Shelby McNeill and Dr. Kristie J.R. Phillips, Department of Sociology
Over the past few decades, a shift has occurred in the educational attainment between the sexes. In the 1990’s, the number of adults ages 25 to 29 years-old who had received a bachelor’s degree or higher was comparable across the sexes, whereas in 2012 more women achieved this goal. Thirty-seven percent of women received their bachelor’s degree or higher while only thirty percent of men did (NCES 2013). This project is important because it is currently inconclusive as to why there is a shift in educational attainment according to gender. Some argue it is due to the increase in the average marriage age of women or the increase in economic returns women receive for obtaining a higher education (Goldin, Katz, and Kuziemko 2006). Others argue it is due to women obtaining higher grades and test scores than men in high school (Carbonero, Ellison, and Covay 2011). While these are valid explanations, few researchers have looked at the differences in patterns of social interactions between teachers and their male and female elementary students and its possible effects on later college enrollment.
Although 76 percent of public school teachers are female (NCES 2013), the effects of a teacher’s gender on student interaction is currently unclear. It is known that ascribed characteristics, such as race, do affect teacher/student interactions. White teachers are more likely to rate black students than white students poorly due to their “different behavioral style” (Downey and Pribesh 2004:268). This could also be why teachers interact differently with students due to different gender behavioral styles. Boys are more commonly disruptive, lack an interest in school, and are more likely to have a learning disability. Girls are known to possess higher noncognitive skills such as attentiveness, organization, leadership, self-discipline, and a general interestedness in school. (Buchmann, DiPrete and McDaniel 2008). Because girls’ behavior is better accustomed to the education system, they often receive higher grades (Buchmann et al. 2008). Due to these findings, I hypothesize that female students receive more positive social interactions than do male students which could be contributing to the gender gap in educational attainment. Through conducting observations in two local elementary schools, I found that teacher/student interactions do differ according to gender. I also found my hypothesis to be true in that female students do receive more positive social interaction from both male and female teachers.
In order to identify whether teacher/child interactions vary by gender, I gathered observational data over a period of two months in two local elementary schools. I used the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS) to guide my observations, as well as any patterns that emerged as time went on. Neither teachers nor students were made aware that I was observing their interactions with each other in order to increase the accuracy and decrease the bias of my results. After each observational period, I wrote out all of my field notes in further detail in a Word document. At the conclusion of my observations, I compiled and coded all of my field notes in order to analyze my results.
I found that interactions between teachers and students do vary according to gender. In regards to teacher/student interactions, male teachers were more likely to negatively verbally discipline their male students than their female students. Female teachers were more likely to use body language and maintain a closer proximity during student interactions than male teachers, yet were more likely to give into the students’ desires. Regardless of the gender of the teacher, both male and female teachers spent more time disciplining their male students than their female students. Both male and female teachers were also more likely to use a positive tones when verbally communicating with female students than with male students.
In regards to student/teacher interactions, male students were more likely to interact with a male teacher than female students, whereas both male and female students were equally likely to interact with female teachers. In these interactions, male students were more likely to be seeking affirmation or praise, whereas female students were more likely to state the completion of a task.
My finding that teacher/student interactions differ according to gender could have important short- and long-term consequences for both male and female students. Because of this, I recommend that further research be conducted on how these differences in interaction patterns could affect future student outcomes. Specifically, due to finding that female students receive more positive social interaction from both male and female teachers than do male students, further research should be conducted on how these more positive social interactions could be related to females’ higher test scores and rising college enrollment patterns.
I do acknowledge that there were some limitations to this study and thus to my findings. Because it was a case study, I was only able to observe teacher/student interactions in a few schools and classrooms, thus making my results not fully generalizable to all teachers and students. Further, even though I tried to be as objective and accurate in my observations as possible, biases could have arisen in my results. Thus, additional research should be conducted in the future in order to further substantiate my findings and analyses.
Buchmann, Claudia., DiPrete, Thomas A. and Anne McDaniel. 2008. “Gender Inequalities in Education.” Annual Review of Sociology 34: 319-337.
Carbonero, William, Ellison, Brady J., and Elizabeth Covay. 2011. “Gender Inequalities in the College Pipeline.” Social Science Research 40(1): 120-135.
Downey, Douglas B. and Shana Pribesh. 2004. “When Race Matters: Teachers’ Evaluations of Students’ Classroom Behavior.” Sociology of Education 77(4): 267-282.
Goldin, Claudia, Katz, Lawrence F., and Ilyana Kuziemko. 2006. “The Homecoming of American College Women: the Reversal of the College Gender Gap.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 20(4): 133-156.
National Center for Education Statistics (2013). Fast Facts: Educational Attainment and Teacher Trends.