Association of Texas Professional Educators

Gender Equity

In the early 1990s, a highly publicized report found that America’s schools “shortchanged” girls. It concluded that girls fell behind boys in science and math scores, teachers called on boys more than girls, and females were underrepresented in school curricula. A string of similar reports followed, and as a result, educators were bombarded in the 1990s with gender equity training to increase girls’ self-esteem and academic success. In 1999, however, a new report showed the opposite. It stated that boys suffer the most in schools, are more likely to commit suicide than girls, and are disproportionately represented in special education. 

Whatever the case, it’s clear that gender issues are prevalent in our schools. The beginning of a new school year gives you an opportunity to observe your behaviors and make adjustments to wipe out any gender biases you might unconsciously exhibit. When preparing for a new school year, follow these guidelines to increase gender equity in your classroom and throughout your campus.

Show fairness in your classroom
Within the first 10 minutes after walking into your classroom, students and other guests have absorbed hundreds of signals from you. Take a close look at the posters and other displays you use to decorate the room. Do they depict both males and females engaged in similar activities without stereotypes and biases? If not, you may want to rethink your setup. Also, take note of your classroom activities. Avoid pitting girls against boys in room procedures or games, such as lining up or spelling bees.

When calling on students, ask higher-level questions of both girls and boys. A great tool to use is the “tongue depressors in the jar trick.” Write each student’s name on a tongue depressor, then place the sticks in a jar or decorated coffee can. When questioning or prompting students, reach in and choose a stick and call on that student to respond. This will ensure everyone is on their toes and that all students have the same opportunity to be called on, regardless of gender. Plus, principals will love it; “equitable teacher-student interaction” is a key component of the PDAS and similar appraisal systems.

Select a variety of books 
Carefully consider the kinds of books you introduce to your students. Stories that depict males and females in traditional stereotypical roles may perpetuate biases. It’s perfectly OK to use traditional stories, but follow them up with open discussions about the changes in gender roles that have transpired since the stories were written. Also, monitor the books your students borrow from the library and encourage them to search for new experiences.

Choose your words carefully
“Boys will be boys” is one of the most harmful phrases uttered by adults in school hallways. Don’t allow yourself to accept this traditional notion. Make it your responsibility to correct students’ speech or actions when it borders on discrimination or bias. All students come into your classroom with preconceived notions. Accept them as they are, but expect them to learn new behaviors. In addition, remember to use “he” and “she” interchangeably in conversation. As a role model for young adults, the words you choose have a lasting effect on the school’s climate.

Be aware of cultural differences
With the blend of different cultures in our schools, it’s essential that girls and boys learn to respect each other. Some students arrive to school with gender prejudices instilled by their parents and/or cultures. If you feel cultural attitudes are influencing a student to display chauvinistic behaviors, ask your campus counselor to assist you. While it’s important to always be careful to respect students’ cultures, it’s also important that they understand that discrimination and stereotyping of any kind is not tolerated at school.

Encourage nontraditional courses
When a school doesn’t allow a girl to participate in a male-dominated sport or tells a boy cosmetology is not for him, it reinforces traditional stereotypes. Allow your students to choose the courses they take. Moreover, support those students who choose nontraditional courses and encourage them to consider nontraditional careers. Ask your principal to create peer support groups for students enrolled in and considering enrollment in nontraditional classes.

We’re not living in the same world in which most of us grew up. Make a concerted effort to balance your views so that students’ rights are not infringed upon. Do it not only because gender discrimination is against the law, but more importantly, because you care enough to give your students the best education they’re entitled to, no matter what their gender. 

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