Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Ms. Thornton, Are You Sexist?

I try to focus my classroom management plan on teaching kids how to behave rather than punishing them for making me mad. To this end, once someone has a warning for the day, the next step is to come talk to me and decide on a plan to help him or her reintegrate into the classroom smoothly. I like this system a lot. I think it helps me build those relationships that are proving key to student motivation (more on that next time). I also think it shows students that I'm not interested in wielding power in the classroom; I'm interested in helping them be successful (even if I'm not perfect at achieving this goal).

At times these meetings leave me with a lot to think about. Friday, I spoke with J. after he had spoken repeatedly when others were speaking. We were talking about how he could self-regulate and what I could do to help him consider others. He decided to switch seats. The feeling was good. Then he asked me a question that floors me still.

"Ms. Thornton, are you a sexist?" J. asked in that way that only a ninth grader can.

My mind raced. Had I kept boys after class more than girls? In trying to cover up my Jo March-like preference for teaching boys, had I been "nicer" to the girls? I asked J. what he meant and it was none of those things. He wondered if I was sexist because I had once shared with the class that I consider myself a feminist and that's why I prefer Ms. rather than Miss as an honorific. I told him no. I try my best to treat all people equally and certainly do my best to not show favoritism to students. What, I wondered, had made him think that being a feminist was equal to being a sexist.

"Well, I asked my science teacher if she was a feminist, and she said no because she likes all people," J. responded.

I felt a little like I'd been kicked in the chest. I'm still trying to figure out if his science teacher meant that, actually said that, or if J. was trying to deflect from the issue at hand. I was glad that J. couldn't point to any one thing that had happened in our classroom, but I'm also still kind of mad! I want very much to meet my students and my community where they are, but I don't think that means I could ever give up my understanding that a feminist is someone with the radical idea that men and women are equals. My mama raised me better than that.


Heather B. Quinn said...

It's always fun having to deal with the fallout of other teachers saying and doing questionable things. I find that at my school substitute teachers are especially good at confusing students about what is and what is not appropriate at school by doing things like confiscating Bibles or telling two girls its "inappropriate" for them to hold hands.

Antonio said...

I took part in a study (as a subject) at WM that interviewed young men and women of different backgrounds and asked if they considered themselves a feminist.

They started with the question: are you a feminist?
my answer: no

Q: What is feminism?
me: the belief that men and women are equal in all ways

Q: do you believe that?
me: yes

Q: then why aren't you a feminist?
me: the best reason I can come up with is that it is not a priority for me. obviously I believe in gender equality and support it, but I am a Democrat, and I am an environmentalist, those are beliefs that I try to live every day, whereas I am not actively a "feminist" the same way I am not a labor unionist or an education advocate, even though I believe in those things as well.

Maggie said...

That's an interesting take, Antonio. I think coming from a culture where the word feminist is so often reviled, it's really important to me to show with my actions that there's nothing radical or even necessarily activist about believing in equity between the genders.

I guess it's hard for that equity not to be a priority for me since I think that one of the reason teachers are so poorly compensated is that the profession has been feminized. More on this in person, but don't abandon us, brother! We need you!