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Making history in the classroom with help from forgotten voices
How the LGBTQIA+ community can round out our country’s narrative
June 25th, 2018
⏱ 5 min read

Maria Kennedy is the History Department Chair at Ewing Marion Kauffman School. She teaches two blocks of AP U.S. History and spends the rest of the day coaching teachers, developing curricula and attending administrative meetings.

This is her ninth year in education—and her eighth in Kansas City, having moved here via Teach for America in 2012 (and after teaching English in Vietnam via a Fulbright fellowship the year prior).

This is a big year for Maria: Ewing Marion Kauffman School graduated its first class of students from high school this spring, who earned over $5 million in scholarships. Two-thirds of the class will attend college with no student loan debt. Put simply, Maria is well-qualified and busy. She’s also lucky to get to share the campus she where she works with her wife, Lis.

"What's especially sweet is that this group of students was the first that both my wife and I taught at Kauffman. She taught them when they were in eighth grade; I joined Kauffman two years later and taught them as sophomores and then again as juniors. Sharing the joy of these kids’ success has been such a special experience for the two of us."

This Pride Month, Maria digs into some of the significance of being part of the LGBTQIA+ community at school and beyond.

Want to be the teacher who changes students' lives? Get started by chatting with a career expert. Or check out more Pride Month articles here.

Maria Kennedy headshot

Embrace your 'authentic self'

When asked what her relationship to the LGBTQIA+ community is, Maria responds with a touching story about how she met her wife at Centre College in Kentucky:

We were paired together as freshman-year roommates. She’s a teacher, too, and it’s been so beautiful to be on this journey with her. We’ve been together over 10 years.

While Maria and Lis met in Kentucky, they now call Kansas City home. And Maria isn’t sad about that: “I’m very comfortable here being who I am,” especially given the passage of Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015. “I remember that day—it was a Friday—and we went down to Westport to get dinner. We had these matching shirts that said ‘Legalize Gay’ on them from back when Prop 8 was going on in California.”

People off the street were cheering and smiling at us—that recognition felt really good.

When Maria first became a teacher, she didn’t tell her coworkers that she identifies as a lesbian. She says she “got better at it” while in her second job, mostly because she regrets not having been out in her first role. Now, she implores teachers to “have the courage” to be their authentic selves.

In Kansas City, Maria describes herself as feeling proud, open and honest. And while that’s a big win individually, she says it goes beyond her personal comfort level. Living life “out loud” has a profound impact on Maria’s students.

Reach broader horizons

There are two major times when Maria feels that being transparent about her identity impacts students: through informal conversations and when teaching history from forgotten perspectives.

Once students know that Maria is gay, any possible stereotypes and preconceptions are challenged. In her own words, “They get to know a me, and they realize non-heteronormative identities aren’t scary.”

Having someone like me as your teacher makes students realize that being queer is not a big deal, and interacting with—and becoming friends with—a queer person is an everyday, human experience.

When it comes to her curriculum, Maria acknowledges that not every perspective is told. Even in AP classes, history is written by the victors. But as Maria sees it, “I love to teach history because I get to do justice to untold experiences.” There are many examples of pertinent historical events from the perspective of people of color, women and queer people that need to be represented in our country’s mainstream narrative.

(For example, Maria offered the Lavender Scare as one event you might not have heard about when studying McCarthyism. If you want another, she references the colonies: How much do you know about the cultures of indigenous people who lived in Virginia before the English?)

Right now, not everyone’s story is being told. I don’t spend all my time talking about gay people, but being gay (1) helps me acknowledge that there are counternarratives to those of wealth and whiteness, and (2) makes me interested in researching and teaching these stories.

Celebrate—and propagate—diversity in learning