LHS teacher makes effort to use gender inclusive terms in classes

By Nadia Sanburn, Assistant Online Editor

“Okay, guys, settle down,” is something a high school student hears from a teacher on a daily basis. The word “guys” is used to refer to a group of people and has evolved to be a mostly gender neutral term. However, some people find the use of this word offensive because it excludes other genders.

Lawrence High School English teacher Melissa Johnson has begun adjusting her language to be more inclusive. However, at times it’s been difficult for her to make the change.

“I’m not always successful, but I do have good intentions,” Johnson said.

Johnson began to use other terms after a few students asked her to use a different way of addressing the class.

“Several students have requested using a more inclusive term, and I’m a person who isn’t offended by using the term guys. When I use guys I mean everyone,” she said. “But that’s what some students hear, so by using something other than guys I’m hoping to make people feel more welcome.”

Efforts to use more inclusive language have made Johnson think harder about the English language.

“I think about how for whatever reason I think of guys as a gender neutral term,” she said. “I mean, also as an English teacher I’m interested in words in general.”  

Johnson had tried out terms like y’all, folks, or people, but has found problems with substituting those specific terms.

“‘Folks’ doesn’t feel natural to me, ‘friends’ strikes me as a bit young for high school (also, while I like that ‘guys’ is informal, I do want to set a subtle boundary that I don’t want to be actual friends with students until they graduate), and ‘people’ feels a bit harsh. Some of my students have made suggestions that are ultimately just incredibly distracting (‘party people,’ or ‘frogs,’ for example),” Johnson said in a Facebook post. “For now I’ve settled on ‘Hey, all!’ and ‘Hey, everyone!’”

Despite the difficulties, efforts to use more inclusive language have changed Johnson’s perspective.

“I thought of ‘guys’ as gender-neutral for a long time, and I never mind it myself,” Johnson said. “But since some of my students don’t care for it, I’m trying.”