Most teachers aim to provide a safe and opportunistic environment for their students according to parents’ and students’ expectations. However, teachers differ on classroom practices depending on gender identities and literacy practices. Building environments based on gender and standard literacy practices may create bias to a particular gender. Research shows that gender stereotypes affect attitudes towards literacy (Leraas et al., 2018). Therefore, when a teacher exhibits gender bias, students may develop biases on gender and literacy practices in the classroom.
It is essential to explore gender differences in classrooms and examine gender biases that affect the curriculum, classroom activities, and discourse. This study explores the differences in teacher interaction with students of different genders and its role in literacy skills in elementary grade 2. The study will use an observational approach to examine how teachers of different genders treat students of opposite and the same gender regarding one-on-one interactions and general classroom activities.
Male teachers are scarcer in the educational field than female teachers, particularly in elementary grades. Leraas et al. (2018) note that the number of male teachers is far lower than that of female teachers, with the ratio of 1:7. Fewer male teachers call for concern because it affects gender role modelling for male students. Female teachers focus more on male students than female students in verbal and non-verbal communication (Leraas et al., 2018), leading to low performance in female students. Finally, Leraas et al. (2018) argued that students taught by female teachers perform moderately higher in literacy skills than those in male teaching classrooms.
Sampling and Data Collection
The study was conducted in two all-white American elementary schools, where most students were males at 55% and females at 45%. The ratio of students to teachers in each school is approximately 22:1, meaning one teacher attends to 22 students per classroom. Participants included two classrooms from school A, on with a female teacher and a male teacher, and one from school B with a female classroom teacher. Total participants include three teachers and 67 students, making a total of 70 participants.
Data were collected by observing all three classes through classroom windows without the participants’ notice. Observations were made twice in each class at 45 minutes per session during morning classes on 4th and 5th October 2021. The data collection tools included a notebook for note-taking and a video recorder to record data for further observation. Apart from teachers’ and students’ behavior, data on male and female students’ responses and contributions to different classroom tasks was also recorded.
|Descriptive Notes||Reflective Notes|
|School A’s classrooms exhibit a cluster model of arranging students in rows. Each table has three to four students in a row and spaces between every two tables. The female teacher circulates students’ rows more than the male teacher.|
|In school B’s classroom, students are arranged in tables of two students, each with space between the tables and rows. Teachers can move and assess every student’s task freely.||I think the physical arrangement necessitates teacher interaction. Male teachers are less interactive since they do not move around much.|
|All classrooms have a writing board. Teachers demonstrate instructions through drawing and writing examples on the board.||I think the class has sufficient resources for teaching and learning.|
|Although female teachers move around more, they tend to stop and interact more with male students||I think female teachers favor male students.|
|The male teacher assists students one on one when they have difficulty completing tasks.||I believe male teachers could be more proactive. |
Male teacher is not biased.
|Female students are more interactive in literacy skills lessons. Female Teachers try to engage and encourage male students to read out loud.||Teachers must ensure all students participate in classroom activities.|
|Students appear to focus more when the teacher moves around||Students prefer close teacher interactions to focus.|
Data analysis was done by underlining key observations noted down and watching the video while transcribing the 45 minutes video to text, which took 3 hours. Afterward, coding was done by comparing and matching the observational notes, recorded conversations, and initial literature review on the topics to observe. Data were then organized in relational databases in numerical clusters of teacher-student same-sex interaction frequency, opposite-sex interaction and general student interaction according to teachers of the opposite sex.
Findings and Discussions
In both observations in all classes, male and female teachers picked female students more than male students to answer questions at 70%. In case of incorrect responses, female students were also picked to offer the correct answers than male students at 95%. While observing the male lead classroom, male students raised their hands more to answer questions, but the male teacher randomly picked any gender. Female teachers ask more questions than male teachers at a ratio of 4:10 questions. In one female lead classroom, the teacher picked 85% male than female students to answer questions despite equal participation. During literacy activities, female teachers picked 90% male students while male teachers picked 60% female students. However, male students still indicated inadequate reading skills at 55% compared to female students at 94%. According to this observation, male students are generally slow at reading and writing regardless of the teacher’s gender.
Students need to feel comfortable in classrooms to thrive academically and have positive relationships with their teachers. Gender preferences in classrooms create adverse outcomes on student performance or social relationships. The findings of the study revealed that teachers prefer students of the opposite sex but still strive to create gender inclusivity in classroom participation. Regarding literacy skills, female students show more experience than male students regardless of the teacher’s gender. Finally, this study is inconclusive since only one classroom had a male lead teacher, creating a non-comparable variable.
Leraas, B. C., Kippen, N. R., & Larson, S. J. (2018). Gender and student participation. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 18(4).