Master’s in Education student, Ms Fatima Al Sayed graduated summa cum laude from UKZN for her research that examines primary school teachers’ construction of transgender identity and how these teachers navigate the daunting task of managing learners who are not gender binary and heterosexually conforming.
‘Educators are exposed to so many different learners with different sexualities and at times, we are inadequately prepared to help and deal with them,’ explained Al Sayed.
The findings indicated that almost all participants felt inadequately trained and skilled with the tools that are needed to manage and help learners who identified within the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI+) spectrum. Teachers expressed concerns regarding a lack of training (pre and post service) on how to assist such learners mentally and emotionally.
Al Sayed is hopeful that her research is able to benefit South Africa on a large scale to meet the need for research on teachers and transgender identity at large, and to respond to the lack of research pertaining to teachers.
Even though COVID-19 physical restrictions may have affected her investigation, she admits some of her highlights were meeting, sitting down, and interacting with the teacher participants (while maintaining social distance). She learned a lot about the teachers’ varied views and understandings of transgender identities.
Her motivation has been her family, and she thanks them for supporting her during her studies. ‘My husband, mother, and sister always made themselves available to help me in any way that I needed. Whenever I was unable to be with our two young sons, my husband took over both roles of mom and dad.’
Al Sayed encourages other researchers to believe in themselves and be consistent to produce a great result: ‘There will be times when you feel like you want to give up or even have moments of questioning if this is truly worth it, but keep at it, don’t get too overwhelmed.’
Although she is currently a full-time teacher, she plans to begin studying for her PhD next year.