Monday, October 19, 2015

Why Gender Discussions Matter

Here’s the simple truth...Gender and biology are not one in the same.  This notion is incomprehensible to many, but at the same time essential for people to understand. Take my parents for example: they are in their early sixties and moderately progressive in their ideas and opinions.  However, they were dumbstruck by Caitlyn Jenner’s gender transformation.  They simply could not fathom that a biological man could feel inherently like a woman and take the necessary steps to changing that identity.  To my parents, gender is synonymous with biological sex.  I tried talking to them about gender “scripts” and how “biology is merely one prop, albeit it a crucial one, supporting the larger performance” (100).  Unfortunately, they weren’t too keen on these ideas, and we ended up agreeing to disagree on the subject.  What my parents couldn’t seem to understand is that Caitlyn Jenner changed her script by “modifying and breaking out of it which takes extraordinary acts of insight and courage” (100).   

Gender scripts are so ingrained in our culture, and we constantly utilize these scripts to define our “maleness” or our “femaleness.”  I think the first step to having gender discussions with our students should be acknowledging that gender is not based solely on a person’s sex and that a lot of what we think we know about gender is deeply internalized through traditional gendered norms.  

Gender norms and stereotypes affect and limit both boys and girls.  It’s difficult to be an adolescent girl, and it’s difficult to be an adolescent boy.  [As a woman and a feminist, I might argue that it is more difficult to go through life as a female; however, for my purpose here I want to talk about the difficulties as I’ve noticed in my own students (male and female) and my own children (female and male).]  Nakkula argues that schools are gendered spaces, and that these gendered spaces can be limiting.  Even names schools and teachers use to label students are drenched in gender scripted language.  “‘Ophelia’s,’ ‘queen bees and wannabees,’ ‘odd girls out,’ ‘lost boys,’ ‘bad boys,’ ‘real boys,’ and ‘super predators’ remain dominant monikers for the gendered way in which educators are taught to frame youth identities and behaviors” (105).  Students are constantly labeled in gender specific language, and it is so entrenched in our collective memories that we might not even realize we are using this type of language.  I’m sure I’ve called some of my students (not to their faces necessarily) “bad boys” or “queen bees” without even realizing the gender implications of those names.  Since taking Dr. Bogad’s class last semester, I am definitely more aware of times when I label students as having specific gender roles, and I am trying to change some of these habits in my classroom.  I am also trying to have more regular conversations about gender as part of classroom discussions.  

In terms of my own children, Gwen and Zach, I have noticed how gender expectations have limited them in certain ways.  For example, Gwen was placed in all honors and advanced placement classes in middle and high school except for math.  As I am thinking about gender, I’m now questioning whether she actually struggled with math (as I always assumed) or if her placement was (subconsciously) due to her gender.  “Girls are highly underrepresented in advanced placement math and and science classes” (105).  There’s nothing I can do about this now in terms of Gwen considering she’s in college, but I can certainly look at my own students and encourage girls to try and push their way into those classes.

In terms of my son Zach, I also see some of the limitations gender scripting has placed on him.  He, as a male, cannot appear vulnerable enough for fully engaged learning to take place.  He feels pressure to “measure up,” “be tough” and “be a real man” (112).  These gender specific norms can be difficult and unrealistic for any male to live up to, but it becomes even more difficult when learning is to take place because true learning requires a sense of vulnerability.  “Learning-fully engaged learning-requires vulnerability.  It requires the capacity to leave oneself open to criticism and to willingly seek and provide support.  These are not ‘masculine traits,’ which is why for so many boys, particularly from late elementary school onward, ‘school learning’ is seen as the educational terrain of girls.” (113).  I’ve seen this play out in Zach.  I often think he is not truly and completely engaging in the learning process because he is afraid of looking weak or unsure.  I am doing the best I can to make him more comfortable, but again, the gender script is there and subconsciously playing out in his actions.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

From Red Pen Corrections to Care

Image result for red pen corrections

Phew!!  These two chapters were charged with theories and terms taken from the worlds of education and psychology.  From promotion to invention to thought-action gap to chumship, it was tempting to get lost in the sea of terminology.  However, I did my best to stay on track with some of the more general and useful ideas Nakkula and Toshalis presented, and I tried to think about some of the implications they present in my classroom.

Nakkula and Toshalis definitely “get it” in the way that they understand the sometimes harsh realities of being a classroom teacher.  They also get the fact that we need to assess students for our own inferences as well as for data that we, as educators, must use as part of our own evaluations.  “When teachers see upward of 100 students per day and are expected to assess the progress of each of them and then differentiate instruction to meet the varied needs of each individual child, it is no wonder that standardized diagnostics become necessary”(67).  Whereas the authors acknowledge that we do need to assess students, they also feel as though “an over reliance on the identification of student deficits can obscure the many assets or talents they may possess...Grading papers can become an exercise in hunting for mistakes rather than scanning for success”(67).  I used to be that type of teacher because that’s how I thought I should “correct” papers and essays.  However, as I have grown in my teaching practice, I realize that this doesn’t really work.  When my students used to get their papers back and look at my red writing all over them, they did not pore over each comment and mentally commit to not making that mistake next time...instead they shut down.  So, now, what I attempt to do is focus on three things the student did well in his/her paper and two things to focus on in the revision or next writing assignment.  My students respond positively to this type of feedback.  And it actually saves me the pain and agony of “fixing” every little error.  I think now I’m working smarter not harder, and I think Nakkula and Toshalis would agree.  “We must nurture the high end skills just as we must help students develop in areas of relative weakness”(70).
This five minute clip gives us a gentle reminder as to what good student feedback looks like:

I’ve always thought that the name teacher is pretty much synonymous with the name mentor.  I I am a teacher and I am a mentor.  These are not roles I take lightly.  “These studies show that the availability of one natural mentor can yield long-term, substantial benefits for young people, such as increased self-esteem, stronger coping skills, and a more positive view of the future”(97).  Obviously, I cannot be a mentor to every single one of my students...and I think that’s ok.  However, if I can act as a true mentor to even five of my students each year, the positive benefits are overwhelming.  I like to think in these cases, we are even more strongly co-constructing our own and our students identities.  “It is educating to care-for oneself, for others, and for the world around us; and it is educating through care-through caring for the student as the pedagogical priority”(98).