Challenging gender stereotypes in the classroom

Paul Boyd

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Imagine a plumber. Now imagine a nurse. Now, a teacher. Depending on your own gender, which did you imagine for each of these three people?

Even in 2019, while traditional views of gender roles are declining (thank goodness!), we still have a long way to go in terms of helping children imagine what they can do and be. Part of a teacher’s job is to build aspirations and broaden our students’ awareness of what’s possible.

We are in the privileged position of being able to influence the next generation in terms of how they see themselves and others.

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As a supply teacher, we don’t have the influence in schools to develop curriculums that reflect the breadth and diversity of our society, but that doesn’t mean we still can’t impact the conversation around what men and women can and can’t do.

Here are some tips to help you challenge those stereotypes:

Check your own biases

When you’re talking about particular subjects or careers, what assumptions do you make? When describing a certain job role or position in society, are you aware of which gender you more naturally inclined to promote?

In the classroom, we take care not to assume that our children have a particular type of home life, but how often do we refer to ‘mum’ rather than ‘dad’ when talking about certain activities or tasks that the children might do with their families? If we are aware of our own views of gender roles, then we can be on the lookout for opportunities to be more inclusive in our language. Saying ‘family’ instead of ‘mum’ or ‘dad’ allows for a broader interpretation of who can be involved.

Check your pronouns

Again, how often when describing a societal role do you say ‘he does x’ or ‘she does y’? Though it might seem like a small detail, we can subconsciously be promoting one gender over another.

Next time you catch yourself referring to a specific gender, try and change your wording and use ‘they’. This will allow whoever is listening to ascribe their own gender to whatever you are talking about, and hopefully even push them to consider both!

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Challenge or affirm their beliefs

If you catch a stereotype being expressed, take the opportunity to challenge that belief. For example, a boy not allowing a girl to share a football with him saying ‘football’s not for girls!’ You can ask ‘Why not?’ You can even add a real-life example to support your view, e.g. ‘My sister plays for her local football team’.

It doesn’t matter what age the child is – this work can be done from the earliest opportunity. Equally, if you see a child making what might be deemed an unconventional choice, don’t divert or distract them. Instead, affirm their choice to create a feeling of safety which will, in turn, help them to explore their natural curiosity, regardless of the outcome.

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About our Community Expert

 

Paul BPaul Boyd
Community Expert

Paul is an actor and English teacher from Northern Ireland. Alongside his acting career working in theatre, film and television across the UK, he also teaches in primary and secondary schools throughout London.

Paul provides performance coaching to both individual clients and businesses.

 

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