As part of my school placement, all Teacher Candidates are required to engage in co-planning and co-teaching with their Mentor Teachers. For my first unit, in the fall, I wanted to introduce students to issues around women’s experiences in the world. Of course, as more than half the class is female, I wasn’t introducing these issues, per se. Rather, my goal is to work with students towards what Noam Chomsky calls ‘tools for intellectual self-defense.’ If we can pass along ideas and resources from some of the great women who came before, and work with young women (and men!) to make sense of gendered issues, perhaps there is hope for ending patriarchy. I’m glad my MT is on board with this.
To begin with, we had a very frank discussion about gendered stereotypes. There was certainly discomfort during our Four Corners exercise, when I provided a few questions and statements about gender.Three young women in the class, in particular, really impressed me. They weren’t able to hide their indignation at stereotypes! When I asked students if they agreed that men should be in control of the household, all three started talking at once. In other classrooms, with other teachers, they might have been asked (or told) to calm down, and speak one at a time. Instead, they organically spoke with and to each others’ ideas. One student would be at a loss for words describing a particular idea, and the next would instantly pick up where she left off. It was a genuinely moving experience – and my MT and I shared a laugh over the stunned look on some of the boys’ faces!
One idea that became crystal clear over the course of this unit was how bright young people really are. I certainly wasn’t the type to see myself as an expert on anything before this, particularly as a White guy, but any illusions I may have had about that are long gone. I thought I might have to consciously step into the role of facilitator, versus lecturer, during this unit. What I wasn’t expecting was for students to essentially force me into that role! They had too much to say on all sorts of issues to let me lecture them. One boy, for instance, talked about he (like me) cries a lot. When one of the other boys called him girly for saying that, a third boy immediately jumped to the first’s defense. Neither I nor my MT needed, or had time, to address the homophobia and misogyny of the comment, because the students spoke peer-to-peer about it. This is often more impactful than using our teacher voices to chide students for bigoted comments.
One of my tutorial leaders addressed the question of ‘politics in the classroom’ a few weeks ago, after our professor had spoken quite eloquently about the Quebec City attacks. She argued that using our platform for social justice is an absolute moral imperative. Not for ourselves, or our own egos, but for the students who can;t say anything. This really framed my Women’s Issues unit, retroactively, because I realize that this is the direction my MT was pushing me in all along. What do we do with and for those female students who can’t speak to their parents about sexism? Or those who maybe don’t feel comfortable in their own bodies? Having an MT and TC (both men) who welcome these discussions…it lets our students know that they’re not alone. We are with you; we stand with you.