Our class teacher was unfortunately off sick for most of last week, leaving me and our 30 kids in the hands of various supply teachers. This was particularly challenging for several reasons and I found myself feeling much like a headless chicken whilst I ran around trying to do all my usual tasks and more. The trouble with having a supply teacher in for more than one day (especially when the individual keeps changing) is 3-fold:
- The teacher is usually unfamiliar with school policies such as going to the toilet during class, level of noise excepted during various activities and general behavioural concepts which see the majority of children rising to the challenging of pushing the boundary as far as they are able;
- The teacher is either expected to continue class work using slides/ worksheets/ resources they have not prepared or to create classwork according to the learning framework, both scenarios resulting in slightly awkward teaching which children have special radars to pick up on; and
- The TA (i.e. me) is expected to assist in rectifying both of the aforementioned problems, continue with their usual tasks and classroom support and yet still not overstep the “power” of the new teacher.
As someone with a severe bossiness disorder, it is this third point that I personally find the most difficult. However, it’s the first point I’m going to focus on today.
I might have mentioned this before, but our class is a behaviourally challenging class. It’s not that there is any one child who is a trouble-maker nor is it that there any outrageously horrendous behaviour carrying on. It’s more that 2-thirds of the class considers themself the class clown, that “silence” is not a word is any of their vocabularies, that blu-tack (prestik) is a hot commodity, that pencils/erasers/glue etc are thrown across the room with careless abandon, that tales and stories must be repeated to several adults before a situation is considered dealt with and that lines are the places where children tumble. I know this might not sound too bad, but this is the general state of affairs in our classroom 7 hours a day, 5 days a week – and that in itself is tiresome.
We have spent several hours (possibly days) hypothesising as to why this class is so consistently disruptive. Although opinions vary, one persistent thought is that the behaviour patterns are linked to the extreme gender imbalance – more than 2-thirds of the class is male… Whilst I personally don’t like to make gendered assumptions, it does seem to appear that there may be some truth in pointing the finger at the Y-chromosomed culprits…
More disturbing, however, was the revelation made on Friday, our final day of having a supply teacher for the week. For the first time, there was a male supply teacher filling in for the class and the effect was almost instantaneous. Despite getting progressively rowdier throughout the week, the lack of a regular class teacher seeming to fuel the disobedience engines, the morning chatter was automatically quieted on seeing Mr G standing at the front of the class on Friday morning. Instead of the usual (and now expected) outbreaks of “Who is that?” echoing across the classroom, quieter whispered discussions started the day off. Apart from the one or two children who are always going to push their luck, most of the class got straight on with the activities provided without the usual charade of 21 questions the other supply teachers had been forced to endure on previous days. The threat of missing playtime was taken more seriously or so I can only assume based on the remarkable behavioural change made once this declaration was made; and polite requests were all that was necessary to keep 97% of the class in line for the day.
It breaks my heart to know that the majority of children in our class seem to take orders, requests and instructions from male teachers more unquestioningly and more obediently than their XX-chromosome counterparts. In the 21st century, in a first world city, surely gender should be just a formality instead of an instructional part of a person? The bigger question, is why do these children react in this manner? Is it because we as society have failed to deconstruct gendered stereotypes sufficiently enough to teach our children that men and women are equal? Or is it because these children are living in home structures where the male figure is always the enforcer and the female figure is just someone to toy with? Growing up it was my mother who was the enforcer (she still is!), and this instilled in me a sense that gender doesn’t have to predetermine your role in any aspect of your life. Now I am starting to realise that I was lucky, and so many children are not exposed to this sort of gender-neutral environment until the damage is already done.
It is up to every single person to help teach and educate our children; just as we teach them that racism is bad, so should we discourage all -isms including sexism. Unless we are breaking the stereotypes at home, at school or at work we will not accelerate humanity to a point in time where children respond equally to whoever is standing up at the front of the classroom – regardless of their race, gender,age, culture or religion. This is your chance and your responsibility.