Are teachers harder on boys than girls? If you’d asked me this question a few years ago when I was a classroom teacher, I’d say, “No indeed. In this classroom, all students are treated equally.” However, if you ask me as the parent of a boy, I’d say, “Absolutely! Boys are definitely disciplined harder and more often than girls.” In many cases, for reasons I can’t explain, when it comes to behavior, it seems that boys are held to a higher and much stricter standard than their female classmates.
Gender bias in schools really hit home for me one year when I felt my son was issued the raw end of a very bad deal. Now, let me pause here and say that my child is no angel. The vast majority of the time when he’d get in trouble, he deserved it. However, this time, I felt he was being punished unfairly. With this particular incident, a young lady, for whatever reason, decided to hit him in the head while in class. If I had to guess, I’d say she was just messing around and probably expected a different reaction from him, but what she received was anger. He knew there was no way he could hit her back because, like many parents, we taught our son that boys did not hit girls, just like we taught our daughter not to hit boys and that boys don’t hit you because they like you. So, because he couldn’t retaliate the way I’m sure he really wanted to, he used his words instead. Like her hand, his words stung, so she did what she knew would get him in trouble. She told the teacher. Since she was the one who made the report, he was the one who got in trouble. It didn’t matter that the teacher didn’t see the hit, which the young lady denied of course, nor did she hear his words, which he admitted to saying. It didn’t matter that he’d explained his side of the story. He was still punished while she walked away freely. Unfortunately, the only lesson my son learned that day, according to him, was that girls get away with everything and lying pays off.
Now, imagine if it were two girls or even two boys. Do you think the teacher would’ve listened to both of their sides and punished one, but not the other? I know it’s purely speculation because we don’t know for sure what she would’ve done, but I’d be willing to bet that either both girls or boys would have been punished or both would’ve walked away with a warning, but because it was between a boy and a girl, the boy suffered the consequences alone.
I wish I could say that was the only time my son was in that type of situation, but unfortunately, it wasn’t. Looking through my educator’s lens, I thought it was just me and I was just being the overprotective mom, but after I decided to write this article I reached out to other moms and asked a simple question, “Do you think teachers are harder on boys than girls?” Every person I asked said yes, followed by a story to back up their answer.
This topic prompted me to dig a bit further to see if, once again, it was just me and the moms I happened to speak with, and once again, I found that we were not alone. The internet is filled with articles about gender bias in schools. One particular article titled: “Boys Bear the Brunt of School Discipline,” from Education News, reported on a study based on this topic. The article states, “One of the big things that jumped out in the study was the fact that the same behavior problems in boys and girls were penalized a lot more in boys than girls,” Owens says. “So in addition to the fact that boys come to school on average having more problems, they also get penalized more for having these behaviors.”
As if that’s not bad enough, I also found out that research shows that African American male students are disciplined harder than any other student, male or female. Realizing all of this proved to me that I wasn’t just me being an overprotective mom. As a mom with a son who is also African American, I’m not happy about this truth. As an educator who’s taught African American boys, I’m not happy about this truth. I don’t know why we’re harder on boys than girls. I don’t know why we’re even harder on African American boys, but I do know that if we’re honest with ourselves, we’d admit that sometimes we are. Admitting it is the first step to fixing it.