Feature

Does Gender Matter?

Jerry DeQuetteville
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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.

The debate is not unique to Canada. Dr. Wayne Martino and Dr. Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli cited numerous research studies from the UK and Australia that reviewed the impact male teachers have on boys. Australia’s ultra-conservative federal government reacted in a knee-jerk way: it went so far as to change the country’s constitution so that it could offer scholarships just for men. This extreme measure has had a negligible  impact. Other policies designed to give preference to men applying for teaching jobs have also been failures. There are no simple answers.

During the afternoon, participants were led through facilitated discussions of four key issues: Is this a problem? Why is it a problem? What can be done to address the issue? Who should undertake the solutions?

The discussions were rich and passionate.

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