What I Finally Learned in My Silence

This teacher participated in GLSEN’s National Day of Silence for years, but during the 2018 event, she gained incredible perspective. This is her reflection.

The week has been just bonkers. Between teaching, hosting speakers and parenting, the days have been so long. But now it’s Thursday afternoon, and I know the National Day of Silence is tomorrow. Even though it’s almost 5:00 and I need to go pick up my son, I have to get my things ready for tomorrow’s classes. I can’t do any flying by the seat of my pants tomorrow. Everything for each class must be prepared and orchestrated right now, before I leave. You see, I don’t just help advise the kids who participate in the Day of Silence—I also participate.

As usual, I’ll be joining students to refrain from speaking all day, with the goal of drawing attention to the ways that the voices of LGBTQ students are routinely silenced. I first participated in the Day of Silence when our previous Gay-Straight Alliance advisor, a colleague, was organizing it. In truth, I don’t think I fully understood it when I first decided to do it. I believed the event would include teachers and students, but I realized during that first time that I was the only teacher participating. 

The response I got from students that day assured my continued commitment. It seemed as though, somehow, my participation legitimized this activity for them. Some of my favorite responses through the years have been from students who had previously spent a lot of time trying to speak out against those who would marginalize their voices. The Day of Silence truly makes a difference, and that’s why I do it.

Many people find it unbelievable that I remain silent all day and wonder how I do it: How can you possibly teach? It’s stressful, but my relationship with my students is a blessing. They respect my vow of silence and help to make it possible. Still, I need to make sure all of the parts are in working order. 

Notes to the classes on the whiteboard where I usually put the plan for the day: check. 

Copies of the activities they are to work on for the period: check. 

Instructions for class period work on Google Classroom: check.  

The evening before the Day of Silence, I check my work email and see the warning about how many teachers have already called out for the day. Fridays in spring: no subs. And then I think about how I’ve already had to beg out of helping another teacher with an important activity because I won’t be speaking. 

At times, I’m worried: What if I have to cover a class for a colleague? The students don’t all know me or understand this, so how can I pull off covering a class without speaking? I resign myself to the possibility of having to break my vow if necessary. This is my eighth or ninth year doing this, and I’m pretty proud of this commitment I make. It’s important to me that I stand by my word and by my kids, but I know I’ll do what I have to do. 

Friday morning comes, and as I get ready for work, I’m planning my day. I need to avoid the office and walking in the halls. I’ve made my lunch, so I don’t have to walk to the cafeteria. I have prepared all of the class plans, and I’ve told my colleagues about my day. I am keeping my fingers crossed about the coverage issue, but it’s still stressing me out. It’s really bothering me. 

And then it hits me, right there in my bathroom, looking in the mirror. 

This is the life of every closeted child and adult. Every single move in their day is carefully orchestrated. Every single plan they make is detailed. They won’t go to certain events—ever—because the risk is too great. They will avoid certain places and dodge certain people. They will pre-pack their lunches, thoroughly plan out their day and think of every possible scenario to protect their precious silence. They will do it every single day. And it won’t be a choice. 

I can remain silent for this one day.

Coryat teaches English at Perkiomen Valley High School in Pennsylvania.