Judson MacDonald ’17 wanted to be a teacher ever since he walked into his kindergarten career day in one of his father’s oversized business shirts, but he wasn’t sure there was a place for him in education.
Representing people who may not conform to the mainstream is important to MacDonald.
“I never knew of any openly gay teachers,” he said. “Even though no one said you can’t be gay, the implication was that teachers were straight women or straight men.”
A James Patterson Scholarship recipient, MacDonald majored in Spanish education and was named Appalachian’s 2016-17 Outstanding Student Teacher of the Year. He also received the first-ever College of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Student Teacher of the Year award in May. He is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Romance languages and is from Cary.
The opportunity to be part of the Appalachian Community of Education Scholars (ACES), a residential learning community for future teachers who live, learn and perform community service projects together, brought MacDonald to Appalachian.
“I credit so much of my growth and professional development to this university,” he said. “I felt that I could be me and I was able to contribute to this place in some way.”
Choosing to be transparent
As a gay person, MacDonald said he spent a lot of time thinking about how he would present himself in the classroom when it was time to begin student teaching.
“I choose to be transparent about my life, just as any other teacher would, so that I can do my job as authentically as possible,” he said. “My sentiment behind this is an example of privilege where straight teachers don’t think twice about putting family pictures or pictures of their partners on their desks. There are harmful assumptions in this.”
MacDonald said that he wants to demonstrate to his peers and students, especially those who are LGBTQ, that LGBTQ people are present and living their lives.
“These narratives do not have to linger in the shadows,” he said. “‘Mr. MacDonald’ and ‘Judson’ are the same person. If you know who you are and you can live that every day, people notice. It’s a huge privilege to let people get to know you.”
A classroom that reflects reality
Two years ago, he attended the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ) Education Conference for Teachers and Support Staff in North Carolina, which he said helped him create an atmosphere of acceptance for individuality and gave him a model to do that in his own life.
MacDonald values transparency with his students and colleagues. Awkward situations prompted by questions such as “Do you have a girlfriend?” are valuable, teachable moments. He wants his classroom to reflect reality. Placing a picture of a partner on his desk or talking about a significant other at school, just as a straight teacher would do with a spouse or partner, are experiences that he finds important to normalize.
“I am not the first nor the last gay person with whom my students will interact,” he said.
In his student teaching, MacDonald said he tried to remember one thing about each student in his class that made them unique. He built in time to interact one-on-one and get to know his students.
“I hope they remember me as someone who taught them to be authentic,” he said, “and allowed them a safe and happy space for that hour they had me.”
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About the Reich College of Education
Appalachian offers one of the largest undergraduate teacher preparation programs in North Carolina, graduating about 500 teachers a year. The Reich College of Education enrolls approximately 2,400 students in its bachelor's, master's, education specialist and doctoral degree programs. With so many teacher education graduates working in the state, there is at least one RCOE graduate teaching in every county in North Carolina. Learn more at https://rcoe.appstate.edu.
About the College of Arts and Sciences
The College of Arts and Sciences is home to 16 academic departments, one stand-alone academic program, two centers and one residential college. These units span the humanities and the social, mathematical and natural sciences. The College of Arts and Sciences aims to develop a distinctive identity built upon our university's strengths, traditions and unique location. The college’s values lie not only in service to the university and local community, but through inspiring, training, educating and sustaining the development of its students as global citizens. There are approximately 6,100 student majors in the college. As the college is also largely responsible for implementing Appalachian's general education curriculum, it is heavily involved in the education of all students at the university, including those pursuing majors in other colleges. Learn more at https://cas.appstate.edu.
About Appalachian State University
As the premier public undergraduate institution in the state of North Carolina, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The Appalachian Experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and to embrace diversity and difference. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachian is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System. Appalachian enrolls more than 19,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.