Accepting “they” as a singular pronoun: Writing gender-neutral report cards

Accepting “they” as a singular pronoun: Writing gender-neutral report cards

The ever-expanding knowledge of gender fluidity has resulted in more and more students feeling comfortable understanding their gender identity. With this evolution, teachers are looking to explore different ways they can give constructive feedback without using gendered pronouns on report cards. This practice allows students and teachers to work together and not feel anxious about what or how they are saying something.

Teachers find this difficult because it may challenge binary assumptions about gender and our understanding of language conventions. Many buddy-check systems on report cards leave teachers questioning sentence structure and grammar, when the intention of eliminating references to gender is not meant to cause confusion.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary (www.oxforddictionaries. com/words/he-or-she-versus-they), limiting pronouns to gendered pronouns (e.g., she, her, he, him, etc.) is “seen as outdated and sexist.” While traditionally “they” is used in plural constructions, acceptance of using it to refer to an individual is growing fast. (For instance, the American Dialect Society voted “they” used as a singular genderneutral pronoun as 2015’s Word of the Year.) By embracing this change, teachers can support students in expressing their unique gender identities.

MyEducation BC has a pregenerated report card comment bank, which can reduce the amount of stress teachers have around writing report card comments. However, gendered pronouns are still used by the program. Teachers can easily edit these out and replace them with “they” (or their, them, etc.) The way to access the comment bank is as follows:

  1. Open up the student comment window in Gradebook.
  2. Click on the yellow arrow to the right of the comment box.
  3. Select the first option, “General,” on the drop-down menu.
  4. The second drop-down menu allows you to browse comments by subject area; alternatively, there is the ability to search by comment number listing. For example, comment number 063 reads, “(student’s first name) is conscientious about doing (gender) best work.”

In this case, the teacher will have to recognize that the student’s legal name, rather than preferred name, will populate, and gender as recorded in MyEducation BC will populate in the comment, which may need to be edited in both cases to reflect a student’s given name. Teachers can access this document detailing the MyEducation BC comment codes.

Realistically, many teachers avoid the use of gendered language and practice in the classroom as they strive to make their classrooms more inclusive. Accepting the use of “they” as a singular gender-neutral pronoun is an important, yet easy, action to take.

This article was originally published in the BCTF’s Social Justice Newsletter, Summer/Fall 2016 and was written by  Heather McDonald, Lizzie Midyette, and Nichelle Penney.

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