I was sitting on my 9 year old son's bed with him a few nights ago and he shocked me with this question:
Mum, Why do teachers hate boys?
It turns out a relief teacher at school that day had got mad and made some pretty negative comments about “boys” and their behaviour. So, okay a teacher got mad. No big deal. But what really worried me was how absolutely adamant my son was that he has heard this from teachers many times before. I asked him a whole lot of questions, and this is what he said, in tears, as near verbatim as I can remember it.
“Teachers think that boys do bad stuff, and do less work than the girls. They say “the girls can get an early minute” and make the boys stay in. They say they know the boys started it, even when they didn’t. They listen to the girls when they explain what happened, and they don’t to the boys. They think the boys are dumber than the girls. It’s sexist! I hate it, because it makes me feel like the boys are the worst in the world, and girls are better than us. It makes me angry at the girls and angry at the teachers. AND It makes me feel like when I DO my work, that I am like the girls, and the boys call me a girl. And I’m not, I’m a boy!”
Okay, so first it broke my heart. But having kids does that to you right?
Second, it made me really, really mad at that teacher. I wanted to march my son right back into that school and get my son to say all of this to him face to face.
But it was 8pm, so I decided not. For a psychologist, I can be pretty smart.
Instead, my son and I had a conversation about it. One of the things I said was “teachers DON’T hate boys”. I helped him remember all the wonderful teachers he has had who have admired, encouraged and supported him and his other (boy) friends. I also reminded him that just because teachers get cross with kids, doesn’t mean they “hate” them.
Just a bad day?
Since then, I’ve been asking my son, his boy-friends and my clients who are young boys about this issue. Most of them have told me they’ve heard the same “boys are worse than girls” message. It’s often not subtle, nor just implied. Boys have told me that some of their teachers have straight out said things like “typical boys”, and “it’s always the boys” and “If only I had a class of all girls”. I read a post the other day about a list of what a class of US Year 4 boys hate about being a boy and one of the items right up front on the list was this “You get an automatic bad reputation”.
What is this? I cringed at the “it’s sexist” comment by my son initially. But on reflection – he’s right. Can you imagine if a CEO in the workplace wrote a memo about the “Women being consistently moody and disagreeable”? Isn’t this against the law!??
Is it True?
Sure, in general, boys DO have more significant behaviour AND learning problems than girls do, especially if we define learning and behaviour goals in traditional ways. And some boys (and girls) can be really, really tough to manage in the classroom. I want to be really clear about not being critical of teachers: They have it incredibly hard and I doubt I could survive as a teacher given their job description these days. Things must slip off their tongue accidentally at times, and 30 young sets of ears hear things they were not meant to hear. I’d hate for some of the things I say to my kids when I am angry to get out on the internet!!
However, the question I want to raise is this: What is the effect of these comments made my some teachers – on the boys in their classes. I think we get a clue from what my son said to me originally that night. You don’t have to be a child psychologist to read between the lines of his words and see the effect it has. He feels:
- Like he is somehow in a competition at school with the girls on one side and the boys on the other, and the girls are always winning
- A sense of shame about being a boy
- Rejected by his teacher just because he is a boy, and therefore less likely to want to behave
- Like there is an expectation because he is a boy that he will behave badly and do less work
- He is a girl if he does the right thing and his “boyhood” is diminished
I’m worried for my son when I think about him getting this message consistently through his schooling. I’m horrified for our society when I think about boys all over the world getting this message throughout their childhood. What is this doing to our next generation of young men? The mind boggles.
So Now What?
It is urgently, absolutely, 100% wrong and damaging for teachers, parents – or anyone in an authority position – to make a negative generalisation about “boys”. When we do this, we perpetuate the very problem we are trying to solve.
So Mr Relief Teacher, I know you were frustrated at a couple of the students in your class that day. But please, don’t keep saying “Boys are Bad” because a) it makes my son cry, and b) it is just possible that you are gradually causing damage to our society for decades to come.