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I have experienced two very beautiful moments during my teaching career.
One was in 2014 when I was teaching 4th Class. Two occurrences complemented one another which culminated in the first of the beautiful moments. The first was that the song ‘Same Love’ was very popular in Ireland. The second was that the class were learning about debating and engaged in numerous motions.
Not knowing how ‘safe’ it was for me to bring this song in to the class myself in order to discuss its content, I decided to invite the children to bring in any music they wanted to listen to. The only guideline was that the music or song had to have a positive, life-affirming message, and that whichever child supplied the sample song must also explain what the song or music communicated. If anyone were to bring in a song; we would listen to the song first and then discuss its message.
The very next morning the class presented me with ‘Same Love.’ They all knew what the song was about and judging from their mischievous grins and smirking side glances to one another, presumed I didn’t. I was very aware that how I acted and reacted over the next few moments would potentially influence these impressionable children. As a teacher you are constantly modelling behaviour for students; whether you’re aware of it or not. As a parent you are constantly modelling behaviour for your children; whether you’re aware of it or not.
I played the song and we all listened quietly together. Initially there were some very nervous sniggers from children who were clearly aware of the rarity of such content appearing in school, and who were also uncertain as to how I’d react to it all. Once the class observed me listening intently and calmly to the song, allowing it to be played, they too listened carefully.
Afterwards I thanked the child for bringing in a song that had such a clear and powerful message. I then asked the class what they thought the message was. They accurately reported that the message of the song was that love is love; regardless of whether you’re gay or straight. I then asked the class if they all understand what the word ‘gay’ meant. They did and explained it by saying “it’s when two men are boyfriend and boyfriend.” I then asked if they know what it was called when two women were girlfriend and girlfriend. They did.
Under Section 37.1 of the Employment Equality Act, at that time, I could technically and legally have been fired for this: because I worked in a publicly funded Catholic School. That law has since been amended slightly.
Later that day, I put a motion on the board entitled: ‘Same-sex couples should be allowed to marry’ and subsequently assigned students ‘for’ and ‘against’ the motion, as no group had volunteered to argue against the motion. After about 3 minutes into the 12 minute preparation time I had allocated to the groups to brainstorm their arguments, the ‘against’ group approached my desk, completely exasperated and said: “Teacher, this is too difficult, we can’t think of any reason why people who love each other shouldn’t get married.” I replied by saying: “Neither can I. Let’s leave it and debate something else.”