Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Teaching Styles and Philosophies and the Gender Issue

People tend to have a certain ideal in their head as to what a teacher is. What they should look like, how they should speak, how they should act.

I am not this teacher. I never have been.

I'm this teacher...
 I am a firm believer that students need to learn that while people can help you, no one is going to give you a free ride. No one will ever reward you just for showing up.
I think we help our students the most when we not only give them the skills they need to succeed but also when we prepare them for what proper conduct is in the real world.
I think teaching students a work ethic, how to live up to and exceed expectations, and how to seek out the tools they need to succeed is the best thing I can do in my classroom.

My favorite teacher in high school was a Marine sniper in Vietnam and ran triathlons.  He regularly made people cry. He was hard, but fair, and pushed us to our limits and beyond. He got results. Everyone knew that if you had him as a teacher you were better for it. His class was a rite of passage.
He was a god.

No one ever said to him that he needed to be "gentler", "kinder", "less harsh". And this is part of the gendering issue that occurs when men and women talk about teaching, or more accurately, when people talk to men and women about their teaching.

There are some buzzwords that have crept into educational vocabulary- "student centered", "relationships", "collaborative learning". And by themselves, there is nothing loaded or bad about these words. As teachers, we want what is best for our students. There are easier ways to make money, trust me! we want our students to do well, learn and apply what they get in our classes. But there are two issues here- the first is what the parameters of these words mean. And maybe that's easier to answer by stating what they don't mean:
  • They don't mean that students can sit in a class and do nothing while the teacher bends over backwards to get them to pass
  • It does not mean that poor student performance is overriden by parent complaints
  • It does not mean that the ethics and standards of a class, or a teacher should be compromised so a student feels better about themselves
  • It does not mean that work gets easier, or standards get lowered so more can pass
If you're a woman, these become thornier issues. If you're not a wear pink-uber cheerful-kindergarten teacher then you are punished. If you have high standards you're harsh. If you have clear expectations and expect students to follow them you're rigid. Your teaching style becomes gendered. You are judged not according to your results (pass rates, student surveys, student interactions, improvement) but instead are judged by how you're NOT what a female teacher should be.

I am not a touchy feely teacher. I never have been. I believe in high standards. But I also believe in doing everything I can in my classes to make sure my students can achieve those standards. I spend hours on lesson planning- finding resources, web tools, readings, supplemental instruction that will help my students get to where they need to be. I tell them every semester that if they show up, put in the effort and do the work, they won't have any problems passing my course and doing well.
And yet, over my fourteen years of high school teaching, was constantly accused of not being accessible. Friendly. Despite having the highest test scores in the building. Despite building the entire county's curriculum.

Not surprisingly, when I went to teach for a for-profit school, this was a constant head butting issue. I was all for helping students who helped themselves, showed effort, tried. What I was not for was reversing my decisions because a parent told me to. Or extending deadlines because a student who hadn't worked in a week "wanted one". In other words, I was not for giving something for nothing.

I had high hopes when I came to college of not having to deal with these issues. And to a certain extent that's true. Federal law prohibits me from talking to parents, so there's no dictation of my courses from that angle. And the majority of my students like my classes, learn a lot, and sign up for other classes with me. You're never going to make 100% of the people happy, but I am secure in how I teach. I am a great teacher. I constantly revise my lessons and courses so they serve my students better. I am always reflecting on what works, what doesn't, and how I can make things better. I am constantly reading and researching new things to try.
And yet where I get the push back here is from other adults. I think it starts with the minute they see me in "work clothes"- a button down shirt, with a tie, and jeans. I think there are gendering issues that start there. And when people ask me about my teaching philosophy, people still hear high standards and expectations and think "rigid" and "harsh". And they stop there. They don't look at my lessons, they don't look at the hours I spend walking other people through lessons or tech stuff. The professional developments I volunteer to give to help other teachers out. They don't look at how much I share online so other people can use what I have. They don't see my classroom.

I care for my students. I care that they succeed. I do everything I can to make sure they have the skills and tools to succeed.
But I care that they can succeed in the real world. That they are prepared to work hard, and according to expectations. That they have been taught how to find the answers on their own. As with my favorite teacher, I am not concerned with them parroting what I said to them, I am concerned with them LEARNING. And those skills have nothing to do with my gender.

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