Each and every one of my teachers from kindergarten to grade five was female. Was that a bad thing? At times I thought it was as most of my teachers had also been teaching for a very long time and didn’t seem to understand boys and how they learn best. My male friends and I always seemed to be getting in trouble or yelled at for doing things that most male-learners do: Fidgeting in our seat, talking to each other during class, touching objects or things in the classroom, writing about war or other violent activities, or drawing pictures depicting blood or other “disgusting” images. My teachers just didn’t seem to understand me as a boy, and looking back on the whole situation now, I do wonder if part of the reason had to do with the fact that they were females and didn’t fully understand how to help support and challenge boys; therefore, I lived several very frustrating and challenging years as a result. Then, in the sixth grade, I had my first male teacher. Mr. Carr. He was awesome. He understood boys and how they learn and see the world. I was allowed to move around the room, fidget while working, touch objects being studied, and talk to my friends in class. Sixth grade was the first year that I actually felt cared for and supported as a student and a boy. It was also the year that I started taking school seriously. I wanted to do well and succeed because I was in a positive learning environment. Sixth grade was definitely my transformative year that lead me onto a path of academic success. I do wonder where I might be now if I had not been placed with a male teacher that year. Would I have continued to struggle? Not that I’ll ever now, but it does make me a bit curious.
As a teacher at an all-boys school, I am very conscious of the gender balance in the classroom and curriculum. When we moved to the co-teaching model for our sixth grade program, I knew that I needed to be paired with a female teacher so that the students would get both a male and female perspective. Having a motherly and fatherly figure in the classroom for these young boys, many of whom are very far from home, helps to foster a family atmosphere within the classroom. The students talk to my female co-teacher about things they don’t feel comfortable sharing with me and vice versa. It’s so important for the boys to see how males and females interact together in all settings. My co-teacher and I are equals in the classroom and the boys see it on a daily basis. I don’t run the show by myself and nor does my co-teacher. We are a team, and that sort of gender balance is vital to the program we have created in the sixth grade.
This gender equity within the classroom also allows us to be sure we are effectively and appropriately educating our boys on all types of issues and information. Today in Humanities class, my co-teacher lead a very meaningful and relevant activity regarding the role of women in the Middle East Region. She began the lesson asking the students to share ideas they have regarding the role of women in general. What kind of jobs do they have? What do women do in our world do? How are women treated? This lead into an eye-opening discussion regarding how skewed our students’ perspective truly is. Many of the boys hold stereotypical and inaccurate beliefs that the role of women in society is to cook, clean, take care of men, and look pretty. Wow, how interesting, I thought. My co-teacher tried to help the boys see the flipside of their perspective and realize that times have changed and so too have the gender roles in our world. More women than ever before are in the workforce and not staying at home to raise children. Men and women are sharing caregiving and household responsibilities. Things have changed dramatically and it’s important that our students begin to see this.
Following the discussion, the boys then viewed various black and white pictures of women from the Middle East Region. Using guiding questions posted on the whiteboard, the students, working with a partner, discussed the pictures and role of the women pictured. For almost every picture, the boys seemed to think that the women depicted were mistreated or controlled by men or someone else. The students thought the women were forced to wear their hijab. After each pair had looked at all of the pictures and engaged in lively discussion regarding their thoughts on the role of the women depicted, my co-teacher shared the true stories of each of the women in the pictures. When the boys learned that many of the women held powerful and controlling jobs in various parts of the Middle East Region and chose to wear a head covering, they seemed surprised and shocked. This new information lead to a meaningful discussion on perspective and the role of women in our society. Many of the boys seemed to be changing their perspective on the role women play in the world, a bit, throughout today’s lesson.
This kind of activity and lesson needs to be a required part of every school’s curriculum, and especially in boys’ schools. As many of our students come from various parts of the world with different traditions and cultures, it’s important to provide them with information about other ideas and perspectives. We’re not trying to inflict our ideas or beliefs upon our students. We understand that different families and cultures have very different belief systems, which is one of the reasons why our school is so special. We are merely trying to help our students see the world through a wider, more open lense and perspective. Having a female teach a lesson or activity like this is also important. Sure, as a male, I could have easily taught this lesson, but would it have been as valuable? My co-teacher was able to use herself as an example throughout the discussion, which helped some of the students more tangibly see the points she was trying to make.
Gender equality isn’t just about the students or teachers in the room, it’s also about the content and curriculum covered. As schools are finally starting to move away from teaching books written by dead white men, it’s also important for teachers to help their students see the world with their eyes and mind wide open. Teaching boys and girls about the various roles women and men play in society and have throughout history, is an important concept our curriculum needs to cover to help prepare our students for meaningful lives in a very global and hopefully, gender-balanced society.