The boys said, “The guy substitutes get us. When we are off task or goofing off, they come up to us and joke with us. We all laugh and then we get back to work.”
“The girls don’t get in trouble for talking when we have a lady sub,” they added.
Though I didn’t agree with everything they said, and I certainly didn’t agree with their disrespect and defiance in the presence of a female substitute, I listened to their opinions. I explained, “Of course a male sub will understand you better than a female, but that doesn’t justify rudeness.”
I also noticed that when the boys talked that day, they were generally loud, but during a discussion, usually only one talked at a time. When the girls arrived, they spoke more quietly, but they were also more likely to talk at the same time. They seemed to have no problem with this, but it was easier for me to hear the loud single voices of the boys than the quieter mixture of the girls’ voices.
The girls were much better at working cooperatively and staying focused on a task. The boys immediately set up a leadership hierarchy that was more competitive when they worked in boys-only groups. More boys chose to work independently. Yet both classes got their work done with equal proficiency.
I wondered if we may have created a female-friendly learning environment in our schools.
We want students to work in cooperative groups and hold fair, orderly discussions.
Cory Turner of NPR wrote an article about a study at Yale recently (http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/09/28/495488716/bias-isnt-just-a-police-problem-its-a-preschool-problem) that showed that teachers can tend to look for disruptive behavior in boys, especially black boys. In the study, 135 preschool and kindergarten teachers watched a series of videos and were told to try to spot disruptive behavior before it happened. In each video was a white boy, a black boy, a white girl, and a black girl. In none of the videos were there any actual incidences of bad behavior. As they watched, scanning software tracked the eye movements of the teachers. What they found was that teachers looked at boys more than girls, and at black children more than white in searching for challenging behavior.
I must admit that even as a male teacher, I am probably guilty of the gender bias myself. When the students were mixed into their regular homerooms the next day, I noticed the boys’ voices dominated the class noise. There were just as many girls talking and off task, but they were quieter. I call the boys on their behavior much more than I do the girls. Part of this may be due to the fact that girls mature in middle school faster than the boys do. The behavior of the girls is usually more in line with common classroom rules, but I don’t want to penalize boys for their physiological development nor subject them to my bias.
At my school, I am the only male teacher. Many of the boys in my classes do not have their father in the home, so it is not until the 8th grade that those boys will see a male leadership figure on a consistent basis. Is it any wonder that the leadership positions in our school’s student government and the honor rolls at the awards assemblies are also predominantly female?
In our schools we are trying to get more girls involved in math, science, and engineering fields that are typically male populated, and that’s a good goal. But I wonder if we are simply displacing the boys and replacing them with girls. Could we have a more inclusive plan?
Since our gender-specific day, I have been more aware of my tendency of singling out the boys. I have tried instead to practice celebrating the difference. When the boys are loud, outspoken, or challenging, I try to laugh it off. I smile at them and let it brush off my shoulder. If it warrants serious discussion, I can do that later one-on-one.
I would love to know your thoughts on this sensitive subject. Drop a comment, and let’s see if we can make our classrooms and schools more inclusive of both genders.