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Gender in the Classroom Part 2: What’s in a Pronoun?

What’s In a Pronoun?

by AnJu Hyppolite


We, she, he, I, you, it, and them.”

We, she, he, I, you, it, and them.”

We, she, he, I, you, it, and them...”

My third grade teacher, Mrs. Mary White, made us sing these pronouns everyday. It’s a song I sang as I typed them above. It’s a song I’ve taught the students I’ve tutored. Sure, there are more pronouns in the English lexicon than in the chant above. Yet, this was how Mrs. White helped a class of twenty-something eight and nine-year-olds remember what pronouns are. We knew which pronouns to attribute to singular nouns vs. plural nouns, and we also knew which ones were qualifiers for males, females, and objects.

This was well over 20 years ago when gender normatives were widespread. There was no overt opposition: If you were born with female gonads, you were a girl or woman. In which case, your pronoun was ‘she’. Conversely, if you were born with male gonads, you were called a boy or man. Your pronoun, in that case, was ‘he’. Today, the world is a more diverse place. People are challenging the identities that they are not comfortable conforming to. They are denouncing the male and female binary construct. Individuals who do not fall within gender normatives are referred to as non-binary, a descriptor for any gender identity which does not fit the male and female binary.

Though I grew up in a traditional Haitian household, my parents did not assign gender-conforming roles to my brother and me.

I had to take the trash out, mow the lawn, paint, shovel snow, and rake leaves. It’s the reason why as a young girl, I knew the difference between a Phillips screwdriver and a flat-blade. My brother had to vacuum, wash dishes, dust, sweep, and mop. We took turns doing our gender-nonconforming chores as well as the conforming ones. Despite having been raised without these biases, I haven’t always been open-minded in regards to other non-normative ideologies.

As an advocate for marginalized people, a teaching artist whose pedagogy is informed by social equity, diversity, and inclusion, and as a human being, it is important that I create equity in the classroom and in my interactions. I am meeting a lot more non-binary people. I am learning that what Mrs. White taught me about pronoun attribution wasn’t wrong, but that today, in 2018, pronouns are being used differently than they were when I was in the third grade.

There is no formula as to how an interaction with a non-binary person should flow.

In one instance, I am learning that when I meet someone and introduce myself, I should state my name and pronoun, giving the other person the freedom (should they wish), to do the same. I’ve been told it is okay to ask someone what their preferred pronoun is if it isn’t offered. I have, however, heard that doing either of the aforementioned could potentially oust someone who wasn’t prepared to come out. I am also learning that it is okay to not offer my pronoun or ask for someone’s pronoun first, but to allow the other person to self-advocate.

The matter of pronouns is a delicate subject for both binary and non-binary individuals. I realize that above all else, it’s about honoring how a person wants to be addressed. To call someone anything other than how they want to be addressed is calling them out of their name and minimizes how they see themselves. We don’t have to agree with it. We don’t even have to understand it. We should, however, respect people’s choices to name themselves.

What’s in a pronoun? It’s a non-binary individual’s value — the opportunity to show up as their whole selves and to be called by their right name.

AnJu Hyppolite is a Brooklyn-born, Queens-bred award-winning actress, author, advocate, poet, and copy editor who works at the intersection of theater arts, literacy advocacy, and social equity pedagogy. She is a current member of the Teaching Artist Affairs Committee.

Gender In The Classroom; A Two Part Blog Series.

Gender In The Classroom; A Two Part Blog Series.


As The Day Of Learning approaches, we offer you two perspectives on gender expression in the classroom.  Part One is from a Teaching Artist, Kelindah, who identifies as non-binary.  Part Two, written by Anju, a Teaching Artist who is cisgendered, will be released early next week.

We encourage you to respond to this article on the facebook page and keep the conversation going.

In Trans I Trust, Kids Adjust

Every 10 weeks I enter a new classroom, teal hair preceding me, “Out for Safe Schools” and “Black Trans Lives Matter” badges on display, pronoun necklace facing out, with a polka-dotted suitcase full of art supplies. These are my armor, supplies for my They Agenda.

Mx. Kelindah, I write on the board.

“Is that an X?”

“Are you a boy or a girl?”

“Why is your hair blue? Why are your eyebrows blue?”

I draw a venn diagram, one circle holds Ms, the other Mr. I write Mx. in between, or outside of, or on another page entirely.


“Oh! Mx. like mix! I’m a mix of boy and girl too!”

Assessing the room quickly, judging by the facial expressions of the grown-ups present, I decide how much of my gender to bring into the room. What bargains and boundaries will I set this time?

I don’t always use the word trans to describe myself in the classroom because to most cis people it still implies a medical procedure to transition from one binary to another– a dichotomy in need of disruption. Perhaps I’m just not ready yet. For now, Mx. it is.

Tranifest truth, Mx.

Can’t teach if you’re pretending–

A Theyvolution

My experience of gender asks for more options and unsettles the principles that construct our sordid system: that there are only two genders, that people of those genders must display certain behaviors, that those genders are based on genitals, and that those assigned male at birth are superior.

These violent principles pave the pathway for colonization and fuel white supremacy₁. A capitalist, heterosexist project, the cis-tem relies on the nuclear family as a unit of labor.

Meanwhile, nonbinary trans people, in all their nuance, have always been here existing and resisting₂. What if we could appreciate this nuance as if there are as many genders as there are beings on Earth?

I should wear a sign

Make the subway cis cringe, squirm

“Gender is a hoax”

Some days, I wear my Mx. with nonchalance. Others, I just want to find the rare, mythical, single-stall gender neutral bathroom in the school and hide.

The need to come out

Over, over, and over

And when’s it over?

My whiteness, my able body, my US citizenship and other privileges allow for my relative safety within my transness; I feel a responsibility to be out in whatever ways I have the capacity for that day. Some wonder why my transness is even relevant to an art classroom.

Because pretending to be a gender that I’m not makes me a less present teacher.

Because I’ve been the kid who felt like the options were lackluster, forced myself to wear “girl” until is falseness carved a cave of my chest. And I know the kid who cringes at every aggressive “listen up, boys and girls!” I’ve met the teacher who doesn’t have the language but is burdened by the dysphoria at every reflection.

And the rest of you who have to adjust? I know, it’s hard to shift your syntax. But you know what’s probably harder? Being trans in a structure built by binaries that tells you your magic is burden.  

Dysphorix the Clown:

Sing love songs into

A mirror that deceives you

I have to hope that if I’m truthful about who I am, I might offer those gender creative young people₃ an alternative to dysphoria, an artful expression of otherwise.

To smash the cistem

Requires a team effort, To

Break the binary

I wonder how we educators might do it differently…

  1. Make your language more inclusive: “boys and girls!” Try, “artists, scientists, readers:” words that honor what they can be over what they have been assigned.
  2. Resist assigning pronouns before asking and the urge to rely on gendered compliments. Try using student’s names more often and neutralize observations: “This is Henry’s piece. I notice that Henry explored the element of texture in this collage.”
  3. Share examples of gender variant role models₄ and artists who express gender in a range of ways beyond the binary. Representation enables reflection and expands what “normal” is!
  4. Challenge gendered assumptions: when you hear, “only girls wear nail polish,” ask questions to dig deeper: “what makes you say that?” “does anyone else feel differently?”
  5. Slow down your speech and be accountable to what you say. Did you mess up a student’s pronouns? Apologize, correct yourself, move on. Dwelling on it to assuage your own guilt puts the trans person in an uncomfortable position. Practice on your own time so it doesn’t happen again.
  6. Introduce pronouns early and often, through a game or by identifying the pronouns of role models you introduce students to. (I know a handful of 3-year-olds who ask their stuffed animals for their pronouns.) It can be as easy as asking someone’s name or their wellbeing.

Trust, children adjust. And perhaps if we grant them opportunities to take agency over their own identities, exposure to an array of gender expressions, and affirmation when they offer us ever more gender-expansive language, they won’t have to.

Kelindah Schuster is a teaching and performance artist based in Brooklyn. They grew up in Indonesia and Singapore and received their BA in theater and gender studies from Vassar College. Kelindah teaches drama and visual art with Marquis Studios and BAX and believes in collaborative art-making as radical community care. They perform as Theydy bedbug, a nonbinary drag creature who explodes gendered stereotypes and reminds us #NoMeansNo.


₁: Morales, Ezra. “I’m a Trans Student of Color. Supporting Me Means Fighting White Supremacy.” GLSEN,

₂: Diavolo, Lucy. “People Have Had Non-Binary Genders for THOUSANDS of Years.” Teen Vogue,, 20 June 2017,

₃: “SO YOUR CHILD IS NONBINARY: A Guide For Parents.” Life Outside The Binary, 30 Aug. 2014,

₄: Preston, Ashlee Marie. “Meet 10 black transgender figures from history who are models for resilience.” Mic, Mic Network Inc., 28 Feb. 2018,

Why Pay Equity Should Matter to the Roundtable

This speech was written and shared by actor and teaching artist Heleya de Barros at the Roundtable’s Interactive Townhall in January 2018. For a detailed Roundtable report on TA Pay, click here


Why Pay Equity Should Matter to the Roundtable

How many TAs are in the house tonight?

How many administrators?  How many administrators were, at one point, a freelance TA?  What made you switch?  Having a family?  Benefits?  Stable income?  Reasonable work-load?

I was asked to speak about pay equity in the teaching artist field this evening.  This is a conversation we’ve been thinking deeply about on the Teaching Artist Affairs Committee for the past few years.  It has also been part of a larger national arts education and teaching artist conversation.  The Teaching Artist Guild recently released a beta version of a TA Pay Calculator which estimates what a living wage for a TA in any given city across the US should make based on experience and size of organization.

In 2016 the Teaching Artist Affairs Committee wanted to get a grasp on what the TA compensation landscape in New York City was.  What were TAs being paid?  How were they being paid?  And what were they being paid for?  Lauren Jost, of Spellbound Theatre, Maya Turner Singh formerly of Marquis Studios, and Kai Fierle-Hedrick formerly a Roundtable board member were instrumental in this project from its beginning.  We wrote an online google survey which was diseminated through social media and Roundtable member organizations.  Respondents had the opportunity to provide employment information for up to three organizations they work for.  We received 157 respondants who together reported on over 278 individual TA gigs.  A gig constituted a paying TA opportunity varying from one day to full year placements either through an organization or directly with a school as an independent contractor.  Based on conversations with the Association of Teaching Artists which has run similar surveys, we estimated this sample pool to be approximately 10% of the total TA pool in New York City.  The data we received back was pretty grim.

75% of teaching artists surveyed reported their total annual income to be $45,000 or less.  52%,  of surveyed teaching artists made less than $35,000 annually.  Think about what it means to live off of less than $45,000 a year in New York City.  Less than $35,000?  Now, let me give you some other numbers.  

The Economic Policy Institute’s (EPI) Family Budget Calculator estimates a single person with no children to need an annual income of $43,519 in the New York metro area in order to attain a modest, yet adequate, standard of living (Family Budget Calculator, 2016).  EPI defines this modest, yet adequet living as just above the poverty line.  This means, you make enough to not qualify for SNAP, or welfare, or Medicaid, but not by much.  The New York State Department of Labor indicates that the average annual income for persons in New York City in Arts, Design, Entertainment, Sports, and Media professions is $86,210100 (Occupational Employment Statistics Survey, 2016).  MIT research indicates the typical annual salary in NYC for the same occupation to be $61,170 (Typical Annual Salaries, 2017).  The average annual income for TAs surveyed in this report was $38,185.

So, the numbers aren’t good.  

It can be easy at this point in the conversation to get caught in the cycle of talking about how terrible the state of arts pay in general is.  We can all trade war-stories about our #WorstTAJobEver and get caught making lots of “yes, but” statements about why it can’t/won’t/hasn’t changed.  What I hope our conversation can be tonight, is less that, and more imagining what we want.  What do we want arts education pay, both administrative and teaching artist, to look like in New York City?  What would it take to create that?

Many administrators in the room might be thinking to themselves, “I don’t get paid that well either.”  And while I don’t have stats to quote on the state of arts administrative pay, I can guess that it isn’t very good for many.  

So, how do we move the conversation forward?

As I was preparing what I was going to say this evening I was reminder of a cartoon I saw on twitter once that I love.  It’s two panels.  The first panel shows a woman visual artist handing a drawing to a male sitting behind a desk, and the male says, “Why do I have to pay you so much for something it took you 10 minutes to make?”  And the next panel she responds, “because it took me 10 years of training to learn how to do it in 10 minutes.”  Our NYC TAs are dually qualified.  They are trained not only in their art form, but also in classroom management, curriculum writing, and education pedagogy.  So not only can they make the drawing in 10 minutes, they can show a room of 30 eight-year-olds how to do it in a fun and engaging way that connects to Common Core Standards and satisfies national, state, and city arts standards.

I was recently on a call discussing The Teaching Artist Guild’s new TA Pay Calculator and someone said, “a conversation about pay is a conversation about quality.”  Now, I can safely assume that every person in this room agrees that every student in New York City deserves a quality arts education.  But, from the pool of TAs that we surveyd more than half of the field is making below a livivng wage.  Are we satisfied with putting that quality in front of students?  Could the quality of arts education be better if we paid living wages?  Could our programming be more impactful and sustainable if we paid living wages?  

For nearly half of the gigs reported on in our survey the TA had only worked at the organization for 1-3 years.  What would happen if we were able to retain more teaching artists of a higher quality, skill level, and tenure in the field?  

Too often our reaction to money and budgetary concerns as artists, arts educators, and arts administrators is to “just do the work” because the work is good.  We believe in the work, we believe in the power of the work, we wouldn’t be in this room otherwise.  But, we can’t continue to “just do the work” and think about the money later anymore.  If we value quality arts education, then we value quality arts administrators and teaching artists.  And we should pay them as such.  Otherwise, what are telling the students we’re teaching?  We believe in the arts, but we don’t believe it’s a viable career choice.

The question I find myself asking, as I think about the next 25 years of the Roundtable is: How do we create a sustainable pay structure for both administrators and teaching artists?  

Heleya de Barros is an actor and teaching artist in New York City.  She serves as Co-Chair of the Roundtable’s Teaching Artist Affairs Committee.  @Heleya_deBarros 

Additional Resources from the Day of Learning: Working with Students with Disabilities

Resource List:  Day of Learning for Arts Educators (Working with Students with Disabilities)

Teaching Tools and Curriculum

Advocacy and Organizations


Videos of Best Practices in the Arts

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A Teaching Artist’s Confession

By Stacey Bone-Gleason, Teaching Artist and Actress.

I’m not good at everything, and that’s ok. There, I said it!

I know it sounds obvious but, as a teaching artist, I’ve found it’s hard for me to admit. I’ll happily admit the things I have trouble with outside of my artistic field: I can’t draw; I can’t cook a steak; and don’t even get me started on how bad I am at organized sports. However, when it comes to the many different ways I can be a teaching artist, I often try to be the expert in every possible residency. That is simply impossible.

That’s not to say my work isn’t strong, or that I don’t work ridiculously hard to plan for every type of residency that comes my way, or that my strengths and passions might change.  But it is important to find, and know, my niche.

I was given the advice early on as an actress to take any gig that came my way until I could have the luxury of picking and choosing. I believe that was the right path to take when I started both of my careers. As a teaching artist there are so many possible paths, subjects, and populations to work with. It takes time to find your niche. How would I ever find out what I could and couldn’t do if I didn’t try different things? I never would have known that I love, and have a talent for, directing young people had I not said “yes” the first time I was asked. I never would have known how much I love pre-show workshops or improvisation had they not fallen into my lap.

Admitting I should say “no” is easier said than done. First, there is the financial issue. We, as teaching artists, live in a constant state of financial uncertainty. Then there is the ego issue. We WANT to be good at everything as a teaching artist (or as an actress for that matter). So, when we finally realize that there is an age or population or topic that other teaching artists are better with than we are, it’s a blow to our ego and it hurts. I have just now started to feel confident in saying “no,” even when a residency fits into my schedule. And I’d be lying if I said it still didn’t hurt.

For me, the greatest indicator of which jobs to say “no” to is in my planning time. The residencies I dread planning for, that seem to exhaust rather than excite me, are the ones I need to give a second look when the offer comes in.

My advice for early career teaching artists is to take every opportunity you can. Try and find your area of expertise, the style of teaching that truly brings out your light as a teaching artist and allows you to bring out the best in your students. Just don’t be afraid, one day down the line, to say “no” when you realize that’s what’s best for both you and your students.

Stacey Bone-Gleason is a professional teaching artist and actress. She teaches for numerous cultural organizations in Westchester and NYC including Arc Stages, TADA!, CAE, Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, Purchase College and BAM. She has even taught pre-show lessons internationally in Istanbul. She has helped to develop and perform TYA performances for the Museum of Jewish Heritage in NYC and presented at arts education conferences such as the NY TIOS and Face to Face conferences. As an actress she has performed Off-Broadway, regionally and internationally in shows ranging from classical to contemporary and musical theater. Favorite credits include Unbroken Circle produced by Seth Rudetsky, Macbeth, Tempest and Midsummer (Tempest Ladies) in NYC and Istanbul, The Baristas (South Carolina Rep). Training: NYU/Stella Adler Studio of Acting (BFA) and Educational Theatre at CCNY (MS).

What is in Your Bag?

By Lauren Jost, Teaching Artist

A few weeks ago I was sitting on the subway and, at one of the express stops, moved my bag over to make room for another commuter in a business suit.  She sat down next to me and glanced at my bag, which was overflowing with juggling scarves and puppet legs.  She raised her eyebrow, turned to me, and said, “Looks like you’re going to have more fun today than I am.”

Being a teaching artist means always being on the go. We work at several sites a day, often for several different employers, and this means when we leave the house, we have to be prepared to switch hats several different times throughout the day. Here is a handy checklist to help you pack for a full day as a teaching artist:

  • – Water bottle
  • – Leak-proof coffee thermos
  • – Phone charger
  • – Back-up battery
  • – Breakfast
  • – GPS-enabled apps and a robust data plan
  • – Your favorite way of carrying your lesson plans. Some TAs swear by index cards.  Others carry accordion folders.  I keep mine digitally on Evernote.
  • – A warm layer for cold schools
  • – Deodorant for hot schools
  • – A change of clothes for your third gig of the day, where they require you to wear the t-shirt with the company logo
  • – An unlimited-ride MetroCard
  • – A back up MetroCard in case your other one expires
  • – A wallet with IDs for the seven different schools and non-profits for which you are teaching this week
  • – Lunch (I recommend a wrap with high protein and fiber contents that you can eat in the 10 minutes between your morning classes)
  • – A bundle of scripts for your middle school residency
  • – A bag of puppets for your early childhood class
  • – A guitar for the afterschool program
  • – Bluetooth speaker with back up cords because it hasn’t been working so well lately
  • – Movement clothes for the choreography rehearsal you are leading after after-school
  • – The hula hoop, package of peacock feathers, and bundle of juggling rings that you used in yesterday’s circus workshops and which need to be returned to the office today
  • – A power bar
  • – Laptop, or tablet with Bluetooth keyboard to take notes at the production meeting after rehearsal
  • – A frequent buyer app (with rewards!) for your favorite coffee shop so you can refill your thermos between after-school classes
  • – Reading for the subway (Your dog-eared copy of “Asking Better Questions“, and your kindle loaded with “For White People Who Teach in The Hood” because you are FINALLY going to get to it this semester…)
  • – Some plastic silverware so that you can pick up a salad at the PAX and eat it on the way to your evening seminar
  • – Earrings, heels, and lip gloss for the networking seminar this evening featuring a speaker from the DOE updating us on yet another change to the state standards
  • – A jar of Advil for your mysteriously recurring back pain
  • – And make sure to leave space to pick up the set of 24 tambourines for tomorrow while you’re on your way home!