Male preservice teachers and discouragement from teaching.
Driven largely by concerns over boys' education, countries
worldwide have seen crisis discourses over small numbers of male
teachers, particularly those teaching young children. Despite public
desires and policy movements to increase their numbers, important
barriers and challenges remain for male teachers. Preservice
teachers' experiences, especially, might illuminate challenges to
the recruitment and retention of males. Using a (pro)feminist, social
interactionist framework and qualitative discourse analysis methods,
this study examines discouragements from peers, family, and teacher
education as faced by three male student teachers. These included
gendered teasing about the ease of and "cuteness" required in
education coursework, gendered objections to "wasting" their
ability, and gendered suspicions of sexual predation. The analysis
focuses on strategic performances the men used to cope with
discouragements and persist in teaching. I argue that foregrounding such
performances can disrupt barriers for males and thus increase their
Keywords: male teachers, preservice teachers, teacher education, discouragement, performativity, masculinity
Teachers (Psychological aspects)
Teaching (Demographic aspects)
Teaching (Psychological aspects)
|Author:||Weaver-Hightower, Marcus B.|
|Publication:||Name: The Journal of Men's Studies Publisher: Men's Studies Press Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences; Women's issues/gender studies Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 Men's Studies Press ISSN: 1060-8265|
|Issue:||Date: Spring, 2011 Source Volume: 19 Source Issue: 2|
|Geographic:||Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States|
Worldwide "crises" over low numbers of male teachers
relative to female teachers-especially at early childhood and elementary
levels and in secondary subjects like English-have been widely noted and
bemoaned in recent years. Though such concerns (even panics) are not new
(see Bederman, 1995, Chap. 3; Sexton, 1969), the "boy turn" in
gender and education research and practice (Weaver-Hightower, 2003), in
which deep concern over boys' education has overtaken and
marginalized concern about girls, has become a mainspring for rhetoric
and policies seeking more male teachers. Nearly every Anglophone nation
has seen this effect (Drudy, Martin, Woods, & O'Flynn, 2005;
Martino & Kehler, 2006; Mills, Martino, & Lingard, 2004; NEA
Research, 2003; Thornton & Bricheno, 2006), as have many other
countries around the world (e.g., OECD, 2005). In Australia, as just one
example, most of the states and territories have created male teacher
policies in the wake of federal policymaking on boys' education,
resulting in national debates over male-only teacher education
scholarships, sex discrimination legislation, and even child protection
laws (Weaver-Hightower, 2008).
These public debates have attracted scholarly attention. Researchers have asked whether more male teachers are actually needed (e.g., Carrington et al., 2007), why so few males pursue teaching careers, what the gendered nature of childcare work is, what the barriers and challenges are for males, and what can be done to encourage and recruit more high quality males into the profession (e.g., Cameron, Moss, & Owen, 1999; Nelson, 2002). Though the importance of male teachers for students has been notoriously difficult to establish, the larger body of research has developed important understandings of teaching as gendered labor for men. Sargent's (2001) study is representative. The men in his study spoke of greater scrutiny of men's touching (see also Johnson, 2000; A. Jones, 2001) and being alone with children, concern over the sexuality of men (see also King, 2009), divisions of labor that force men into disciplinary roles or physical work, male tokenism, the problematic task of being a role model (see also Rezai-Rashti & Martino, 2010), and silence and isolation within a purportedly "feminine" school environment. King (1998), as another example, argues that teaching as caring is a controlling discourse, especially within early education. This equation of teaching with care and care with being female simultaneously keeps women in "an early education sweatshop" and marks those men who dare teach as "unnatural" or "at risk" (pp. 138-139). Yet being a male in teaching is not a wholly problematic undertaking. As Williams (1992) has pointed out, being male in a traditionally female occupation can often boost one's chances of being hired and promoted, what she calls the "glass escalator" for men in female-dominated professions, in contrast to the "glass ceiling" that women face in traditionally male-dominated fields. Still, some of these "benefits," I argue, can actually be detriments for those men who want to stay in the classroom rather than being pressured into administration.
In the research on male teachers, focus has mostly been on the experiences of in-service teachers, those already employed in schools. While this focus has provided invaluable insight into the experiences of male teachers, the perspectives and experiences of male student teachers have been relatively marginalized. Some important studies do, however, shed light on male student teachers, specifically. Skelton's studies, for example, have explored the attitudes of both male and female student teachers (2003) and the limits of policymakers' attempts to address the real concerns of male primary teachers (2007). Smedley (1998, 2006) and Jones (2007, 2008), further, have explored the identities made available by others (women teachers, the public, and policymakers) to male student teachers and how these constrain these preservice teachers' possibilities on classed and gendered grounds.
This article furthers these studies by focusing on the key voices of male preservice teachers. These men are in the midst of the complex early period of their careers, a period that finds them for the first time "positioned, through discourses of masculinity, as both ideal and unnatural as teachers of young children" (Smedley, 2006, p. 127). If teacher educators and policymakers are truly concerned with building an increased--and hopefully increasingly racially, socioeconomically, and sexually diverse--pool of male teachers, the voices of those training to be teachers must be considered.
To do this, I explore the discouragements from teaching faced by a small group of males during their college years, and I explore how the men responded to and coped with such dissuasion. Understanding the discouragements they face as they take up their careers may prove valuable to policymakers, administrators, teacher educators and male teachers themselves as they consider issues of recruiting and retaining more males.
In this article I use a critical, (pro)feminist lens (Lingard & Douglas, 1999). To abstract this large body of work, (pro)feminist theory--the parenthetical "pro" indicating the complicated relationship of men as allies of feminists (Carr, 2000)--starts from the standpoint that girls, women, and femininity are systematically oppressed or marginalized in most educational contexts. Yet gender and education scholars have increasingly recognized that some boys, men, and masculinities are also marginalized in education (Connell, 1989, 1995, 1996), particularly those males who are feminine, of color, disabled, poor, not heterosexual, intellectual rather than athletic, and more (e.g., Martino & Pallotta-Chiarolli, 2003). (Pro)Feminist theorizing, though, treats with skepticism claims to "crises" or "a war against" (Sommers, 2000) boys and men prevalent in popular educational discourses (Epstein, Elwood, Hey, & Maw, 1998; Mills, 2003; Titus, 2004). Such discursive moves are seen as predicated on what has been called recuperative masculinity politics (Lingard & Douglas, 1999; Martino, 2009; Martino & Kehler, 2006; Mills, Martino, & Lingard, 2007), aimed at reestablishing men's dominance over women--commonly termed a "backlash" against women (Faludi, 1991).
Worldwide efforts to recruit more male teachers, for instance, sometimes invoke problematic discourses that only men can teach boys well (Martino & Kehler, 2006; Mills, 2000; Mills, Martino, & Lingard, 2004) and that males must serve as role models, particularly for boys of color (Rezai-Rashti & Martino, 2010). By using a (pro)feminist perspective, I can explore the gender-based barriers for males entering teaching while remembering that in many ways discouragements male teachers face are not necessarily signs of oppression. Rather, from another perspective, these discouragements can be seen as the costs of privilege in other domains for some men (Connell, 1996). Suggestions that men not enter teaching because of low pay, for instance, is predicated on a recognition of the financial privileges that men can obtain in other careers.
I also take a symbolic interactionist stance toward gender, where people "do gender" as a continuous accomplishment (West & Zimmerman, 1987). Gender is performative (Butler, 1990; Goffman, 1959, 1976) and discursive (e.g., Johnson & Meinhof, 1997; Wetherell & Edley, 1999), such that individuals partly create their genders in interaction with others. There are, of course, limits to the explanatory power of performance and discourse (Connell & Messerschmidt, 2005; Weaver-Hightower, 2009), for structure clearly circumscribes the agency that individuals have in their enactment of gender and material social and political consequences follow any gendered choices made. One means of excavating power and resistance to it--the latter being key to understanding males' ability to persist in teaching--is using Butler's (1990) theory of performativity, looking for the contradictions inherent in performance to identify ways gender constrains student teachers and their choices. Butler proposes that gender is a performance, "constituting the identity it is purported to be" (p. 33). Rather than gender being determined by essential biology, individuals construct their identities for others by the things they do. As Butler explains, "Gender is the repeated stylization of the body, a set of repeated acts within a rigid regulatory frame which congeal over time to produce the appearance of substance, of a 'natural' kind of being" (p. 33). In other words, gender must be repeatedly reaffirmed with "stylizations" (appearance, gestures, speech, actions) that are delimited by cultural norms and expectations (Butler's "rigid regulatory frame"). By performing stylizations, individuals show the audience the "naturalness" of the regulation and thus his or her masculinity or femininity. If "successful," the result is the audience's relaxing of or withholding of enforcement. Figure 1 shows this process graphically.
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
Using this performativity framework, in this article I examine experiences of discouragement--or, regulatory frames--that three male student teachers faced in becoming teachers, telling others about their career plans, and navigating their teacher education programs. I particularly look to the types of discouragement faced and the performative and discursive ways these preservice teachers resisted or coped with discouragements, thereby forestalling many negative effects. I conclude that, as the men encountered discouragements, they constructed identities--often by asserting masculinity-that could resist dissuasion. By so doing, the teachers unmask the socially constructed, performative, power-laden nature of gender; they also indirectly point out for teacher educators and policy makers opportunities to encourage and support the entry of more males into classroom teaching.
Three teachers participated in this study: Stanley, George, and Dean (all pseudonyms). Each is a white male from a two-parent, middle-income family, in his early to mid-twenties, and was within a year of graduating from his program at a private, research-oriented, doctoral-granting university in the southern United States. George was seeking a master's degree and doing his student teaching in secondary English. Stanley was an undergraduate elementary education major completing his practicum, involving several weeks of observation and some limited teaching. Dean, also an undergraduate in elementary education, was completing his student teaching. Each was chosen because he was representatives of gender non-traditional teaching positions, two in elementary education and one in secondary English, a subject traditionally seen as feminine (Martino, 2001). While a less racially and socioeconomically homogenous group might have uncovered important variances in experience, the participants selected still demonstrate some important diversities in terms of academic discipline and ages taught.
While the sample was relatively small, the purpose of the study was not to generate predictive responses representative of all male preservice teachers. Rather than typical responses, I was looking for telling cases (Sheridan, Street, & Bloome, 2000) suitable for intensive, micro-level discourse analysis that would also produce generative themes.
I used methods of naturalistic qualitative research (Erlandson, Harris, Skipper, & Allen, 1993), including two semi-structured interviews and one classroom observation each with George and Stanley. Dean completed only one interview; he was having difficulties in his student teaching and needed to bow out to focus on those problems. I retain Dean's single interview here, however, because it has important themes that correspond with his peers' experiences.
Data was analyzed using traditional strategies of constant comparison coding, which involved my giving conceptual labels to important passages and then recursively reducing codes to generate themes across the participants' interviews and observations. Key components of discourse analysis (e.g., Gee, 2005) were also used on representative passages to analyze identity moves made and discourses drawn upon by the student teachers.
An important caveat is that I do not suggest a difference in quality or quantity of discouragement between males and females; in fact, I did not study females at all (though they undoubtedly face discouragements, too) and so cannot make any claims about gender differences. Future research might look for such differences.
In this section I define the multiple sites, sources, and types of discouragement faced by males entering the teaching profession and the means by which they cope with these discouragements. In each subsection, I outline an incident of discouragement (again, a "regulatory frame," Butler's term for norms that restrict individuals' gendered possibilities) common to at least two of the three preservice teachers. I highlight the thrust of the discouragement, explicate the strategies used by the men to resist the discouragement, and suggest implications. While these are not all possible "regulatory frames," they are a telling sample.
Incident in a Bar: An Overview
In our second interview, I asked Stanley to describe how he reacts when someone discourages him. He began talking and, as he did so, the familiar nervous smile dropped from his face. He said,
This anecdote seems somewhat innocuous at first glance. Indeed, Stanley did much to indicate that the incident was harmless. However, something complex happened here, something not at all innocuous. Indeed, this passage typifies the sites and sources of feedback for these student teachers as well as the strategies and performances the men used to combat discouragement so they can persist. A closer reading explicates this.
The statements of Stanley's "friend" are not atypical. In fact, the "friend" incorporated many of the criticisms these males heard into this single exchange. "You're smart" the man said, leaving implied the sentence's completion, that Stanley is too smart for teaching. Telling him he could "be making big money" underscores the notion that Stanley's potential and intelligence demands more than teaching will offer; it emphasizes the standard complaint of teachers and critics alike: it is a low paying job. The man's reference to Stanley's attendance at a respected (and expensive) private university, too, emphasized Stanley's potential. Such comments proliferate my data; this was not even the first or only occurrence of such comments in just Stanley's interviews. I suggest similar discouragements would be common for most prospective teachers, regardless of their gender.
While the man's discouragements never explicitly invoke gender--he never, according to Stanley, says anything like, "you shouldn't teach because you're a man"--these still draw on clearly gendered discourses, including maxims that men be economically successful, have high status, and be a "big wheel" by being smart. I suggest that not explicitly invoking gender is not surprising for discouragements directed at males, partly because men are often not cognizant of even having a gender and partly because masculinity remains powerful through its invisibility (Kimmel, 1996).
Stanley's performance of resistance intrigues me more than the content of the discouragement. In his narrative of the event, he gave me a kind of "overkill" in discounting the discouragement. He first said the man was "drunk." Was this intended to persuade me, as interviewer, or himself that the comments are invalidated by the intoxication? His curt, "blah blah blah" showed contempt for and cut short the rest of the man's utterance, as if continuing would validate it in the retelling. He told me, too, that he didn't want to "honor it with a response," a sentiment he echoed with the slang "whatever" at the end, showing disdain and a refusal to listen. Stanley further mitigated the impact of the statement by refusing the term "friend," a designation for someone who would be supportive, not dissuasive. Finally, he qualified the impact of the comments by saying that the man was "gently ribbing" rather than truly questioning his decisions.
Clearly, Stanley saw some stake in refusing these comments. Otherwise, he would not need to oppose them in so many different ways. In fact, elsewhere in our conversations, Stanley conceded some of the drawbacks that the man in the bar articulated. Such a contradiction seems strange: why would he refute ideas that he himself avows? A possible answer lies in Butler's (1990) theory of gender performativity, discussed above. Stanley reacted to the regulatory frames presented to him by the man in the bar (like being too smart for teaching and wasting his elite education) through particular stylizations (denials, downplaying, dismissing) for his audience (me and, presumably, the man). Doing this enabled Stanley to continue on his gender-nontraditional career path.
This bar incident presents a number of discouragements and coping strategies in short succession. With this global view established, the following sections map major, individual "regulatory frames" that male educators face and the strategies they employ in reaction.
Teasing as Enforcement of Regulatory Frames
Each of the participants mentioned that their college friends teased them about teaching, and the teasing they faced shares numerous commonalities. Much concerned what the men considered "feminine" characteristics of education, from the supposed ease of the coursework to the milieu that encourages decoration and "cuteness" from its members. To combat such teasing, the student teachers often asserted their masculinity. They drew from numerous masculine characteristics or incorporated resistance to those characteristics into their own identities. Moreover, such performances of denial and assertion became developed strategies that the men used to downplay or deflect the impact of the gendered regulations being imposed on them by friends.
George. George's recollection of his friends' teasing points out one of the stereotypes faced by many preservice educators:
The intentionally preposterous "little barbs" that reading "upside down" would be part of the curriculum emphasizes the ease perceived in education courses. This process--selecting a negative criterion to use as fodder for teasing--clearly acted as a "regulatory frame" because George confirmed that very criterion in asserting his distance from it; he called them "blow-off classes" to signal his acquiescence to the negative stereotype. One could see this as an honest critique founded in his own beliefs. However, George's awareness of this acquiescence ("my recognition of that fact") was used as a strategy for deflecting further teasing, making the interpretation that this was wholly George's idea too simple. Indeed, he has consciously used this strategy to "shunt off" further teasing. One might imagine such a dynamic graphically by plugging the elements of the event into the model of performativity proposed earlier (Figure 2).
[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]
Stanley. Stanley received the same type of teasing as George. His friends singled out the ease of the coursework, again suggesting that a ludicrous skill would be part of the curriculum.
Stanley reacted differently than George. Rather than external action directed to his friends to get them to stop their teasing, Stanley reacted internally. He justified the criticism by depersonalizing it, distancing himself from it. He also removed culpability from his friends by saying that it was "good-natured." Interestingly, he mitigated the "good-natured" phrase with the modal "most of the time," leaving one to wonder what the "ribbing" is at other times. It is also important to note that he drew on being "confident enough" in himself to resist such teasing, suggesting that he did believe the teasing to be an attack on his confidence.
Stanley's strategy to depersonalize the teasing is quite understandable. Clearly cognitive dissonance created this response. How can he hold the simultaneous thoughts that his friends are "good-natured" and that his friends are discouraging him from teaching? To say that the teasing was not discouragement, then, was the only non-active way to solve the problem. The alternative, to suggest his friends are not "good-natured," is unthinkable.
Avoiding "Cuteness" as a Regulatory Frame
Stanley and Dean, both elementary education majors, reacted strongly to the aspects of their teacher education program that were marked as feminine. One embodiment of this femininity was the expectation that they be "cute" and decorative in the work they did for classes. In their interviews, both men described this aspect, marked it as female, marked it as negative, and distanced themselves from it through "naturalizing" cuteness as a gendered activity.
Dean. In the passages below, Dean outlined the expectation of "cuteness" he felt in his classes.
Dean clearly marked his project-oriented coursework as female things to do; he set his sister apart from him as being capable of doing those "artistic" things that require "teacherly flair." Taken out of the context of the rest of the interview, that does not seem to implicate gender as a factor in his dislike; it is possible that his sister was simply more artistic. Taken with the second passage, though, it becomes clear that he considered "cuteness" a female domain. His insistence that he "can't draw little balloons and hearts around all my ... projects" was couched within a larger discussion of what "just being a guy" had do with his experience of teacher education.
Mirroring the teasing discussed in the previous section, Dean noted that his friends "laugh at" the "artsy part" of what he did in teacher education classes. Dean's reaction to the "cuteness" expectation thus involved distancing himself from it, framing it as what he is "good at" and not "good at." His skills, he said, happened to coincide with more masculine, traditional methods of learning, "sittin' down and learnin' material and then takin' a test on it and keepin' all that material forever." Aligning himself with this learning style, then, "naturally" excluded him from the cuteness that the females displayed. In other words, something essential in his personality (namely his masculinity) prevented him from being able to "be cute" even if he did like it.
Stanley. Stanley talked at length and more explicitly about the gendered nature of the elementary education milieu.
Several times Stanley brought up the decoration and expectation of being "cute" as deterrents for his teaching kindergarten or first grade, the level he intended to teach when entering college. He clearly marked those activities as feminine, saying that "females would be better suited" for it. The things that better "suit" him and "fit" his personality were more traditionally masculine roles: avoiding displays of affection ("I'm not goin' to be hugging kids like some female teachers would"), avoiding unnecessary decoration ("not putting smiley faces and rainbows on everything"), and maintaining intellectual distance from students ("a more formal environment").
After marking "cuteness" and decoration as female and asserting more masculine characteristics, he, like Dean, separated himself by asserting not that he is unable to perform those tasks, but that it is foreign to his personality. He said that his peers attended to such appearance concerns because "those were authentic for them, you know, that was part of their personality." Something essential ("authentic") about himself prevented his doing the tasks comfortably--that something being masculinity, I argue. To maintain his masculinity within a profession defined by and highly populated with females, Stanley felt he must set himself apart from the characteristics that he (and others) identified as feminine.
The most bitter irony is that while admitting that he "could do all of those things" and that he even "enjoys" playing with and being close to children, Stanley stopped training to teach early grades. He said that doing this would "betray his personality," but, in reality, his personality was already being betrayed by taking up a masculinity that made the job of teaching young children, which he was capable of and enjoyed, inappropriate.
Ability as a Regulatory Frame
Another irony of males entering education is that their abilities and intelligence were often precisely why others sometimes suggested the men should pursue something else, as in the bar incident described earlier. Despite public outcry for quality teachers, these talented, bright, well educated men were discouraged from teaching because of their talents. In response, the student teachers had already developed "exit strategies" and alternative careers even before their first teaching jobs.
Stanley. Stanley recounted his parents' feelings and reactions to him as he made his way through teacher training:
Each of the student teachers identified their fathers as the parent that most questioned their choice of teaching. All also said that their parents had different expectations for them than teaching. For Stanley, they expected that he would pursue engineering or medicine, based partly on his success "in high school and as a student." Only the unsuccessful, this told the men, should teach. Note, too, the careers the parents had expected are generally high paying and high status. This tension among parent expectations, personal desire, and ability produced self-doubts and confusion for Stanley.
To combat this tension, Stanley left open the possibility of dropping his teaching career. He said, "It's a long life. I mean e- even having those doubts I know that if I really decide that you know there's always opportunity to go back and change that [career choice], you know? Future's pretty wide open." While this could be youthful indecision or practical wisdom, it could also signal cracks in Stanley's determination caused in part by suggestions that he could be doing (and earning) "more" in another profession.
George. George showed cracks in his determination, too. His were worse.
The connection between George's parents' (and his professors') comments on his ability and his own career doubts is clear. Their saying that he could "do more" caused George to develop other plans and contingencies. He had many options that he was leaving open, including graduate school, running a summer camp, or even attending seminary. Too, his parents encouraged him to pursue creative writing and he left that as a possible career. As with Stanley before, George's indecision could have been a product of youth or practicality (though pursuing creative writing puts the latter into doubt!). It is clear, nonetheless, that his career roulette was brought on by specific discouragements based on his abilities. Yet, one would expect that his abilities would make him perfect--not wrong--for teaching.
Thus, the student teachers encountered a regulatory frame that mandates an intelligent, capable male maximize his earning and status potential. In response, they began doubting their career choice and subsequently performed the process of alternative career planning, showing themselves and others that they had kept options open for higher status, higher paying careers. Doing this, as George said, took "some of the heat off."
Sexual Subjectification as Regulatory Frame
A pervasive fear of male educators is that their actions will be misperceived as sexual, whether homosexual or pedophiliac (DeCorse & Vogtle, 1997; King, 1998; Sargent, 2001). In contrast to females being sexually objectified--constantly thought of as sexual objects--male teachers often worry that they are constantly being sexually subjectified, or perceived as always already sexual initiators or, worse, aggressors. This is especially true for elementary teachers, where closer contact and displays of affection are more typical and expected. My findings suggest that behavioral changes follow these fears (see also Johnson, 2000; Sargent, 2001); the student teachers found ways to perform for me, their students, and others their resistance to and disdain for what they seemingly considered deviant sexuality.
George. For George, the strictures of homophobia and compulsory heterosexuality were explicitly raised by his students.
George's students made him quickly self-conscious of his sexual identity. They tested him, not by "point blank" asking whether he was gay, but by being indirect. George knew, however, what they were really trying to find out. Moreover, he could see that his gender made this identity important; he said that being a male teaching a traditionally feminine subject and who was "flippy" with his hands caused the "assumption" that he was homosexual. He thus responded with a performance of heterosexuality. He made a point of telling his students (and me) that he had had a "girlf[riend]." Clearly this performance was strategically employed, for the students, according to George, consequently "got over" their suspicions of his being homosexual.
The clearest performance designed to counter any suspicions of his dangerous sexuality occurred while observing George teaching his class in the library. In field notes, I wrote,
The boys' clear disgust presented another "test" of George's sexuality and he employed a performance to fit the test. In sharp contrast to his relatively nonchalant attitude when talking privately with me about suspicions of homosexuality or pedophilia, when confronted by these students (importantly, male students) the stakes became higher and so he was far more demonstrative. His grimace and recoiling showed the students that he was as disgusted as they were. Satisfied with George's response, the boys turned back to their work.
I do not want to imply that George was pretending. He was not "faking it" for the boys' benefit; pedophiliac rape should disgust anyone who works with children. Instead, I intend here to highlight the level of performance displayed, the intensity with which George displayed his emotions. His gestural stylization, being contradictory to other displays, stood out as a performance, as a strategy to defending his sexual identity to the boys.
Stanley. Stanley spoke about the fears that male teachers and their sexuality provoke in parents and even other caregivers (see also Nelson, 2002).
The "decision" Stanley referred to here was his quitting training for kindergarten or first grade in favor of fourth and fifth grades. "Social paranoia"--meaning perceptions that a male teacher must have ulterior, sexual motives in wanting to teach--partly deterred Stanley from pursuing the career he truly wanted. He had to, instead, find ways to prevent others (his audience) from being "freaked out." By giving up on teaching younger children, he performed for everyone that he really does not have sexual intentions toward children. The price to prove his sexuality--giving up his intended career--was high indeed.
"Fall Back": The Awareness of Strategy as Strategy
Research often leads one to wonder how much of the identified theory the researcher imposes upon the context and how much occurs naturally--ultimately a question of validity. I wondered, in this vein, whether the student teachers were aware of using coping methods purposively--whether, that is, they used these strategies without conscious effort or awareness--or whether I was imposing the notion that these were strategies at all. To answer this question, I searched for moments in the data in which the men seemed clearly aware of their coping methods being coping methods (metacognition).
To visualize how this process might work, note figure 3. The figure shows what I call "strategic performativity." That is, to show performativity as a strategy consciously employed, the student teacher must (a) be aware of external pressures or regulatory frames, (b) purposively employ stylizations intended to combat the pressure, and (c) have an explicitly stated goal in mind. If the individual achieves the goal, the strategy might be internalized and used again in similar situations. Alternately, if the individual's performance does not net the intended results, the performance may be rejected in favor of a different stylization, or the individual may suffer social consequences. Importantly, however, because gender is a "repeated" performance, a failed strategy may still be tried again in a different situation.
[FIGURE 3 OMITTED]
Viewing the data thusly, the student teachers clearly engaged in strategic performativity. George, for example, said that his parents, unlike their discouragement of his teaching, actively encouraged him to write creatively. In response he was writing a novel, which, he said, had "taken the heat off" his teaching. He quickly learned a strategy to stop discouragement from his family: appear to pursue other careers. From this performance the desired result followed: the cessation of his parents' disapproval. Moreover, George was aware of the strategic nature of this performance: there was a cause, a planned response, and the desired (or predicted) result.
Dean, too, was aware of the strategic use of coping responses, purposefully crafting performances to achieve specific goals.
Dean marked his ability to "fit in" as most important, for despite the teasing he endured, he persisted in decorating projects. The method for fitting in with his teaching peers became a clearly defined task: "take ten ideas, write 'em down on a poster board and then make squiggly lines all around them." Dean was aware of the strategic nature of his actions, for, if he were faced with another project and he wanted to "fit in," he would only have to employ the same formulaic action again.
Finally, I take the title of this section from an answer given to me by Stanley when I asked how he reacted when someone discouraged him from teaching. He said, "So that's more what I fall back on when I'm discouraged. You know I think of the--I can make a difference. You know it's it's an important field." To "fall back" is an interesting yet somewhat elusive metaphor. It conjures martial images of retreat, but it also connotes support or a soft place to land. Most important, the metaphor "fall back" demonstrates that Stanley has created a strategy for coping with discouragement: he reminds himself that teaching is "important." Unlike the defensive or hyper-gendered performances pervasive elsewhere in the data, this strategy seems affirming and proactive. Whatever the tenor of their strategies, though, these men clearly identified pressures to perform appropriate masculinities and sexualities, and they were mindful of their strategies for resisting pressures so they could stay in teaching.
Why is this important, that these student teachers are aware of such strategies? I argue that this metacognitive, metaperformative realization evidences possibilities for change. Conscious and explicit intervention into (or perhaps teaching of) these strategies holds promise to improve men's experiences in teaching, perhaps thereby increasing their numbers and quality.
CONCLUSION: SITES FOR CHANGE
Ultimately, gender--because it is socially constructed--is inherently a site of contestation and negotiation (Gerson & Peiss, 1985). In some ways, the men in this study acquiesced to the discouragements from the outside, particularly in instances where they limited their behavior or planned changes to their teaching careers. Yet their continued presence in teaching, despite these discouragements and regulatory frames, shows that they were negotiating these gendered pressures. It is this negotiation of gender that has produced historical and cultural changes for women and men in the past, and it is this quality that holds promise for future change for males in teaching.
The sites for change or points for disruption can be visualized on the shapes and lines of the gender performativity model (Figures 1 and 2 above). The first site for disruption is the regulatory frame itself. Redefining, for instance, what it means to be sexually "dangerous"--realizing that taking a non-traditional career is not enough--or challenging the notion that being cute or decorative is not "manly" can help to eliminate the need for performance. Second, the pressures exerted on the individual through the regulatory frame provides opportunity for disruption. Finding and examining the subtle methods of gender bias and the intense scrutiny on male teachers (e.g., King, 1998; Sargent, 2001) can begin the process of changing or eliminating those biases. Third, identifying gendered stylizations as being explicit performance may give males teachers more productive alternatives to some performances. Open discussion, both in classes and between male teachers themselves, of the limitations imposed by performing masculine resistance to certain teaching tasks can begin to end the necessity to perform; if everyone knows it is performance and that it has high costs, perhaps no one will bother to perform. Similarly, challenging the perception of "natural" identity that results from performances will negate the performances' necessity. If parents, students, other teachers, and administrators no longer require and police performances of masculine denial, they can instead encourage more "authentic" identities from male teachers. Lastly, we can look to the results of performances--acceptance or sanctions--as points at which to disrupt any biases against male teacher candidates. If, for example, hiring practices yield a certain kind of teacher, we must ask what qualities are being excluded and why. If effeminate behaviors in males are being used to screen them out, we must examine the genesis and implications of these practices. Fear (alone) of pedophilia or homosexuality cannot be allowed to keep males out of teaching. Yet that is precisely what is happening when regulatory frames like sexual subjectification (and others discussed in this article) are allowed to circulate uncontested.
The challenge for teachers, teacher educators, administrators, and policy makers is clear. Examining subtle and explicit biases that discourage male teachers must begin immediately and remain an ongoing process. I believe that using performativity as a method of entry and inquiry can aid in that pursuit. The ultimate result, I believe, will be the beneficial presence of many more dedicated and highly qualified (male) teachers in our schools.
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MARCUS B. WEAVER-HIGHTOWER, Educational Foundations and Research, University of North Dakota.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Marcus Weaver-Hightower, Educational Foundations and Research. University of North Dakota, 231 Centennial Drive, Stop 7189, Grand Forks, ND 58202. Email: email@example.com
I've never been explicitly discouraged by someone else. I mean it's never--umm--Well, once, but it was more I ran into a friend at a bar back home ... and he was drunk, so of course he was like, "Oh why you goin' into education?" You know, like, "You're smart. You could be making big money.... [private university], blah blah blah." And so I didn't really even honor it with a response. You know? ... He's not a friend, but we're friendly. So it wasn't like he was really, you know--but it was more like he was gently ribbing I guess, you know? But either way, I just didn't respond to him. I's like, "Whatever."
... [education school classes are] very much blow-off classes, but my recognition of that fact sort of shunted off some of the teasing, but they still made the little barbs about [feigning, condescension] "so did you learn to read upside down today?" [Laughs]
And so you get--You get jokes and stuff but you know I'm confident enough in myself and most of my friends know--I don't know, I mean, you know you get jokes about you know, "Your school's so easy. You color," and stuff like that. But it's not meant personally; it's just good-natured ribbing most of the time.
I can keep all the information that I learn in class and take it and take a test really well, but I can't I can't make the projects she [his sister, also in teacher education] makes. I can't--I can't put that that artistic kinda teacherly flair into every single one of my projects. A lot of it has to do with just bein' a guy, you know. I mean goin' to class and there's maybe one or two other guys in the entire class. You begin to feel a bit uneasy. It's unlike any other situation I've been in, and you know almost all your--all but maybe four or five of my professors have been female.... Education's not about takin' tests, and really that's what I'm good at. I'm good at sittin' down and learnin' material and then takin' a test on it and keepin' all that material forever. But I can't--I can't draw little balloons and hearts around all my all my projects, and that's that's where I suffered the most, and where I started realizin' there's some aspects of teaching that I don't like.
Um [long pause] just the type of relationships that you're expected to form and [long pause] tradi- ... you know even talking about traditional roles, you know, you uh--I'm not goin' to be hugging kids like some female teachers would and stuff like that. And you see a lot of the female teachers who do things ... that are very cute and that's really--It's it's just not me. I mean you know I'd be betraying my own personality to try and do those things. When I was talking about earlier about you know, the the way that female teachers are allowed to be cute and you know do things like that. Actually when I came in [to college] I was thinking more of going into kindergarten or first grade. And since then like I've more thought about fourth and fifth. And I think you know, the the expect--er, just the gender roles have influence on that.... And I would still think about taking a job in K or one [kindergarten or first grade], but you know as far as the ability of younger students you know it's it's the idea at least that you know um the teacher does need to be cuter and colorful and put rainbows on the name tags and stuff like that for those students. A lot of it [switching to grades 4 and 5 from K-1] had to do with traditional roles for males.... You're not putting smiley faces and rainbows on everything. You know it's not as "touchy-feely."... Females would be better you know suited for doing those types of things with students.
My dad still he always asks you know, "Are you sure this is somethin' you want to go into," you know. Not like he's tryin' to test me but just more or least curious.... They definitely have expectations ... just as far as what [career] I would go into and you know 'cause I was rather successful in high school and as a student, so it's kind of you know like I said before the traditional expectations like, "Oh you, you know, what what reed program do you want to go to?"
The only comment that's ever really discouraged me was my parents saying, "You can do more." Then that gave me pause, and I had to really ponder what "more" would be for me and all those things and what I could do in addition to teaching and blah blah blah blah blah. That sent me down a road of ... wondering how badly do I want to teach? How much do I want to teach 'cause I'm worried I couldn't do anything else? Do I really want to teach college? Do I get a Ph.D.? Then I could always go back and teach high school. Do I want to--It sent me asking a lot of questions that didn't have easy answers. And, my reactions to all such things is to talk to other people, get them to--And, in talking to a lot of professors. They were like, "Well yes, your parents may be right. You may end up doing much more than teaching. You may do something completely different."
One thing that I've found in the high school level that surprised me was, while I do tend to be uh fairly flippy with my hands and things and--not effeminate but there's a a a quality to me that even people on the college level have interpreted as--Several of my students have not point blank asked me if I was gay, but they've been like [in a falsetto] "Dah,' you have a girlfriend?" I was surprised that students--and I think it's primarily because I'm a male English teacher, and it I think they even the students are very aware that all their teachers are women. And when they see a man teacher who's not a coach, they kind of look--They're not quite sure, I think. And that may be my personal experience because of my effeminacy, but I don't think it's pronounced enough that the students would notice in the brief times that they're with me.... And the--I said you know I have had a girl--what I--and they got over it and it--And I mean it's not like they sit in class passing notes back and forth like, "I wonder if [George has] got a boyfriend."... I was surprised that they made the assumptions they did.
Two boys who were working in the library on death, misery, and destruction as a theme for a poetry project told him that they found a poem about "men raping little boys." It was clear from their intonation that they found it troubling. George was not as calm about this as he was when telling me about the student who he thinks is hitting on him. He exaggeratedly contorted his face, pulling his mouth into a tortured grimace as if to show disgust and shock.
... I think, you know, definitely heard even professionally that there's a bias almost still against males just for almost social paranoia reasons, you know. I mean people sometimes are freaked out by the idea of males you know spending lots of time around four and five year olds you know and stuff like that.... It's definitely a gender factor that's influenced my, you know, decision.
[My friends ridicule] the the artsy part, the part that I really just dislike about teaching.... The projects where I'll take ten ideas, write 'em down on a poster board and then make squiggly lines all around them so I can fit in a little bit. Uh, those are things that they laugh at.
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