Male vs. Female? Which Gender Teacher Did You Prefer?

A fascinating op-ed in The New York Times today.  Do kids like male or female teachers better?  The writer has a unique perspective.  She used to be a man.

Jennifer Finney Boylan writes that a recent study found that "girls were more likely to report that they did not think a class would be useful to their future if it was taught by a man, and boys were more likely to say they did not look forward to a particular subject if it was taught by a woman."

Say what?

Boylan goes on to note that many scholars suggest that other variables, "like a teacher’s experience and the number of students in his or her class, are much more important to students’ success. And yet the way we relate to our students and our teachers surely has something to do with whether we are male or female."

She writes poignantly, "When I began teaching, I was a young man fresh out of graduate school. I know I felt more comfortable being funny in the classroom back then; as a woman I suspect I seem a little less goofy, a little more serious. But having gone from a world of male privilege to being a member of one of the most marginalized groups in the country, there’s a reason I’m more serious now, a little less carefree."

She remembers a time, as a man, she jumped up on top of a desk to get her students' attention.  She doesn't do that anymore, she says.  Yet something happened after she became a woman that made her really think about this.  "It used to be that I had to draw students out, call on them to start a discussion. Now they jump right in; at semester’s end the student evaluations often talk about the way 'Professor Boylan creates an environment in which it feels safe to share our feelings.'"

Boylan's not sure how she feels about that, wondering if it was better, as man, when students shared ideas, rather than feelings.

So how did you feel about your male and female teachers?  I know I flirted with a lot of my male teachers, and looked to my female teachers for support and encouragement.   My 12-year-old son says he likes male teachers better, but I think part of that is his becoming aware of gender differences and how he fits in.

Still, it's a really interesting question.  Does this affect the qualit of our kids' education?  Do they learn better with a man or a woman?  Does it really matter?  Maybe all that does is that they feel comfortable enough in class to do well.


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