Gender stereotypes have been shown to be harmful to all children. They limit girls’ ambition and contribute to anxiety, while they encourage boys not to express their emotions and display a certain level of ‘manliness’. They can be especially damaging to LGBTQI children. Research has shown that gender stereotypes are embedded in children’s minds between the ages of 5 and 7 years old, but as TEFL teachers, we have opportunities to work with lots of different children at different ages to challenge these stereotypes. The summer months in the TEFL industry are a time when teachers work with more young learners than ever before, whether that’s in intensive academy classes or summer camps. So how can you run a positive, tolerant classroom over the summer?
Tips for teaching children
There are lots of blogs out there on the subject, so you’ll find lots of inspiration! Check out this blog by Emily Hird who writes extensively on this subject and recommends the following approaches:
- Try to avoid promoting the idea of gender difference, i.e. don’t split children up or group them by gender. Don’t give out different prizes to boys and girls. This also avoids causing distress to trans or gender-nonconforming children.
- Use and teach gender neutral language, such as firefighter, actor, flight attendant, and try not to specify the gender when it’s redundant, e.g., male nurse, female judge.
- Actively seek out materials which present a balanced view of both genders. If you’re researching famous athletes, or scientists, or inventors, make sure there is an equal focus on people of different genders, ethnic backgrounds and sexuality.
- Analyse your own behaviour. Do you treat the children in the same way regardless of gender? Do you comfort the girls more if they’re upset? Do you ask the boys to carry heavier objects? It can be difficult to think critically about your own behaviour, but if students see teachers treating students the same regardless of gender this can send them a powerful message.
Tips for teaching teenagers
- Encourage your students to call out sexism, racism or homophobia when they see it. Teach them to approach resources critically, asking why articles have certain pictures attached, or how the different genders are presented.
- Harmful behaviour can lead to teachable moments. If you hear them saying something bigoted or bullying, assume ignorance rather than malice and explain why it is offensive. Once you’ve explained, adopt a zero tolerance policy on sexist, homophobic or transphobic language in your classroom. Consistency is important, just like any form of classroom management – challenge your students every time you hear something harmful. Before long they will accept that sexist, homophobic and transphobic comments are not allowed in your classroom, and this will create a safer and more tolerant environment for everyone.
- Get your students to do a privilege walk. You might want to edit the questions down to make them more appropriate for your audience, but it’s a useful exercise in highlighting privilege that is sometimes invisible, and teaching your students about intersectionality. Check out this lesson plan for inspiration.
- Actively encourage your students to get involved in activities or topics that might sit outside their gender comfort zones, such as sports, drama, dance etc.
- Call on male and female students equally in class. Research shows that female students are less likely to raise their hands or get involved in class discussion, and when they do they are more likely to be interrupted by male students. If you really focus on creating a balance you’ll empower the girls to engage more.
What are your top tips for creating a gender equitable, supportive and tolerant classroom?