Using Chosen Names and Pronouns for Students Is Important

Nov 15, 2019 12:00:00 AM


If you have been reading my work long enough, you know I am adamant about teachers pronouncing students’ names correctly. A student’s name is part of his or her identity. It is not a teacher’s place to complain about a student’s name or make fun of it. This should also apply when a child’s preferred name is different than a name given at birth.

Childhood is tough. Teachers should not be part of the environment making life harder for students. Locally, we have had teachers refuse to use students’ preferred names. Teachers are hired to teach content, not to pass judgment or assert their views, beliefs or religion onto students. We are guides on the side. [pullquote]It is not our job to dictate to students what is or is not acceptable when it comes to their life choices.[/pullquote] We are supposed to create environments where they feel loved and safe.

There was a student in a school where I used to work who identifies as transgender. The student went by an androgynous name. The student would frequently hang out by my classroom even though I did not have this student in my class.

One day, the student said, “You’re real cool.” I replied, “Of course, I am.” I love to goof around with students, but the student was attempting to have a serious conversation with me. The student then replied, “You’ve never questioned me or asked me, well you know.” To which I replied, “Why would I? What does that have to do with teaching English?” Later on that day, I took a moment to reflect. I wondered if what the student said to me was why the student was hanging out by my door during each passing period.

Now, it’s time to take it a step farther. We need to use the correct pronouns, too. In the signature of emails and in profiles, it has become more common to state your preferred pronouns. You don’t have to be transgender to do this. If a family informs the school of their child’s preferred pronouns, school staff need to use them. [pullquote]Just like we have to know each child’s academic ability, what's in their IEP or ILP, we should know and use their preferred pronouns.[/pullquote] If you work in a public school, this is not going away. Is refusing to use a student’s preferred name or pronoun really the hill to die on? I think not. If it is your hill, consider teaching at a private or religious school.

Suicide rates and bullying are on the rise in our youth. Teachers need to be role models on how to accept and embrace students for who they are. If we don’t, we are not making all students feel welcome.

This post originally appeared on IndyK12 as "Using Chosen Names and Pronouns for Students Is Important."

Shawnta S. Barnes

Shawnta (Shawn-tay) S. Barnes, also known as Educator Barnes, is a married mother of identical twin boys. She navigates education from not only the educator’s perspective but also the parent’s perspective. She has been an educator for nearly two decades. Shawnta works with K-12 schools, universities, & education adjacent organizations through her education consulting business Blazing Brilliance. She is an adjunct college professor, supervises student teachers, Indy Kids Winning Editor-in-Chief, Brave Brothers Books Co-founder, & CEO, and Brazen Education Podcast host. She holds five education licenses: English/language arts 5-12, English to speakers of other languages P-12, library/media P-12, reading P-12, and school administration P-12, and she has held a job in every licensed area. Previously, she has served as a school administrator, English teacher, English learners teacher, literacy coach, and librarian. She won the 2019 Indiana Black Expo Excellence in Education Journalism Award. In 2023, she completed her doctorate in Literacy, Culture, and Language Education with a minor in Learning Sciences. She is an urban gardener in her spare time and writes about her harvest-to-table journey at To learn more about Shawnta, visit

The Feed


  • What's an IEP and How to Ensure Your Child's Needs Are Met?

    Ed Post Staff

    If you have a child with disabilities, you’re not alone: According to the latest data, over 7 million American schoolchildren — 14% of all students ages 3-21 — are classified as eligible for special...

  • Seeking Justice for Black and Brown Children? Focus on the Social Determinants of Health

    Laura Waters

    The fight for educational equity has never been just about schools. The real North Star for this work is providing opportunities for each child to thrive into adulthood. This means that our advocacy...

  • Why Math Identity Matters

    Lane Wright

    The story you tell yourself about your own math ability tends to become true. This isn’t some Oprah aphorism about attracting what you want from the universe. Well, I guess it kind of is, but...