Feature

Does Gender Matter?

Jerry DeQuetteville
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Dr. Gary Jones of the Calgary Board of Education reiterated this idea when he spoke of a need to create a safe space for all teachers. His work with male teachers in Calgary revealed that many didn’t feel they fit in: their female colleagues had unique bonds and the men didn’t feel as if they belonged. In order to counteract this phenomenon, Jones has formed a number of book clubs and professional learning communities for men, these have a professional dimension but also an important social aspect.

This caused me to reflect on my own career. I recalled meeting with colleagues to organize class lists for the upcoming school year. Over and over I heard: “We have to put ‘X’ in Jerry’s class because he is a handful.” Or “X needs a male influence.” Such comments made me nervous because I didn’t identify my role as a teacher with my gender and I felt my teaching itself was trivialized. It was as if my teaching skills and my program had little to do  with the class-building decisions; my gender was the deciding factor. Also, I didn’t know what my “male influence” was! Was I supposed to be tougher on students than others? More and more research indicates that men find teaching unwelcoming because of this perception of masculinity. Men, like women, don’t always want to be forced into a gender role that is constructed by others.

Many of the speakers challenged the audience to look at why the issue is raised. Why does it continue to be debated when it has existed for more than 100 years? Dr. Coulter showed that often the debate is linked to high-stakes standardized tests in which, commonly and historically, boys perform less well than girls. This discrepancy pressures politicians to come up with quick fixes.

According to Dr. Wallace, studies show that having more male teachers will not greatly affect boys’ test scores. However, there is ample research to indicate that low socio-economic status, family history, family supports, and peer group influences have an impact on test results. Governments that want better student performance should focus not on teacher gender but on quality pedagogy, ensuring that teachers are well trained and have the tools they need to do their jobs.

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