you like to identify? Or what words really speak to your truth?" And having fun with it as language is playful, and is ever evolving.
Kate: So, as you move to the podcast if there's things you don't understand you could click the link. Also, just doing some internet research, or you could always reach out to us to ask any questions-
Kate: You have.
Brett: One other term I just sort of want to define for folks is cisgender, which I know a lot of folks tend to wonder about. Can you just quickly give us the definition from the Human Rights Campaign about cisgender?
Kate: Cisgender is a term used to describe a person whose gender identity aligns with those typically associated with the sex assigned to them at birth.
Brett: At the end of each podcast you give a quiz to each of the participants, and I thought maybe we could kind of wrap the podcast up by the two of you taking the quiz yourselves.
Maggie: I love that!
Kate: Oh, that would be so fun!
Brett: And Maggie you kind of came up with this quiz. I mean, I love it. But let's explain to people what the quiz is, and then lets dive into it.
Maggie: Okay. So, first of all, I love a good quiz. I mean, I have all memories of my youth, teenage years, of all quizzes. So, of course, if we're doing a podcast we have to have a closing five question ritual and routine-
Maggie: ...to our podcast. So, we call it the closing five, and they are five questions that we ask all of our guests. Same questions, different answers every time. Kate, would you like to interview me? Please say yes...
Kate: Oh my gosh.
Kate: Okay. Yes, I do. Yes, I do.
Maggie: Okay. This is my dream everybody.
Kate: This is the closing five Maggie Beattie Roberts. Fill in the blank. You'll never see me without my ...
Maggie: Scrunchy hair tie. Here is the deal people. I have had a scrunchy hair tie since it was in style during-
Kate: The first time?
Maggie: The first time. And I've just continued to have that hair scrunchy around my wrist, or my hair for the last few decades, and it is now back in style.
Kate: You really showed some perseverance there.
Maggie: It was. It was a fashion commitment.
Kate: You stuck with it. I'm impressed by that.
Maggie: So, you will never see me without my scrunchy hair tie.
Kate: Fill in the black of this: My favorite article of clothing ...
Maggie: Yoga pants all day.
Maggie: My first concert I won tickets on the radio to see the first ever Lollapalooza, but the buzzkill is that I was not allowed to go by my parents. So, instead my first concert was Tina Turner.
Kate: All right. That's still pretty good!
Maggie: I know.
Kate: That's still pretty good. I think I did know that.
Okay. First queer icon?
Maggie: Without a doubt Ani DiFranco.
Kate: Okay. Nicely done. What about-
Maggie: And I-
Kate: You're current queer icon?
Maggie: I mean, I am legitimately obsessed with Jonathon Van Ness-
Kate: Oh, yeah. You are. You are.
Maggie: From the new installation of the Queer Eye on Netflix-
Kate: That's true. That's true.
Maggie: His Instagram stories are fantastic.
Kate: Yeah, he needs to come and Queer Eye-
Maggie: We need some Queer Eye-
Kate: Our house
Maggie: Right now.
Kate: We need lots of help.
Maggie: We need you Jonathon.
Kate: Jonathon you're a podcaster-
Maggie: Jonathon, if you're listening come help-
Kate: Come help us.
Maggie: You have a pod...
Kate: Please look at us right now. Okay. Am I up?
Maggie: Oh, okay. Great. So, Kate Roberts-
Kate: Geeze, I haven't thought of my answers. I don't know.
Maggie: This is the best. Okay. Kate Roberts here are your closing five. Fill in the rest of the blank. You'll never see me without my ...
Kate: I'm going to say coffee and/or gum-
Kate: One of the two. Yep. And usually both-
Maggie: Usually both.
Kate: But definitely one or the other.
Maggie: Okay. My favorite article of clothing is ...
Kate: Well, I'm going to say my new sweatpants I just bought online.
Maggie: These sweatpants are incredible that she just got online.
Kate: I mean, I'm not going to lie, listeners, I sprained my ankle a long time ago-
Maggie: She did.
Kate: And I've gained a little weight, and so my pants aren't fitting-
Maggie: She looks great.
Kate: And I just ordered new sweatpants, and they are so comfortable. And if I show up at your school, and I'm wearing sweatpants that is why.
Maggie: My first concert was ...
Kate: Well, I'm from Upstate New York. So, my first concert was Bon Jovi Slippery When Wet tour at the Utica Auditorium, and it changed my life.
Maggie: That's incredible.
Your first queer icon?
Kate: Geeze, I'm going to say Jodie Foster. Yeah. I mean, I was like had no idea I was gay, but I had posters of Jodie Foster plastering my room, which it's strange that people were surprised. But that's what happened.
Maggie: I did not know that.
All right. Do you have a current queer icon?
Kate: You know, when you were answering I was trying to think about that, and I'm like I have to say it's the youth of today. Like the young queer people today inspire me, and push me so much, and I idolize them. That's my current queer icon in multitude.
Maggie: Love it.
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Kate Roberts is a national literacy consultant, top-selling author, and popular keynote speaker. She taught reading and writing in Brooklyn, NY and worked as a literacy coach before joining the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project in 2005, where she worked as a Lead Staff Developer for 11 years. Kate's latest book, A Novel Approach, asks how we can teach whole class novels while still holding onto student centered practices like readers workshop. She is also the co-author of Falling in Love with Close Reading (with Christopher Lehman), DIY Literacy (with Maggie Beattie Roberts), and she co-wrote two Units of Study books on Literary Essay. Her work with students across the country has led to her belief that all kids can be insightful, academic thinkers when the work is demystified, broken down and made engaging. To this end, Kate has worked nationally and internationally to help teachers, schools, and districts develop and implement strong teaching practices and curriculum.
Maggie Beattie Roberts began her teaching career in the heart of Chicago and then pursued graduate studies as a Literacy Specialist at Teachers College, Columbia University. She worked as a staff developer for the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project for nearly ten years where she led research and development in digital and media literacy, as well as differentiated methods of teaching and content area literacy.
Maggie is currently a national literacy consultant, guest teacher, author, and frequent presenter at national conferences. She is committed to helping teachers tap into the power of their own deep engagement in reading and writing, and leads school-wide staff development around the country. She is happiest teaching alongside teachers in their classrooms. She is co-author of the popular book, DIY Literacy: Teaching Tools for Differentiation, Rigor, and Independence (with Kate Roberts), and authored several Heinemann Unit of Study books on the teaching of writing. Her latest article, Thinking While Reading: The Beautiful Mess of Helping Adolescents Learn and Celebrate How Their Minds Work (co-authored with Kristen Robbins Warren), is featured in the December 2016 issue of NCTE's middle school journal, Voices from the Middle. You can learn more about Maggie’s work, as well as access videos and other resources, at KateAndMaggie.com.
Follow Maggie on Twitter @MaggieBRoberts