Gena Raymond is rethinking the way she relates to the boys in her life.
I’ve listened to several intelligent men describe why they were not successful in traditional school systems. I’ve heard them talk about feeling like outsiders in a world dominated by female educators in a system that lends itself to the success of female students.
I was one of those successful female students, but as an educator, now I wonder what happens to those students whose needs are not met by the limits of the system. And why are so many of them boys?
According to The Digest of Education Statistics, there are about three million more women than men in postsecondary education today. Can this be at least partially attributed to their primary educational experiences? The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) conducted a study earlier this year that revealed that among struggling teenage students, boys are 50% more likely to show basic skill deficits in reading, math, and science.
While these systemic issues are too widespread for any of us to tackle individually, we can start examining the ways in which we interact with the boys in our lives.
When I was completing my student teaching many years ago, I was required to include three forms of praise in all of my lesson plans. I had to include ideas for making students feel needed and necessary, capable, and loved. I’ve found that these concepts extend beyond praise and out of the classroom. They are useful tools for supporting children in their home lives and extra-curricular activities as well. However, I’ve noticed that making these connections with boys sometimes has to be intentional, especially on the part of female caregivers.
Needed and Necessary
We make children feel needed and necessary when we entrust them with important tasks. They love to feel like they are a vital part of their environment. Of course, this can be reflected in our words, too:
“I couldn’t have done that without you!”
“Thank you so much for all of your help!”
However, children are quick to pick up on disingenuous sentiments. Even more than giving compliments that reflect the importance of children’s actions, is the actual belief that they do make important contributions.
I often see girls given these helping roles and praised for their assistance, but do we give our boys these same chances?
The first step in making boys feel like a vital part of their community is by giving them opportunities to fulfill important roles more frequently. We can start small if need be, but I think you’ll find that in most cases, they will rise to the occasion. If the assigned role does not work out, we can always try different ones until we find a good fit.
Boys need to know that their classes (and homes) could not function the same without them. The reality is that they can’t. Boys are needed and necessary, and life just would not be the same without them.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen little girls trying to dominate little boys in and out of the classroom. They think it’s their job to get them to pay attention, complete their work, and behave appropriately. They also seem to think it’s their job to tattle on them if they don’t. Of course, I’m not speaking about all girls, but it is a recurring theme.
Where do some girls get the idea that they are responsible for what boys are doing? Is this a message that we, the adults in their young lives, are sending? If so, we need to address it because it is an unhealthy one.
We need to send the message to our children that people are responsible for themselves. Genuine praise is in order when we notice children taking responsibility for their own actions, but boys need to be given more of an opportunity to do so. Female caretakers and peers need to give them this chance to make and own their choices without micromanaging them.
Boys are capable of making their own decisions-and facing the consequences for them if need be. They’re capable of asking for help if they need it, and they are allowed to refuse help from other children when they don’t.
This is not about discouraging children from being altruistic. It’s about making sure that they are respecting each other’s boundaries and are not making assumptions about each other based solely on gender.
I think this category is the easiest one for us to demonstrate. Each year, teachers form new families with the students in their classes. Students usually know and feel they are loved. The same is true for most children in their home and family situations.
This love can be even more beneficial to children when it is examined. Are we loving our children in ways that foster healthy interpersonal relationships among them? Are we challenging stereotypes that society has already imprinted on their young minds or unwittingly helping to confirm them?
A part of love is self-reflection. We may hold some notions that are damaging to our children’s well-being despite our best intentions. The first thing we can do is start noticing if we are prone to these gender biases. Next, we can start working to change them. Be gentle with yourself, just as you are with your children. We can start planting different seeds, but they will not flourish in a day.
Although this post discusses classroom experiences, these dynamics are often present in our homes and personal lives as well. We would do well to make sure the boys we care about feel needed and necessary, capable, and loved in all areas.
If you’ve noticed some of these gender roles playing out in your classroom or home, here are some ideas that might help to challenge them:
- Start noticing when you make assumptions about the boys in your care. We can only work on what we acknowledge.
- Start giving boys responsibilities you would usually assign to girls (and vice versa). I’m not suggesting to entrust tasks to children that can’t handle them. I am suggesting that we make sure we aren’t creating low expectations for our boys from the onset.
- Encourage children to ask if help is needed before jumping in to rescue someone. Teach them to respect “no” if that is the answer.
I want the men in my life (and in the world) to feel needed and necessary, capable, and loved. I want to make sure they know these feelings well and accept nothing less in their lives. It only makes sense to start treating them this way as boys.
Photo: Getty Images