This is the fourth part of the series on gender and language teaching. Clicking on this link will lead you to the previous post, and from there to the first two.
I first became aware of another type of teacher when I started teaching in the private system. The instructors were not maternal looking women in flowing skirts and Birkenstocks; they were men in jeans and leather jackets. Who were these hard-bitten adventurers who travelled from country to country? The whole vibe was different.
It took me quite a while to adjust to the new atmosphere, not only in the staffroom, but also in the classroom. These students had little interest in what I had offered to the Overland learners. After all, what is the value of a safe, affirming environment when one has been safe and affirmed one’s whole life?
I think I saw this most clearly during a conference with a pupil. “It’s early morning and we’re all sleepy. Why don’t you wake us up by telling some kind of joke?”* I was a little bemused. Why would I want to do that? I’m not a funny person and I don’t tell jokes in class. The kind of humour I like focuses on arcane wordplay and is infused with a deeply sardonic spirit — I didn’t think my kind of joke would make my students very happy.
Now when I read blogs of fellow teachers, I understand a little more. The Secret DoS presents and critiques the common perception that the successful teacher is one who gives an amusing performance. Nathan talks about how his original impulse as a teacher was to entertain. And these teachers were indeed entertainers (often literally — many actors and musicians end up teaching elt). They saw each class as a kind of gig, a chance to show what they had, score a few points, and then move on to a new venue.
This teacher model privileged risk taking and adaptability over nurturing qualities. And this made sense — it was neither necessary nor appropriate for them to forge lasting bonds with the students. First impressions were far more important. They were there to do a specific job, and to do it in a way that enhanced their status and that of their institution.
So when we talk about English teachers, we are talking about two quite different models. And it’s really not that much of a stretch to argue that the differences between them fall along gender lines.
* This situation has an interesting outcome. I gleaned from conversation that the students routinely skipped breakfast, so I invested in a Clubpack of granola bars. After a few bites of pseudo-nutritious carbohydrate, the kids were mine, well not for life, but definitely for the duration of the term. Maybe I couldn’t wake them up with jokes, but the spike in blood sugar worked just as well. In this case: Nurturers 1 Entertainers 0