Boys can learn without male teachers

To help boys succeed, elementary schools are trying to hire more male teachers, writes Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post.

That’s not the strategy used by schools that do a good job of educating boys, writes Richard Whitmire, now blogging on Why Boys Fail in Education Week.  In his new book, also Why Boys Fail, he profiles a Delaware elementary school and a KIPP charter school in Washington DC that educate low-income minority boys.

Neither school paid much attention to the gender of the teachers. Rather, they had teaching staffs infused with a sports fanatic-like devotion to ensuring no child was just passed along without learning what needed to be learned.

Reading is being taught at earlier ages. Whitmire thinks teachers are passing boys along with poor reading skills, telling parents the boys will catch up. But some never do.

My travels suggest that rethinking how to teach boys literacy skills in the very early grades would be a far more effective remedy than vacuuming up more male teachers.

Male teachers “can make a character-building difference” in urban schools, he adds.

Whitmire’s book is out next week. While you’re ordering a copy, stock up on my book. (If you want an autographed copy of the hardcover, e-mail me at joanne at joannejacobs dot com.)

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  1. When I was in ES in the 50s, my teachers were not only women, but most had never married and had no children. My husband attended a Catholic school in the 40s and all the teachers were nuns. Both groups of teachers seemed to have a better understanding of and appreciation for boys that many of my kids’ teachers did. Normal boy characteristics, behavior and interests have been increasingly defined as abnormal and undesirable, often requiring medication. They seem to be seen as defective girls.

    I think that incorporating competition, boy-interest readings, less focus on emotions, journaling etc. and specific instruction in phonics, arithmetic etc. would be beneficial.

  2. While this certainly points to the fact that dedicated teachers make an enormous difference in terms of student achievement and real learning, I think it side-steps the question of whether or not boys need male teachers in order to be “properly socialized”. By that I mean it fails to address the importance of boys having male teachers in order to learn some things that are not explicitly part of the curriculum.

    While the gender of the teacher probably doesn’t affect how well young men read or write, it might very well affect their ability to treat woman with respect, to treat other men with respect, to carry themselves as gentlemen, etc. While female teachers can tell boys how to do that, they can’t model it. Perhaps there is evidence that gender doesn’t matter for those things as well, but having taught many young men with zero male role models has led me to think otherwise.

  3. anonymous says:

    Nick, I think that’s a better argument for male ES teachers than the academic one. I wish I knew how to get back to the state when most kids came from intact, 2-parent families and kids learned these kind of things at home.

  4. Cranberry says:

    Here’s an interesting post from a British physics teacher:

    In short, increasing the relative value of homework in grading favors girls.

  5. Cranberry says:

    To be fair to teachers, changing these practices is not necessarily in their control. It must be a whole-school effort, led by the administration. In many schools these days, the curriculum is set from above. There is no extra time in the school’s schedule to tackle individual deficiencies.

    With the shift in our local school to a curriculum mandated from above, we have encountered the response, “that material has been presented in earlier grades.” Hmm. So, if boys haven’t learned what wasn’t presented, that’s their own fault? They’re not learning according to the school’s schedule, and that’s just too bad? Of course, parents in this district will hire tutors, and try to repair the damage at home. The argument is still a terrible one.

    Has anyone studied the relationship between the percentage of male instructors in a school, and socioeconomic factors? Our affluent local school has a significant number of male teachers.

  6. Cranberry – My observations match on the homework and girl issue and I’d extend it to anything that incorporates any kind of artwork/drama. Overall, girls are more willing to do an assignment even if they already know the material and they are more willing to make it pretty/fancy. Of course, that didn’t apply to mine.

    I also think mainstreaming/heterogeneous grouping has increased the homework weighting. I am aware of a number of situations where the homework typically arrived in handwriting other than the kid’s. Ditto for the increase in groupwork – both in terms of girls and in terms of mainstreaming/heterogeneity.

  7. Obviously, the desire for male teachers is driven by the perception that disadvantaged kids lack male role models. While this is probably true, it is not the place of a public school system to try to redress this social issue. Instead they should focus on finding competent teachers regardless of gender.

  8. Mike Curtis says:

    When I was a kid, the sex of the teacher didn’t matter as much as the knowledge that, if I didn’t pass the third grade standard, then I would have to do it over again. Social promotion is the reason we have illiterate high school students; not sex.

  9. Just about every parent will tell you that boys mature differently than girls (I just commited sexism sin #1 by saying that). Looking at my students over the past years that have been labeled LD and have not possessed some other underlying factor, most have been boys that seem intelligent enough but simply lack maturity, responsibility, and unfortunately the background knowledge they should have learned in previous grades.
    Boys thrive under rigid structure, which is contrary to the views that boys need constant action and movement. Unfortunately, the student-centered and differentiated classrooms of current elementary schools disadvantage boys.

  10. Richard Aubrey says:

    Boys can learn what without male teachers?

  11. Michael E. Lopez says:

    I was once one of two men who worked in an elementary school.

    Two. For the whole school.

    One was a fourth grade teacher, much beloved by his students. I was the librarian.

    I was useful for handling kids the female teachers couldn’t.

    Literally. Handling.

    I don’t know about the whole role model thing. I was in my early twenties… so I doubt I would have been a good role model anyway.

  12. Kevin Smith says:

    When I think of my own teachers the ones I remember as the best are, with one exception, women. I don’t remember learning any importnat social skills from any of my male teachers, but then I have a father who was pretty involved in my raising (and lived in my home with me).


  1. […] posted here:  Boys can learn without male teachers « Joanne Jacobs By admin | category: boys school | tags: across-the-commonwealth, education, few-games, […]

  2. […] You can write about education issues a lot, have your eyes focused on the future, and still miss some of the debates that are going on out there. Washington Post blogger Valerie Strauss says that schools need to hire more male teachers, especially in the early grades, for the sake of boys. Citing Richard Whitmire’s book Why Boys Fail, blogress extraordinaire Joanne Jacobs responds: “Boys can learn without male teachers.” […]

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