Building an Authentic Community of Practice


societal norms for gender roles

I currently work with fourth graders at an afterschool program. I have noticed subtle differences in the way the students interact with me compared to my coworker, who’s a man. For example, while many of the kids address me by “Miss”, they refer to him by his first name. While I could interpret that as them knowing him for longer and are still learning to remember my name, I can’t help but consider the gender roles at play here. I believe that because I am a woman in an educational setting, they perceive me in a more professional and authoritative light, while viewing my coworker in a more casual, friendly manner. Sometimes this dynamic can work to my advantage, and sometimes it doesn’t.

Lately, many of the girls have jokingly started referring to me as “mother”, and repeatedly asking that I “adopt” them. While this and their unwanted physical affection makes me uncomfortable, I understand it’s a sign they see me in a maternal way and trust me to meet their emotional needs. Today, during independent practice, several kids wanted me to sit beside them so they could chat with me, another dynamic I haven’t really observed with my coworker. 

This makes me think about how society sees gender roles, especially when it comes to who holds the authority in specific settings. It has definitely been a challenge to make sure everyone treats me and my coworker equally in terms of respect. For my students, I have been trying to push back against the idea that depending on your gender, you’re more suited for an authority role.