Being a woman teacher has had its many challenges for me, but the great thing about these challenges is that I always had a strategy to deal with them. That is not to say that women should learn to deal with these challenges as a normal part of teaching. In fact, I hope by discussing this issue and writing about it, there is more awareness to the general treatment and perception of female teachers.
Women make up the majority of the teaching force, yet there are still challenges that we face in the classroom. Much of these challenges have to do with power, communication, and unresolved biases.
Classroom management is probably the most challenging aspect of teaching for a woman teacher. I found it to be challenging at times if a group of boys, or rarely, a group of girls refuses to stay on task and focus. I also notice it is often not their lack of engagement with the task itself, but that they’re looking to get my attention and also test my limits when it comes to patience and classroom management in front of the other students.
When I felt that my limits of patience were being tested, I go directly to the group and ask them questions about the task and their progress. This often gets them to slightly focus on their work.
If the students choose to remain off task, I will address the behaviour right away in a calm manner but firm manner. For example, if the students were required to answer questions, I would say “Please focus on answering question x, we will be sharing our answers soon”. Or allow students to see that you care about their work: “Have you answered question 2? I am really looking forward to hearing your answer!”
In situations that become a bit more difficult to manage in the classroom, I would discuss the issue privately with each student who is involved.
As a new teacher, another challenge was feeling like I needed to project my voice more than its capacity to get my students’ attention after an activity. This was difficult, I am usually told I am a soft-spoken person, so it felt like it was out of my comfort zone to project my voice to the room. Instead, the pause and wait strategy works most of them time. I stand in the middle of the classroom, where everyone can see me and say “may I have your attention please?”. This might take a few minutes of you awkwardly standing there, and waiting. If a minute passes by raise your hand and repeat your statement, that should work. For younger students, especially when working on projects, it often can get very noisy, so I try “If you can hear me clap once, if you can hear me clap twice”. The clapping strategy works all the time because it’s fun and gets students interested in its rhythmic power to pay attention.
As a female teacher, I know that I am faced with certain obstacles and challenges due to my gender and race, but often times communication with students and understanding on both ends helps to solve this problem. Ultimately, student relationships are important to maintain in the classroom, and if a teacher is faced with a situation that challenges a healthy relationship with the student, she needs to communicate this to the student and share her feelings. In this way, the student sees the teacher as a human being, with feelings, thoughts and emotions. With redirection, open-communication, and respect female teachers can overcome a few of the challenges they face in the classroom.
Please remember that if a teacher is feeling harassed, threatened, or bullied, such acts should not be taken lightly and need to be reported immediately.
This post was originally published in EdWeekTeacher.