Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Feminization of Teaching, Part 2: Schoolmarms and the 21st Century

The Wisconsin teacher strikes have been on my mind a great deal lately, as they have for many people in this country. It's no secret that teachers are facing enormous disrespect. For starters, they are grossly underpaid, considering they are meant to do one of the most important jobs in America. They also continue to be held to certain "moral" standards by jerkface Republicans. Teachers are being deprofessionalized even as we speak, through [problematic] standardized testing, broken accountability measures, and an increasingly canned curriculum. It's also a fact that teachers tend to be women. There is, in my mind, a clear link between the semi-professional (at best) status of teachers and the fact that teaching is considered a feminine career.

In the last post, I wrote about the nineteenth century issues of teacher professionalization. Fast forward to 2011, when the relative professional status of teachers is at the top of many peoples' minds. No Child Left Behind requires states to apply a statewide standardized test - in Florida, where I live, this is the FCAT - upon which school performance and teacher performance will be graded. Teachers now have to be sure they prepare their students for the tests in order to prevent their schools from losing funding,* and have less and less flexibility to determine what is right for their students at any given time. Is this not what teachers are trained to do?

On top of this, the fact is that most teachers are women, still, especially in elementary schools.** And teachers still get paid considerably less than other professionals do. This is no mistake - as we can see, this was intended from the beginning of public education in the United States. But just because something has historical precedent doesn't make it right. I know lots of teachers, and none of them argue that they do a better job teaching now that they have less control over what they are doing. They are less able to serve their students, because they are so busy trying to serve the state. The fact that teachers tend to be women, and that the men involved in K-12 education are most likely to be administrators (or, to some extent, high school teachers) is not a coincidence. It was deliberately established this way based on several very sexist ideas, as we know. Not only do we need to diversify the teaching force, we also need to start treating teachers like the professionals they are. Not only is this fair and anti-sexist, but it's what is best for their students.

* Because it makes LOADS of sense to take money away from struggling schools and give it to the schools that are already doing well!
** I am well aware that teachers also tend to be white, middle-class, and monolingual. I don't think the whiteness of teachers is a coincidence, either. I'm planning to write about this in the future, but feel free to comment away on this issue should you be so moved.


  1. We have moved away from NCLB and transitioned more towards Race to the Top, which has the same requirements but with a heavier emphasis on restructuring of the school, and money provided for that. My school, for example, because of its school grade, had its administration replaced (since firing all of the teachers or becoming a charter school was not an option in this small town). The federal government has provided money for this restructuring, and Florida has been award the money for Race to the Top. As a result, we as a state will be moving more toward so called merit pay, increased 'professional development' with state supervision, a standardized lesson plan format (focus lesson, direct instruction, guided practice, independent practice; mandatory small groups at least 3 times a weekin ALL courses; reading and reading strategies infused in curriculum at least twice a week in ALL courses). These are all required for Race to the Top funding. At the same time, the only subject still using the FCAT after this year, at least at the high school level (though not at the elementary level), will be language arts. All other tested subjects will have end of course exams (including social studies, finally).

    I have mentioned before to you the frustrations my school has experienced. As an F school last year, we had massive state oversight; they were here twice a month, basically. Because our reading scores were so low, the state told our language arts department that they would no longer teach literature and grammar; they would be required to focus on FCAT centered language arts skills. When a wonderful teacher said she would not, and would continue to do the curriculum she was supposed to, she was told that despite her 12 years, she would be fired immediately if she remained insubordinate. And there was nothing she could do but what she was told, alas. The same thing happened in our science department. Our Teacher of the Year was almost fired because he insisted that he had to teach his course, Biology, and NOT FCAT science prep for three months. He was advised that he could be replaced. Professionals? We wish.

  2. And the Florida Senate just voted to end tenure for new teachers (anyone hired after July 1, 2011, which would include switching districts or being fired and rehired as part of reorganization) and establish 'merit pay'. Awesome

  3. Jess- I would like to see an article on what some might call reverse sexism regarding teachers: men who want to teach elementary children are considered suspect and potentail sexual predators. It is one way that a society keeps men in check as well by arguing that they are a) somehow sexually perverted if they want to be around children or b) unmanly or less masculine for taking this job.

    I think this would be an interesting tangent.

  4. Sure! I'll see what I can do. I don't know that it's even reverse sexism - I think it's part of the same sexist assumptions that mean women SHOULD be teachers. It's a case of "the patriarchy is bad for everyone," in my mind. But I'll see if I can flesh those ideas out a bit in the next few weeks. :)