As students, we have all had our favorite teachers and courses while moving through primary school, secondary school, and eventually into college. Perhaps you took little stock of any emerging trends while your mind was preoccupied with the range of stimuli that define these transitional stages of early life. But maybe you’ve noticed that men taught many of your math and science-based courses, while women often taught your English and humanities-based courses. Or perhaps you’ve recognized that the gender makeup of administrative roles tends to be pretty homogenized, and it’s always struck you as puzzling. More broadly speaking, you may have even noticed that most of your teachers from early childhood through your late teen years are female. What is at the source of these gender imbalances, and what efforts have been made, or should be made, to create a more fair distribution in the educational space? In this blog, we’ll examine the cultural norms that helped create this phenomenon and the steps that should be taken to address them.
Gender norms and stereotypes that surround socially acceptable behavior are deeply entrenched in all areas of American society, and education is no exception. Traditional but antiquated views about what makes up “masculine” or “feminine” areas of study pervade even today, influencing the path many students go down. The STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields have historically been seen as more “masculine,” and more men pursue this path. (It is important to note that women are just as successful as men in this field; it is just that fewer of them follow this path.) But why are they perceived this way? It is hard to say. Intuitively, it seems silly to think we should gender academic subjects this way. Perhaps it is because the STEM fields typically yield more lucrative salaries, and men have traditionally been the family’s breadwinners, although this dynamic continues to shift. Or perhaps it is because girls going through school do not have enough female role models for teachers in the STEM fields, perpetuating a loop where they choose to pursue other avenues, and the cycle continues.
Similarly, persisting stereotypes surrounding women can help explain why they pursue the humanities at a higher rate than their male counterparts or why they even go into teaching altogether at a higher rate. We often view women as more nurturing, caring, and emotionally intelligent than men. So literature, for example, certainly lends itself to individuals who have a propensity to relate to their study subjects. As for teaching, perhaps women are drawn to the flexibility of a schedule that allows them to work while also taking care of their children. Much of this is speculation, as it is difficult to explain the specific reasons behind the data showing gender discrepancies in education. However, while they continue to erode year after year, stereotypes play a significant role.
While some social psychologists would say that men and women are distinct and the educational paths they choose are directly a result of biological differences, we at Zinkerz see things differently. In our eyes, every student has the potential to exceed their goals in any academic field, regardless of their gender. Suppose Daniella is interested in becoming a computer scientist or Daniel dreams of becoming an English teacher at Zinkerz. In that case, we foster all our students’ ambitions and work tirelessly to help them achieve their goals. We constantly strive to promote equality in the classroom and provide an environment where every student can excel. With that in mind, here are some strategies our educators use in a classroom setting to achieve that aim.
Self-evaluate your assumptions.
While we often intend to provide equal treatment and opportunities to all students, it’s easy to fall prey to unconscious bias. Therefore, keeping track of the students you are predominately interacting with within group discussions is essential. Perhaps you neglect some students. Remaining mindful of these patterns and constantly self-correcting helps foster an environment where everyone feels included.
Cater to different learning styles.
Perhaps you’ve noticed that the boys in your class get distracted easily or that girls will listen quietly and be less inclined to answer questions. Or maybe you’ve noticed the exact opposite! The exercises you conduct in class should help the students learn in various ways. You may see no pattern in how boys and girls learn, but what is undoubtedly true is that we are complex creatures and no two individuals are the same. So, whether you are in a group setting or teaching a student one-on-one, it is crucial to be perceptive of the differences among all of your students, how they learn, and what you can do as an educator to optimize their potential to succeed.
Mix group, paired, and independent work.
We may unfairly stereotype girls as bossy or domineering when they show leadership skills. By exposing boys and girls, both introverted and extroverted, to opportunities to lead in different settings, you’ll help dismantle these outdated stereotypes and show that anyone, regardless of their gender or aptitude, has the potential to rise to the occasion.
Our goal at Zinkerz is to treat all our students as individuals, limited only by the bounds of their imagination. While gender norms continue to persist in our society, we do all in our power to foster an environment of equality where each student feels motivated and inspired to pursue their dreams, whatever those may be. We emphatically believe that everyone has the ability to rise to their potential and realize their dreams.