I began my teaching career in 1985 in what was then an Inner London College. South Thames College in Putney was a college which was keen to maintain its high literacy and numeracy standards, and worked closely with local schools to improve its 14-16 provision. My role as the newly appointed School Link Tutor was to ensure, in consultation with the Senior School Link Co-ordinator, that the curriculum reflected the diverse needs of the young people who attended the college twice weekly. The course had been designed to accommodate those who did not have academic aspirations, and as such vocational tasters comprised fifty per cent of the programme. The students were from two schools, one an all girls school and the other an all boys school. These students, who were only fifteen years of age were already deemed as less likely to achieve good academic grades. One of the main aims and objectives of the course was to encourage the students not to simply drop out of the educational system, but to realise that educational opportunities were available to all.
The course offered vocational tasters in keyboard skills and office practice, (today it would be classed as ICT) cookery, painting and decorating, motor vehicle and basic skills in English, Maths and Personal Development. The vocational tasters operated on a carousel basis for the duration of six weeks. In addition there were two weeks of work experience built into the course. The three days spent at school enabled an opportunity for a more in-depth study of traditional curriculum subjects such as geography, history, science and RE. The students were challenging and some had behavioural difficulties. However, because they were in a new environment and had not as yet been labelled by the institution as underachievers, some of the students began to show a great deal of promise, and were once again engaged in the learning process.
I have worked with disaffected young people throughout my teaching career, either those disinterested in the traditional curriculum or those who were uninterested in learning about English Literature, and were in the classroom through no choice of their own. I learned how to make the teaching of Shakespeare and other traditional literary works more relevant to the student’s everyday experience, and so involved the student’s in the learning process. I also persevered with these challenging students through a variety of other strategies. One such strategy was to encourage students not to simply accept what they were being told but to check the information for themselves. In today’s technological world it’s easy enough to find information. Therefore as part of the learning experience, when you are writing up your notes you should make additional comments by researching the subject matter in more depth. Additionally do not simply accept things as being the truth; but check their validity. Does it make sense? Discuss it with other students and your teacher. Most of all take responsibility for your own learning and understanding of the topic.
Differences in Gender Learning
The philosophy and politics inherent within teaching changes fairly regularly, but a firm foundation on which to base one’s teaching can be found through religious scripture as well as from an understanding of pedagogical techniques. From a scriptural perspective I ensure that God is at the centre of my life and is the foundation on which I assess and re-assess my moral and ethical values. I believe that most teachers show their students acts of kindness and ensure that they know they are valued and respected within the classroom. Arguably those who place Jesus Christ at the centre of their lives also ensure that their students understand God’s purpose in our lives.
The pedagogy of teaching is more concerned with the practicalities of teaching, for instance effective learning resources and tools, ensuring the students are involved in the learning process, as well as regular assessments and evaluations of the students’ knowledge and understanding. As educators there are a whole host of factors which need to be taken into consideration to equip our young people with the skills, knowledge and experience required to make them effective members of society. One important consideration is that there is a difference in the way boys and girls learn. Exponents of this argument would suggest that girls often develop good interpersonal skills and are keen to communicate and interact with their peers. They see learning as a way of impressing their peers and many value education as a focal point in their lives.
On the other hand boys tend to act out in order to impress their peers rather than show that they are intelligent and quite competent learners. This macho image is often quite negative and the behaviours associated with it, could lead the young man to be excluded from school. For instance, I am aware of a male student who some years ago needed to bond with other males in the group. However, the ways in which this manifested itself was very negative and included ‘shaping up’ to the male teachers. His ‘laddish’ behaviour became anti-social and he began to cross school boundaries. The inevitable happened, and had it not been for the pastoral support plan which was put in place through negotiation with the Head teacher of the school, the Head of the school year, his parents and the school counsellor, this particular young person would have been permanently excluded from school. Fortunately this did not happen and he was re-integrated back into the classroom, and was closely supervised by all concerned.
Proponents of the argument that boys and girls are not only socialised differently, but also compete in differing ways in school would further argue that boys need to take part in these ‘rites of passage’, however in so doing it may mean challenging the establishment and this in turn could lead to being permanently excluded from the educational system. If this were to happen it may damage their prospective academic achievements and future career prospects. Girls on the other hand tend to be socialised to interact and be supportive of each other. Most girls tend to talk, listen and share emotions, ideas and knowledge with each other, and while they too challenge authority figures it is often in a less confrontational manner. Arguably, girls are less likely to experience long term exclusion from school; and the continuity within their education may ensure they get better qualifications and eventually good jobs.
There are many ways to address the apparent differences in which boys and girls learn. Some might argue that single sex schools are one way of ensuring that the differing genders are able to compete on equal par with each other. Another strategy which might be implemented is for teachers to take the differing learning styles into account when planning lessons. It has for instance been suggested that some boys tend to learn better through visual stimuli which incorporates movement; and they also like dark colours such as browns and greys. While boys like darker colours girl student eyes are more inclined towards bright colours such as reds, yellows and oranges. These factors can be taken into account during the lesson to motivate and encourage both genders to participate in the learning activity. Teachers can also consider placing students in single-sex groups for a part of the lesson. If the argument holds true that separating boys and girls produces immediate academic improvements, then the environment should take this into consideration when educating young people.
It has been my experience, and this is supported by the Ofsted Report(1996) that not only are there differences in the learning styles between genders; but that boys, especially black boys tend to be disproportionally excluded from school. This report may encourage some understanding of the debate which illuminates that the ‘macho’ image presented by young black boys; which may or may not be an aspect of the rap music culture, is having an adverse effect on the educational achievement of males. While we cannot deal in absolutes I think it’s fair to argue that some boys are more at risk in the educational system. For the most part girls are quite successful at school; and it is when they enter the male dominated workplace that their experiences may be less positive, and they are not as likely to be promoted as their male counterpart.
The socio-economic imbalance between genders can be challenged in numerous ways, not least of which is for teachers to continue to encourage girls to continue to be good at what is perceived as traditional boys or men’s roles and careers. Other factors which could be taken into account are for girls to understand that they need not get pregnant too early. Being informed about birth control and managing their bodies should ensure that they do not become teenage mothers. It may also be useful to socialize girls slightly differently in contemporary society. While I believe in the sanctity of marriage, it does not have to be entered into too early, or if you marry at an early age, it should not necessitate the end of your career aspirations. Girls need to be goal focused and believe that they can realise their dreams and become astronauts, president and the heads of large corporations.