Updated: Aug 5, 2021
Rebecca, one of our top English tutors, gives some easy-to-implement advice for tutors (and school teachers) on how they can avoid gender stereotypes.
As humans and as teachers, we are learning more and more about tackling gender stereotypes in the classroom, and generally getting increasingly better at supporting children in their dreams and ambitions, irrespective of gender.
It gets even easier with private tuition, as a lot of the recommended behaviour and remaining minefields are tied up with teaching a classroom of children in a school: don’t constantly split children by gender, don’t incessantly use pink for girls and blue for boys, don’t ask for ‘big strong boys’ to move the tables while ‘nice trustworthy girls’ deliver a message.
But there are absolutely still ways to tutor one-on-one that can help to overturn stereotypes and improve gender neutral teaching. I’m definitely more passionate than qualified on this subject, but these are a few ideas and techniques that work for me and seem to be heading in the right direction:
Have a look at the materials you provide. Are you using female athletes and scientists in your case studies? Are any of the books you’re reading written by women? What about the stories inside the books: are there examples of career-driven women, stay-at-home dads, active girls and creative boys? Are all the animals in the stories male? It’s so important to provide a range of role models for children and young people, so they feel enabled and not strange or isolated with whatever they want to do and be. If you have to use an extremely masculine set text to teach for an exam (I recently taught Lord of the Flies, an excellent book that nevertheless doesn’t contain a single woman), then don’t take it for granted – draw attention to the lack of women, and discuss why: is there a deliberate point that the author is making, or is it mere lazy thoughtlessness?
When setting tasks for a pupil, don’t be automatically bound by gender. There’s no reason you can’t set a girl a lengthy maths problem about football teams, or set a boy a writing task where he imagines himself as a female character. Obviously, you want to follow your student’s interests and hobbies to keep them motivated, but try not to use gender as the first point of similarity or difference.
Avoid and challenge stereotypes. Keep a critical watch on yourself and try and catch any gender biased teaching or comments. Do you let a boy’s messy handwriting slide because ‘girls are just neater’? Do you criticise a restless female student more than you would a male? Do we think a girl is ‘showing off’ where a boy would be ‘impressively displaying his knowledge’; or a boy is being ‘taciturn and sulky’ where a girl is being ‘shy and polite’? These things are so small and seemingly innocuous, but they contribute little by little to the huge number of gendered behaviours children and young people are absorbing every day.
As well as avoiding your own gender biases, challenge those of others. Don’t be scared of gently questioning a pupil when they regurgitate learned opinions, whether that’s laughing at things as ‘girly’ or dismissing them as ‘for boys’. Pick up on the passing comments, question their assumptions, and offer counter examples. Often, they are just rules repeated thoughtlessly, and when examined will disintegrate. And, as mentioned above, notice and challenge the stereotypes in textbooks and set texts, discussing with your student why the author wrote this and why it might be problematic.
Finally, make your lesson a safe space. You and your tutee have a professional teacher/pupil relationship, but you are in their home and spending a lot of time together one-on-one, so sometimes a pupil relaxes more than around school teachers. Make sure you maintain a professional boundary, but if a student confides in you about non-gender-conforming aims, ambitions, or interests, affirm them, reassure them that it’s ok to be different, and encourage acceptance.
Blog Post Crafted by Rebecca
Background: Rebecca is one of our most popular tutors, with a degree in English from the University of Cambridge and hundreds of hours of private tuition experience in 7+, 11+, English and Maths. She is also an assessor for Titanium Tutors, observing the mock lessons taught by potential tutors and deciding whether or not they meet the high standards of the agency.