When most people hear the word equality in relation to the classroom, their minds immediately turn to integration and race; however, there is another form of equality that can prove lacking in a classroom – gender equality. While few teachers would knowingly treat their male and female students differently as a result of their gender, all too many inadvertently do, leading to issues ranging from gender identity to a gender-related learning gap.
Gender inequality may seem like a nonissue, but it actually can have serious educational and developmental affects on students. For decades, educational researchers have been exploring, and trying to close, a gender gap. Many standardized test results indicate that among students, girl consistently outperform boys. While no proven reason has been found for this gap, many attribute it to girls’ eagerness to please others. When teachers treat female and male students differently, it only perpetuates this already-present gap, potentially putting male students even further behind their feminine counterparts.
Developmentally, this gender inequality can be a problem as well. Students who don’t identify strongly with their sex, such as tomboys or boys who prefer more feminine pursuits, may be made to feel lacking if gender inequality exists within their classrooms, leading to struggles in developing gender identity.
Many common classroom practices lead to this gender inequality. Gendered play is one of the more common perpetuators of the problem. In early-childhood classrooms, many play opportunities are traditionally divided between the genders, such as play with dolls for girls or building activities for boys. To promote gender equality in the classroom, teachers should welcome all students in any play situation regardless of the gender with which the play is most commonly associated.
Inadvertent preferences also leads to gender inequality. Some teachers unconsciously select students of one gender over the other when it comes time to answer questions. This inadvertent favoritism may be the result of a large number of the highest-intelligence students belonging to a certain gender.
Teachers may also increase gender inequality by perpetuating gender stereotypes. For example, if every time they speak of someone caring for a baby that person is a female and every time talk turns to someone building a house, the builder is male, the teacher is reinforcing these stereotypes.
Gender Neutrality in Lessons
To promote equality, teachers should consciously seek to remain gender-neutral. For example, by telling the students a story about a nurse named Tom, or asking them to complete math that involves work done at Sarah’s auto garage, teachers can help their students develop in a gender-equal environment.
Importance of Student Selection
Teachers can effectively prevent accidental gender preferencing when selecting students to participate in class by using a random selection method. For example, instead of selecting students who have their hands up, teachers can increase equality by writing all students’ names on a piece of paper and drawing them out of a jar when looking for a participant.