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Handling Gender Issues in the Classroom

Instructor: Michael Quist

Michael has taught college-level mathematics and sociology; high school math, history, science, and speech/drama; and has a doctorate in education.

Gender-related prejudices and biases in the classroom can have destructive effects. In this lesson, we will discuss practices for identifying and eliminating gender-related inequities.

What are Gender Issues in the Classroom?

There's that smile again. Johnny always manages to offer that friendly assurance that makes your day almost as much as the morning coffee. Why shouldn't he get a little extra attention?

Although we all have our favorites in the classroom, there is a very real concern regarding gender-related bias and prejudice, which expands the opportunities for some students and curtails those of others. In this lesson, gender issues in the classroom refer to the biases and prejudices that cause the situation to become unfair for the under-represented or under-approved male or female groups in the classroom. We will discuss techniques and practices for identifying instances of gender bias and eliminating gender-related unfairness in the classroom.

Identifying Gender-Related Bias and Prejudice

It's actually rather difficult because our practices are so familiar to us. They are like a well-worn article of clothing that is not particularly attractive but is comfortable. The students may not even consciously realize that we're being unfair. Underneath the surface, however, students can tell--and resent--the times that we're giving unfair attention, benefit, and opportunities to a certain gender group. Groups of girls or boys can begin to feel that they are the 'privileged class' or the 'disadvantaged minority' and both perceptions are destructive to the students' well-being.

Practices that are used to identify bias generally involve some sort of independent, objective source of information. Some ways to identify gender-related unfairness in the classroom include:

  • Keeping a record. It's a little inconvenient, but one way to find bias is to keep very accurate records of your behavior. How much time do you allow for answers in discussions, and which students do you offer the opportunity to respond? Do you tend to call more on the boys or the girls? Do you tend to cut off some of the answers? Do you allow the students to be interrupted? Do you allow the more verbal students to dominate the discussion? Keep a record, and tally up the results. You may be surprised at what you find. You may even discover that your gender bias varies by class or by subject. You may find that your bias shifts during the week. If you take the time to collect and review the data, you will find answers.
  • Recording your classroom time. If you have someone take a video recording of several class periods, you will have a powerful tool for identifying your biases. Watch the films and notice the way that you behave toward the different genders. As you identify prejudice, make notes for yourself. 'Hmm..I tend to give the boys a lot more attention in history--I need to make sure the girls get more of a chance to answer questions.'
  • Making a conscious effort to watch for biases. Do you grade the boys' papers differently than the girls', expecting higher or lower standards from one group or the other? Is it more specific? Are there particular groups of boys or girls that are receiving more attention than they should? Are there groups who are unconsciously being shunned by you?

Correcting Gender-Related Issues in the Classroom

Once you've begun to identify the problem, you can start to fix things.

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