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Friday, December 14, 2012

Quantitative Study: Teacher Gender Bias in the EFL Classroom


The article “Speaking the same language? Gender-based teacher performance in the EFL class” investigates the role of teacher gender as it applies to EFL success in the classroom in Southern Spain. The researchers have researched this issue with the intent of understanding and addressing issues of gender and how those issues influence relations and interactions between teacher and student in the EFL classroom. The purpose is to identify which characteristics are most closely related to student satisfaction and performance. The researchers consider gender constructs, policies, teacher treatment of gender issues, and how gender influences teacher behavior.

The evolutionary track of the idealized teacher has always been the dominated by masculinity and male domination in the political ring. This notion of professionalism, as Madrid and Hughes explained (2010), “is conceived as the rational capacity” to essentially behave appropriately in the classroom and better serve the students at an adequate level of competence.

Feminists abhor this ideology and seek to remove this notion of gender determinism and social constructivism, since women can also serve as models of professionalism. In Spain, these ideas of gender dominance are being challenged by legislative changes, and the idea of performance is being weighted much more heavily than what has been historically accepted in the past.

Although the researchers did consider the fact that teacher bias and social constructs plays a part in instruction, they also considered the personal feelings and behaviors of the students. Many EFL students, when performing written assignments, assign certain genders to characters, thus reflecting their own gender stereotypes. Additionally, male students tend to dominate the conversations, but females initiate them, which may be due to the actual subject matter of the discussion. Teachers will often use gender biased classroom materials, therefore this perpetuation and unconscious mistreatment of gender in teaching leads to social constructs, which drive students to act in different ways.

Teachers also believe that teaching students gender stereotypes is not appropriate and should only be addressed by the student’s family, and not the school. This allows the school to remain “neutral”. This essentially means that all students should be treated equally according to performance and not gender, which is not always the case. There is a clear divide between teachers who promote equity and those who defend equality. Some EFL teachers don’t feel comfortable treating students in different ways. This may be because some students may not have access to the same resources as those who have access to everything as far as educational resources are concerned. Female teachers have obvious compassion for their students, which may reflect their own background and their status in relation to gender, whereas male teachers may express fewer acceptances of those who are less socially advantaged.

Method


The method used for the research is a mixed methods approach that employs quantitative and qualitative evidence collected from students and teachers, represented as (n=459) and (n=35), from primary schools to the university level in Spain.

The Results


Qualitative data taken from the perspective of the students yielded the following results:

1) There is a preference for female teachers at the primary school level;
2) The belief that female students work better with male students was not as significant as male students who believe they work better with female teachers;
3) male and female students believed they work better with and learn more from female teachers;
4) overall personal opinion was higher for female teachers than male teachers;
5) female teachers believe in more equality in the classroom.

Quantitative analysis taken from the perspective of students using questionnaires yielded the following results:

1) male and female ability to teach was more important than gender;
2) male teachers demand more respect but women have to impose themselves to receive respect;
3) male teachers get poorer results than female teachers;
4) female teachers understand male students better, they are more lenient, and they can be trusted;
5) female teachers are more intelligent and smaller children work better with them.

Qualitative data using open questionnaires and completed by teachers yielded the following results:

1) female teachers in primary schools believe they inspire more trust and male teachers garner more respect in regards to all classes;
2) female teachers are considered more maternal and therefore they understand the students better;
3) male students look at themselves as authority figures because of family constructs. Results from secondary schools show us that women are more sensitive to emotional changes in students, however students obey them less.

Results from the university teachers yielded the following results:

1) male students are much more shy with female teachers;
2) male students are careful about their approach with female teachers as opposed to males;
3) female students try to act “attractive” towards male teachers, but they do the opposite with female teachers.

Implications


The research involved with this study is extensive and certainly useful; especially considering the framework consisted of both quantifiable and social measurements, which is a rare occurrence for those who discount Qualitative research as consistent or neutral because of subjectivity. What’s interesting to me is the fact that teachers believe that gender has no bearing on performance, or the actual perception of the students. Students, male and female, believe that gender does in fact matter and that their overall academic performance is greatly influenced by the gender of their teacher. Preference towards male and female teachers in the university setting should be a significant portion of the research, but the data does take a backseat to primary and secondary school findings. This topic could certainly merit more extensive study as it applies to a topic, which creates a substantial amount of social upheaval in legal discourse.

The study also talks about the authoritative stance of male teachers in the classroom, but this attitude did not yield the results that are normally expected, in that students did not feel that they learned more from them. In fact, they learned less. Why could this be? Perhaps the students associate their male teachers with their father, and if they disregard their father’s authority at home, they would most definitely, and most likely, do the same in the classroom. If we compare this with female authority in the classroom, it may just be the fact that the students prefer their teaching style and methods, and their gender is not a consideration.

All individuals are ethnocentric and all genders can be debated using superiority, strength, and intelligence as the main factors for the arguments. The truth is, there are parallels in all genders. I’m a proponent for gender equality in the classroom, but I’m also a supporter of equity. I agree that classroom materials can be biased, but I disagree with tailoring your lessons to represent each gender when one gender might be absent from the discussion, as far as historical context is concerned. If we are studying a primary source, written by the hand of Anne Frank, would we trust her opinion about her own experience during the Holocaust, or a secondary source written by a male author, who reviews her opinions and gives his own account of her experiences? Context is key here.

Concerning gender policies in the classroom opposed to the home environment, I think this is a shortsighted opinion. If we were to completely exclude the importance of gendered characters throughout our history, what would we have left? Should we remove the social context of gender when we study Cleopatra and only look at her from a behavioral standpoint? We have to allow students to develop their own gender roles as it applies to their own identity. Yet, I can certainly understand why a gender policy in certain schools, especially concerning religious beliefs, might be a completely different situation, and in this case the school would not remain neutral.

Conclusion


You never want to impose your own ideology on students in the classroom, but you also cannot be afraid to represent society in an egalitarian fashion. This is what will make you a strong educator. To represent all sides of the discussion. There are times when controversial themes will provoke feelings of anger and disdain, but those feelings can be directed accordingly using open discussions and debates. This will not only allow EFL students to practice discourse and reciprocal listening, but it will help them construct opinions based on main ideas and arguments, which is essential to developing your own identity and voice.


Reference

Madrid, D.,  Hughes, S.P. (2010). Speaking the same language? Gender-based teacher performance in the EFL class. The Open Applied Linguistics Journal, 3, 1-9.

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