Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Forgotten Profession

One of my dearest friends is now living in UK and working as a TA. I am really enjoying her blog because a) she's my friend and b) I haven't yet come across a South African equalivalent blog - not about teaching methods or the crisis in education or using technology to leverage education but instead just on personal reflections about teaching. In many ways (not to mention the current 'essential services' debate) I think the title of her blog, 'The Forgetten Profession', is more apt than ever.

I have stolen an excerpt from one of her latest posts as it combines two of my favourite topics - gender constructs in society and how to reach kids in the classroom.

More disturbing, however, was the revelation made on Friday, our final day of having a supply teacher for the week. For the first time, there was a male supply teacher filling in for the class and the effect was almost instantaneous. Despite getting progressively rowdier throughout the week, the lack of a regular class teacher seeming to fuel the disobedience engines, the morning chatter was automatically quieted on seeing Mr G standing at the front of the class on Friday morning. Instead of the usual (and now expected) outbreaks of “Who is that?” echoing across the classroom, quieter whispered discussions started the day off. Apart from the one or two children who are always going to push their luck, most of the class got straight on with the activities provided without the usual charade of 21 questions the other supply teachers had been forced to endure on previous days. The threat of missing playtime was taken more seriously or so I can only assume based on the remarkable behavioural change made once this declaration was made; and polite requests were all that was necessary to keep 97% of the class in line for the day.

It breaks my heart to know that the majority of children in our class seem to take orders, requests and instructions from male teachers more unquestioningly and more obediently than their XX-chromosome counterparts. In the 21st century, in a first world city, surely gender should be just a formality instead of an instructional part of a person? The bigger question, is why do these children react in this manner? Is it because we as society have failed to deconstruct gendered stereotypes sufficiently enough to teach our children that men and women are equal? Or is it because these children are living in home structures where the male figure is always the enforcer and the female figure is just someone to toy with? Growing up it was my mother who was the enforcer (she still is!), and this instilled in me a sense that gender doesn’t have to predetermine your role in any aspect of your life. Now I am starting to realise that I was lucky, and so many children are not exposed to this sort of gender-neutral environment until the damage is already done.

I wasn't necessarily surprised but it did give me food for thought. I don't think my future children would have this particular gender bias because while I probably would not be the enforcer, I certainly would not tolerate that kind of gender normatively in my house. Girls, go play with your trucks! Boys, it's your turn to set the table and help cook dinner! And heaven help the child of mine that shows any inkling towards any man=strong, woman=kitchen chacharag tendencies!

Read more about the adventures of the Forgotten Profession(al)

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