There are differences between men and women. There is a difference in pay, as well as differences in things such as average height, weight, and appearance. While we should be all granted the same opportunities in life and support in our careers, we are perceived in different ways.
This is especially true for how we are perceived by students. We enter a class of thirty young people and we never know what to expect. They all come from different families, have different cultural backgrounds, and hold different values. At least in a work context, you can usually rely on colleagues to be professional and have had experiences in a workplace setting before.
Students perceive you differently.
You walk into that classroom, and you are immediately judged. Students see how tall you are, what you’re wearing, and how you walk and talk and they will make judgements about your personality and decide how they will interact with you. There isn’t much that you can do to control this initial judgement, and you will need to work hard if you want to shift it.
As a teacher, it is incredibly important that you are aware of the initial judgement that your students are likely to make. Creating a teaching persona is an important part of the job, and this becomes a lot easier when it fits into your students’ existing worldview. Male and female teachers are perceived differently. Men are typically perceived to be “more assertive and dominant” and women are perceived as “more communal, cooperative and nurturing”.1 This puts different teachers at different starting points and means that different teaching personas and related strategies are easier to implement depending on your gender.
Parents perceive you differently.
A study on the perception of parents’ perceptions of male early childhood teachers in Turkey did identify that parents’ initial perceptions did include fears of child abuse.2 While these perceptions did temper over time and become based on the characteristics of the teachers as individuals, there is still a strong initial judgement that in this case, is based on fear.
It is easy to infer from this that male teachers do need to ensure that they build strong relationships quickly with parents so that this perception can quickly shift towards their personal traits. While female teachers are likely to also be stereotyped, the pre-conception is not as negative as it is with male teachers and so has a less negative impact on their relationships with parents.
Having a positive relationship with parents in any teaching context is a crucial component of a student’s education. If a student is talking to their parents about their teacher and their parents react negatively or expose their prejudices towards them, this will impact the child and how they perceive their teacher in the future. Male and female teachers have different pressures placed on them from the first impression that they have on both students and parents, which needs to be considered in how they teach.
How to make use of your strengths.
If you build a teacher persona with the immediate impression that people have of you in mind, it can strengthen the impact of your persona. It will legitimise your persona and still give you room to twist it to better support your students.
For example, a large, bearded, tattooed science teacher can form a persona around being loud and cool. He could focus on telling stories to get students engaged, and tempt them with odd applications for the topics that they are covering in class. He could be tough on behaviour and insist on the best from his students, but will fight for his students when they need him.
The immediate impression that you may have of this teacher does fit in with the type of teacher that he tries to be. He may be quiet and gentle in reality, but it could be difficult to immediately emphasise this in his teaching practice unless he was incredibly consistent. Being known as a quiet and gentle teacher would be a lot easier for this teacher if he had different physical traits that immediately signalled this.
Don’t play into stereotypes.
The strategies that I have mentioned are excellent things to keep in mind when you first walk into your classroom at the beginning of the school year. Your students and parents will get to know you, and you can shift your teaching persona accordingly.
It is important for your students that you don’t fall into reinforcing stereotypes. Students need to see gentle male teachers, as well as loud and assertive female teachers. Teachers are naturally role models for our students, and every student should be able to find a teacher that is like them to relate to.
There are differences between men and women in teaching and what personas and strategies work best for them. It is perhaps more impactful though when male and female teachers do things that don’t work best for them and break the mould. Appearance does matter, as well as how people connect and relate to you. Manipulating this to get the best results for your students is a true craft and signifies a truly accomplished teacher.
1Badura, K.L., Grijalva, E., Newman, D.A., Yan, T.T. and Jeon, G., 2018. Gender and leadership emergence: A meta‐analysis and explanatory model. Personnel Psychology, 71(3), pp.335-367.
2Gülçiçek, T., 2017. Investigation of parents’ perceptions of male early childhood teachers (Master’s thesis, Middle East Technical University).