Pencils, Backpacks, and Perspective: Gender in the Classroom

I’m gonna be completely up front and say that I attended coed schools from K-8 before making the decision to attend an all-girls high school. As a result, we spent a lot of time discussing not only gender in the classroom but gender in the real world as we came of age in an environment tailored to making girls as successful as possible. Of course, single-sex schools are not an option for everyone, nor are they the best option for everyone, so I wanted to take a look at how gender affects classrooms in the US.

We’re all used to hearing now that in coed classrooms boys tend to be both more assertive and more rowdy. This leads to fewer girls putting their hands up to answer questions and more boys getting punished for their behavior. How does this translate later on? Well, assertiveness and big personalities are traits that are rewarded in society and in the workplace. (Note: it has only been that way for the last hundred or so years). So, boys tend to be more successful and move up the ladder in their professions more quickly. Conversely, girls are taught to be and rewarded for being quiet, polite, and nice throughout their childhoods. This leads to women being just as capable as their male counterparts and yet much more unwilling to advocate for themselves. (See: Sheryl Sandberg’s talk and book Lean In) Now this is a gross generalization to be honest, but they are prevalent consequences.

How does single-sex education differ? Well, speaking from my own experience, going to an all-girls school was not being coddled or gently encouraged to speak up. It was a safe, comfortable environment where our teachers strove every day to empower us. It was reading works by famous female authors and summer reading on the status of women around the world. For me, most of all, it was the way in which I found my voice. Now, I still had a few classes with boys, but those classes had completely different tones with teachers who taught in completely different ways.

When it comes to boys though, some studies have shown that they do better in coed schools. Recent studies have even begun to show that boys are falling behind in schools in comparison to their female counterparts. But this largely has to do with behavioral rewards and punishments. Girls tend to get better grades because they tend to cause less trouble in the classroom and are rewarded for this. Check out this article on the topic. What everyone can agree on is that boys and girls are psychologically different, just as every student is individually psychologically different. So the never-ending struggle for teachers is to bring the best out of everyone.

Do you teach at a coed or singe-sex school? How do you cope with gender bias? Let us know in the comments!