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Addressing Gender Issues 1 Addressing Gender Issues in Teacher Education

By Lynda R. Wiest University of Nevada, Reno

Gender issues in education continue to manifest themselves, albeit in an ever-shifting landscape. Girls, for example, continue to perform below males on the quantitative portion of some standardized tests, such as the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) (Institute of Education Sciences, 2006), whereas boys show weak achievement in literacy (e.g., Taylor, 2004). Boys are overrepresented in special education, in part because girls are under identified (e.g., Oswald, Best, Coutinho, & Nagle, 2003). Women experience various types of struggles in academe (Kurtz-Costes, Helmke, & lk-Steiner, 2006; White, 2005), as do men as elementary teachers (Cushman, 2005; Wiest, Olive, & Obenchain, 2003). Despite the clear importance of gender as a social identity that influences an individuals educational experiences and standing and the fact that all students are gendered and thus potentially impacted, attention to gender issues in education, appears to have waned in focus in favor of other educational issues. Teacher education, a logical and vitally important place for examining key issues that impact students, pays little attention to gender. Teacher education textbooks, for example, devote minimal space to gender issues and, in fact, at times give the topic stereotypic and inaccurate treatment (Zittleman & Sadker, 2002). Sanders (2002) notes, Multicultural education has become a thriving component of teacher education nationwide. Gender equity, however, is in the earliest stages of consideration (p. 242).

Addressing Gender Issues 2 Ideally, attention to gender issues should be infused into both pre-service and in-service teacher education across all disciplines. Because that often does not happen for such reasons as lack of instructor background or interest in this area, perceived time constraints, and beliefs that these issues no longer exist, separate attention through individual courses or as distinct subject matter in diversity courses may be warranted. In this article, I describe results of a study designed to investigate the impact of a new Gender Issues in Education graduate course conducted at a Western university during the fall of 2004 and 2006. The gender-issues course targets school personnel to develop understanding of key gender issues in preK-16+ schooling. It is founded on feminist theory, which is social and political in nature. A basic tenet is that individuals have different status in society based on their sex (cf. Andersen, 2003). Feminist theorists often seek to explain womens position in society based on differing dynamics of power and knowledge, and they call for social-justice action to address resulting inequities. Nevertheless, the key theoretical premise of sex-based hierarchical positioning means that the experiences of both females and males are relevant. That said, this course gives greater attention to female-related issues for good reason. Weaver-Hightower (2003) asserts: Until recently, most policy, practice, and research on gender and education focused on girls and girls issues. This is as it should be, for in every society women as a group relative to men are disadvantaged socially, culturally, politically, and economically. All of these realms, of course, are integral to the study of schooling. (p. 471)

Course Overview

Addressing Gender Issues 3 The main topics addressed in this course are: key general concepts and terminology; gender issues in society; historical perspectives; language and communication; psychological, interpersonal, and sociocultural issues; general school/classroom issues; academic assessment; K-12 student classifications, placements, and career tracks; K-16+ subject-specific issues; parents, administrators, and counselors roles; higher education (students); K-16+ faculty and administrators; international issues; sexual identity; gender equity programs and strategies; teacher education; future directions. Course readings are both scholarly and application-oriented. Assignments, which students may individualize to suit their interests and needs, include a reflective gender-issues essay at the beginning and end of the course, class presentation on a focused topic, classroom or school evaluation, and literature review paper or interview project.

Method Participants in this research included 20 of 22 students (91%) who took the course during the two semesters. The gender composition was 14 females (70%) and 6 males (30%). Participants included 3 K-6 teachers, 7 teachers of grades 7-12, 6 full-time graduate students, 1 middle school counselor, and 1 middle school administrator. As a group, they reported very little background preparation in gender issues in education upon entering the course; that which they had appeared to be random or self-initiated. Students completed a survey upon course entrance to give background information on themselves and their thinking about gender issues in education. Approximately seven months after the Gender Issues in Education course had ended, students were mailed a survey consisting of eight open-ended questions. Survey questions solicited participants thinking about gender

Addressing Gender Issues 4 issues in education and their perceived impact of the course on their professional and personal lives. Sample questions include: Name up to three things you learned in the course that you found most important. Tell why you chose each. Has the course influenced your teaching in any way(s)? Please explain. Name up to three key gender issues in education that you think are most pressing at present. Tell why you chose each. Participants written comments were reviewed repeatedly in order to construct conceptual categories from the data. Categories of data were examined for overarching themes and relationships.

Results Upon entering the course, participants named a variety of gender issues that they found most prominent in contemporary education. The topic offered the greatest number of times (8 students) was STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics)-related issues for females. Several more each described poor instructional practices (4) and issues related to sexrole socialization (3). Overrepresentation of males in special education was listed by 3 participants. Other responses included a variety of topics raised by one or two students each. Asked the same question after the course, participants raised a greater number of topics and generated more specific responses. Topics raised, for example, included gender identity (9 students), single-sex education (5 students), and literacy issues for males (5 students). Participants designated four groups as being most responsible for improving gender issues in

Addressing Gender Issues 5 education: educators (12), parents (9), national leaders (6), and school administrators (6). More than half of survey participants indicated that the main way the course impacted them was developing more equitable professional practice. Participants also expressed heightened sensitivity to subtle bias in themselves and others and greater awareness of gender issues/terminology in general. In terms of professional practice, participants reported positive changes in their interactions with and attitudes toward students (12), in addition to making curricular changes (7) and intentionally raising awareness of gender-equity issues with their students and colleagues (6). In terms of their own practice, some participants (6 each) said they still needed work reducing their own bias, as well as greater knowledge and awareness of gender-related issues. Obstacles participants perceived to making progress toward more gender-equitable education are a lack of knowledge/awareness/concern about the topic, societal/political climate, and a lack of qualified individuals to initiate/structure such change. One participant, for example, blamed apathy about this topic on NCLB and the single-minded focus on testing and improving student achievement. Others echoed this sentiment. Some participants indicated that the focus of schooling shifts with current student demographics (e.g., increasing proportions of English Language Learners) and new education ideas (e.g., RTI). Participants expressed very little need for changes to the course as conducted; however, 3 or 4 students each (15-20%) suggested a desire for greater application of material, more diversity of opinions to enhance discussions, and greater depth and/or breadth of course topics. All participants resoundingly stated the importance of pre-service and in-service teacher preparation on this course topic. One considered it, Absolutely essential. So much time is spent on

Addressing Gender Issues 6 detailslesson plans, classroom managementthat little focus in placed on important philosophical and ideological concerns. A full-time graduate student with interest in this area said of her role as higher-education instructor: Most of the pre-service teachers I work with seem to feel that hearing about gender issues from me is all new information that they had not considered/heard before.

Discussion In keeping with other research, this study showed that educators receive little structured preparation in gender issues in education, despite the fact that concerns continue to abound for both females and males. The political climate and continually shifting education foci and demands seem to be blamed for this oversight and the general lack of knowledge. Nevertheless, participants in this study strongly recommend including meaningful attention to gender issues in education in both pre-service and in-service teacher preparation. The fact that students who took this Gender Issues in Education course reported much greater knowledge of a wider array of specific gender-issues topics after course completion reflects the important educational notion that what educators address is what students have access to learning. In other words, deciding what topics and specific content are structured into teacher preparation programs, rather than being subjected to the randomness of individual interest and expertise, is not to be taken lightly. Participants in this study indicated that a well-designed course fashioned on current research and thinking about gender issues in education can indeed increase knowledge and awareness, as well as improve practice. They maintain that a variety of key education and community stakeholders are responsible for continuing to address gender issues in education.

Addressing Gender Issues 7

Addressing Gender Issues 8 References Andersen, M. L. (2003). Thinking about women: Sociological perspectives on sex and gender (6th ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon. Cushman, P. (2005). Lets hear if from the males: Issues facing male primary school teachers. Teaching and Teacher Education, 21(3), 227-240. Institute of Education Sciences. (2006). Digest of education statistics 2005. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved January 21, 2007, from http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d05/ Kurtz-Costes, B., Helmke, L. A., & lk-Steiner, B. (2006). Gender and doctoral studies: The perceptions of Ph.D. students in an American university. Gender and Education, 18(2), 137155. Oswald, D. P., Best, A. M., Coutinho, M. J., & Nagle, H. A. L. (2003). Trends in the special education identification rates of boys and girls: A call for research and change. Exceptionality, 11(4), 223-237. Sanders, J. (2002). Something is missing from teacher education: Attention to two genders. Phi Delta Kappan, 84(3), 241-244. Taylor, D. L. (2004). Not just boring stories: Reconsidering the gender gap for boys. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 48(4), 280-288. Weaver-Hightower, M. (2003). The boy turn in research on gender and education. Review of Educational Research, 73(4), 471-498. White, J. S. (2005). Pipeline to pathways. Liberal Education, 90(1), 22-27. Wiest, L. R., Olive, M. L., & Obenchain, K. M. (2003). Mens perceptions of their experiences

Addressing Gender Issues 9 as K-2 teachers, Equity and Excellence in Education, 36(1), 82-95. Zittleman, K., & Sadker, D. (2002). Gender bias in teacher education texts: New (and old) lessons. Journal of Teacher Education, 53(2), 168-180.