Gender Bias in the Classroom: How Teachers Exhibit and Perpetuate Sexism
Praise and Criticism
This section of the site examines possible reasons why many of America's classrooms are not sex equitable. It illustrates teacher's behaviors that exhibit gender biases. These behaviors include paying more attention to male students, allowing more wait time for males, and providing more constructive praise and criticism for males.
What Constitutes a Sex-Equitable Classroom?
Classrooms "should be free of gender social definitions-those ideologies, norms, and stereotypes that impose limits on students." Teachers "have the major responsibility for creating equitable conditions in their classrooms; in their procedures; and what is most important, in their interactions with students" (Lee, Marks, & Byrd 1994). However, many teachers are failing in maintaining "sex-equitable" classrooms. Cases of sexism were observed in 54 percent of coeducational classrooms, with nearly "two-thirds of the events initiated by teachers" (Lee, Marks, & Byrd, 1994).
Student-Teacher Interactions: Patterns of Instruction
According to The AAUW Report, research over the past two decades reveals that from preschool to college, males receive more instruction and teacher attention than females (AAUW 1992). Another study found that "gender domination (either boys dominating discussions or teachers recognizing boys more often than girls)- was by far the most prevalent form of sexism in the coeducational schools" (Lee, Marks, & Byrd, 1994). Researchers acknowledge that part of the explanation why males receive more attention is because they demand more attention. Studies have shown that boys are eight times more likely to call out answers than girls. When boys call out teachers are likely to listen to what they have to say, but when girls call out teachers are likely to correct them and say "When you have something to say, please raise your hand, don't call out." In their research, David and Myra Sadker and discovered that a classroom may be dominated by a few "star" male students. In a class of about twenty-five students, "star" male students receive approximately 25 percent of teachers' attention, leaving only 75% of the teachers' time for the remaining twenty or so students. This can hardly be considered equity. The Sadkers also discovered that "low-achieving" and disruptive male students received quite a bit of attention-mostly criticism. One of their most striking findings is that while girls in general receive less attention than males, "unlike the smart boy who flourishes in the classroom, the smart girl is the student who is least likely to be recognized" (Sadker and Sadker, 1994).
It is not only male demand for attention, either by "star" students or those who call out, that explains the greater amount of attention they receive. Studies have shown that although females volunteer more often they are called on less, and even when males do not volunteer, teachers are still more likely to call on them. Sadker and Sadker found that teachers explain the gap in attention given to males and females by stating that, "Boys have trouble reading, writing, doing math. They can't even sit still. They need me more." This statement alone suggests that inequalities exist in the classroom. Although the teacher may be meeting the needs of male students, they must be conscious not to ignore their female students. Females need their teachers just as much as males, and they deserve equal attention. The Sadkers point out that while teachers spend a disproportionate amount of time with boys, the "girls are being ignored and shortchanged" (Sadker and Sadker, 1994).
Wait time is the amount of time a teacher allows a student to answer a question after it has been asked. Studies that examined the amount of wait time teachers allow have found that lessons are quite hurried in general, but that males receive more wait time than girls. According to Sadker and Sadker, "waiting longer for a student to answer is one of the most powerful and positive things a teacher can do. It is a vote of confidence," that lets the student know that the teacher thinks they are capable of supplying the correct answer. Because males receive more wait time, they are likely to try harder to achieve, while girls find it difficult and often fail to answer questions because they are hard pressed for time. (Sadker and Sadker, 1994).
Praise and Criticism
The issue of gender bias in the classroom goes farther than just the unequal amounts of attention that teachers give, the content of teachers comments are also unequal. According to The AAUW Report, "Teacher remarks can be vague and superficial or precise and penetrating. Helpful teacher comments provide students with insights into the strengths and weaknesses of their answers" (AAUW, 1992). In their studies, Sadker and Sadker found that teachers provide males with "precise and penetrating" remarks while they offer only "vague and superficial" remarks to females. The Sadkers identified four types of teacher remarks: acceptance, praise, remediation, and criticism. They found that male students receive more of all four types than females. They found that the "difference favoring boys was greatest in the more useful teacher reactions of praise, criticism, and remediation" (AAUW, 1992). Boys do not only receive more instruction from teachers, they also receive superior instruction. Boys are praised more often which promotes their confidence and self-esteem. They also receive more constructive criticism which allows them to correct their mistakes. Teachers also give boys more remediation and help them develop their skills. In contrast, girls often receive a simple, superficial "okay." This gives them no direction or instruction. It leaves them wondering how they are performing. (Sadker and Sadker, 1994).
Female students also receive praise for different reasons than males. Females are praised for neatness not innovation and for appearance over intelligence. Females are more often praised for their clothing or hair. When teachers praise males for their appearance they quickly move on to something else, often an academic topic. When praising students for written work, teachers are more likely to praise males for the content of the work and females for its appearance (i.e. "following the rules of form"
and neatness) (Sadker and Sadker, 1994).
Under Title VII, Title IX, The Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1991, and the Education Amendments of 1972, sexual harassment is considered illegal. Yet it still occurs, and goes unnoticed everyday in America's schools. Sexual harassment has very little to do with sex, and everything to do with power. Such comments as, "You girls will probably have a hard time understanding these binomial equations- they're really difficult" is sexual harassment, just as a boy grabbing a girl's skirt and trying to lift it up is sexual harassment (Layman,1994). The defining trait of sexual harassment is that the recipient must not desire or welcome the sexual advance. In a 1993 Harris Poll of 1,632 students in grades 8-11, 85 percent of the girls reported being sexually harassed. According to a study run in Massachusetts, the most prevalent type of harassment is student-to-student harassment, (Layman, 1994, p. 21). "Peer harassment, like faculty harassment, sends the message that a woman is not equal to a man... This message can weaken a woman's self-esteem or self-confidence and can undermine her academic, vocational and personal goals,"(The Project on the Status and Education of Women, (as cited in Layman,1994, p.37)). Harassment can also effect the classroom participation of girls. If girls are constantly harassed, or even see other girls being harassed, they will try to protect themselves, by not speaking up, or even switching classes.
Government 375: Educational Reform and Ideology