I love teaching. To an absurd degree. I’d do it for free, even (which is good, because my pay is for shit). This semester I have a couple of really fun classes, and thus far the kids seem engaged in the material and the discussions.
And based on their vocalized contributions to class, the male students are considerably more engaged than the females.
Since before I was a teacher, I’d heard that teachers–both men and women–are apt to call on male students more often. Though I vowed not to favor my guys, I must admit that I have been falling into that pattern somewhat. It may be somewhat due to all that good, ingrained bias I’ve picked up in my many years on the planet, but it’s largely due to the fact that my male students are far more likely to offer to speak in class.
It’s not that the young women in my classes never speak up; there are always a few who remind me of grind-y, overeager undergraduate self, but given the fact that, like the general college population in the U.S., women make up more than 50% of the student body, this imbalance is particularly bothersome. One of my classes is fairly evenly split (although there are more women) and the other is 2/3 women.
In my upper-level class I had free rein with syllabus design, and I’ve built to explicitly discuss issues of gender, class, and race, so I’m less troubled that the subject matter is working to marginalize or disappear women, but in my lower-division class, where I had less control, the syllabus is a virtual parade of dead white dudes, and the representations of women we’re dealing with are…problematic, to say the least. I try to explore how these perverse representation are reflections of their perverse environments, and I try to draw connections to their current environment to clarify how much–or how little–has changed, but I still wonder how much the gendered messages in the material we’re studying affects the behavior of the women in my classes.
Part of my job is to engage all of my students, and I encourage the silent students to speak up in every way I know how; by asking them to write responses to questions in advance of our discussion, by asking students to engage with each other in debate and small-group work, and occasionally by calling on them directly. I know that speaking in class is not the sole, or perhaps even the best, indicator of effort and understanding, but I want my classrooms to be places where the pedagogical model reflects my political commitment. After class, it’s not unusual for one or more of my girls to stop by and ask a question or share an idea, and in some of the short written responses I get I see a heartening amount of feminist (or feminist-ish) thought, but the disparity remains.
Maybe it’s my math anxiety?
Anyway, I want to ask those of you who are educators (and please interpret that term broadly) what you do to make sure that you’re treating your students equally, and those of you who are/were students what–if anything–encouraged you, or your female peers to speak up in class?