Module 2 highlights gender as a crosscutting dimension of teachers' experiences of a) becoming teachers and b) the likelihood of their continuing in the profession. Gender is also a very significant factor in determining teachers' roles, responsibilities, and status in families and communities. Gender impacts teachers' perceptions of themselves and their priorities for the future.
In this section, we explore gender issues for teachers in more depth, with particular reference to the Healing Classrooms assessments in Ethiopia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, and Afghanistan.
A newly established pre-school program in the Shimelba refugee camp, northern Ethiopia, highlighted some complex gender dynamics in education. In this situation where there are refugees of two ethnic groups in the camp (Kunama and Tigrigna), gender has to be considered in relation to teachers' ethnic identity as well.
In the past, pre-school children attended kindergarten and pre-kindergarten classes in the primary school alongside primary school students. The specific learning needs of these young children were not well met. In 2005, however, a dedicated pre-school opened in the camp, and 10 female pre-school teachers became part of a new initiative to provide tailored learning and development opportunities for pre-school children.
Interviews and discussions with teachers and parents and observations of the teaching and the learning processes conducted as part of a Healing Classrooms assessment highlighted how the experiences and perspectives of the Kunama female teachers are often quite different to those of the Tigrigna female teachers. For example:
Kunama women are happy to be working in the pre-school. They feel they are having a positive impact and contributing to community. Although they are mostly not formally trained teachers and may not have fully completed their own education, they are role models in the community and others turn to them for advice and help. For the Kunama community, the school is very new, and yet it is a space in which they are able to strengthen cultural traditions, for example in the pre-school dance and music classes they teach. Compared with their abilities and confidence levels when they first started teaching, the women have now developed their own skills and are starting to feel like teachers. There are financial benefits as well. Although the teacher stipend is small, it is important for these women that they do earn something and have their own money to either buy things for themselves or to share with others.
Tigrigna women are less satisfied with their work in the pre-school. As most of them have previous teaching qualifications and experience, they consider the status of pre-school teachers as lower than that of primary school teachers. Several say they would prefer to teach at the primary level because it is "more in line with their capacities." As for financial implications, these are less significant. Most Tigrigna refugees survive on remittances sent from abroad. Compared to those, the teacher's stipend is very small. At the same time, the Tigrigna women appreciate the fact that the pre-school is closer to their homes and operates for shorter hours than the primary school. Such factors help them to manage their family responsibilities.
Reflection/Discussion: In this case study we see how gender intersects with ethnicity in the female teachers' experiences. How does gender intersect with some of the other important elements of teacher identity in your context? Are there women who experience "double" or even "triple" challenges? (For example, because they are women from an ethnic minority and/or because they have a disability?) Are there women who are less limited by gender roles and responsibilities because they are of a high caste or class?
Click here to learn more about teacher identity as it relates to gender dynamics.
A sad reality for girls in refugee schools in Sierra Leone and Guinea is that schools have been places in which they are at risk of exploitation and abuse – and shockingly by some of the very teachers who are supposed to be protecting and supporting them. Certainly boys have also suffered in learning environments where corporal punishment, verbal abuse, low-quality instruction and teacher absence frequently occurs. But the sexual nature of the risks for girls in and around schools is a critical gender dimension of student well-being that had to be addressed.
It is widely acknowledged (inside and outside crisis contexts) that the presence of female teachers can significantly increase girls' enrollment and retention in schools. INEE Minimum Standards recommend engaging women from the same community where schools exist as a counter-balance to the male teachers and as a protection for the girls, especially in upper primary classes. See "Teachers and Other Education Personnel, Standard 1: Recruitment and Selection."
The IRC developed and implemented a program to recruit and train female Classroom Assistants (CAs) to work in the classrooms along with the male teachers. The women were to provide the girls protection from sexual exploitation and abuse, to support the girls' well-being, and to help create more conducive learning environments. During the Healing Classrooms assessments the girls in these classes explain how they benefit from having "big sister" or "auntie" figures in whom they can confide, and who can provide advice and encouragement to help them stay in school. The boys said that they also appreciate how much more comfortable the classroom is when the CAs are present, and how much easier it is to learn when they are there.
Research indicates that the relationships between girls and women in schools are not necessarily simple. To understand the complexity of the relationships between the CAs and the girls, we have to consider the CAs' own gender-related experiences, self-perceptions and priorities.
Female teachers often have a lower status than male teachers and may be vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. CAs, serving as assistants to the teachers, may have an even lower status and thereby may have increased vulnerability in the classroom. CAs' responsibilities include: ensuring the students' attention, tidying up the classroom and preparing teaching aids. In general, they are not considered as important as the teachers. Some teachers said that the most important role of the CAs was to maintain order in the classroom while teachers stepped out to go to the bathroom! It is also very clear to the students that the CAs do not have the same status as the teachers. Some of the CAs spoke of the rudeness that they have to cope with from disrespectful students. Nevertheless, CAs have the potential to go beyond their perceived roles and provide crucial psychosocial support for students, helping to protect them and bolster their well-being.
The Healing Classrooms assessment shows that it is unreasonable to assume that CAs can easily protect girls while they themselves remain in relatively difficult and vulnerable situations. For example, women who depend financially on the income from their job may be unlikely to jeopardize their position by reporting any misconduct by more powerful male teachers.
Although they are trying hard, CAs may not have an easy time promoting girls' education and gender equality precisely. Why? Because the CAs themselves have not had full educational opportunities nor have they experienced gender equality. For example, most CAs have not completed their own education.
The IRC can take important steps to support the advancement and empowerment of CAs and, in doing so, help them to be more effective in protecting girls. These steps include:
Encouraging CAs to continue and complete their studies.
Offering CAs opportunities for training and professional development.
Providing CAs with opportunities to meet as teams and share experiences and strategies to provide mutual support.
Reflection/Discussion: What relationships (if any) exist between the male and female teachers in your context? What about male and female teachers and/or educational supervisors? If men and women are teaching in the same schools, what are the differences (if any) between their status, roles and responsibilities? How do you explain these differences? How do the relative roles of men and women in schools reflect the gender roles in general in your community? In what ways are/could schools be places for teachers to challenge gender roles, especially those that are limiting to either men or women?
Click here to learn more about the Classroom Assistant program.
In rural and remote communities in Afghanistan, the IRC supports community-based schooling for children who have no access to government schools. Male and female teachers have established small classes in the community, either in their own homes (for the women) or in the community mosque (for the men). These classes are close to the children's homes and are considered safe and culturally acceptable, especially by the conservative parents of daughters. Sometimes there are several classes in the one village, all operating separately in different locations. The classes follow the same curriculum, hours and school schedule as the government schools.
Male teachers in the same community usually have informal opportunities to interact with each other, to share their experiences, problems and solutions over a cup of tea at a tea stall in the village or after prayers in the mosque. Female teachers, however, have few opportunities for social interaction beyond their immediate family. Female teachers rarely meet with each other to share experiences or even to see each other's classroom.
Teaching is a way for women to interact on a daily basis with a group of children, and to feel that they are making a significant contribution to their community and to the overall recovery and reconstruction of their country. Many women gain personal satisfaction from teaching. This satisfaction may help make up for the fact that there is currently no salary for the community-based teachers.
During the Healing Classrooms assessment in Afghanistan, women teaching community-based classes in their own homes explained how being a teacher enables them to be active and to have some impact in their community. Here is what a young woman teacher who runs three daily classes for girls in her family compound had to say:
When I got married and came here my husband was in Iran and I was bored and tired. I didn't know how to pass my time. So I first started to teach to the girls in the village the Holy Koran. I saw that they were very interested and so I began to teach them other things. There is no school in the village and these girls cannot go away to school. At first I had nothing, not even any chalk, and so I used a wood stick and some coal.
—Female teacher in Afghanistan
Another female teacher – a widow of 12 years – spoke of how being a teacher brings her some emotional comfort and contributes to her well-being:
School helps me forget my problems and sorrows – before I was teaching I was very sad all the time. I enjoy being with the children and it helps me forget my pain. They learn from me and I learn from them too.
—Female teacher in Afghanistan
Another woman explains that her economic situation was not good, especially as her husband was jobless. The need to earn some more money, combined with the fact that she could see that the village did not allow its girls to go to the government school, led her to start an afternoon class for girls in her home. As a community-based teacher she does not receive a salary, but she hopes that someday she will.
While these Afghan women are doing work that supports the well-being of female students, the gender-power dynamics in the communities mean that the women are able to teach only because of the ongoing support of husbands or fathers. They are not able to make decisions for themselves about their teaching careers. The women's own personal satisfaction and the protection they provide for the girls are sustained only as long as the men lend their support.
Reflection/Discussion: We can see that in communities in Afghanistan, becoming a teacher can be an important opportunity for women. It offers possibilities to make significant contributions to student well-being. We also see that there are challenges and limitations based on the traditional gender roles and responsibilities female teachers are expected to fulfill. What opportunities and limitations (if any) exist for female teachers in your context? What actions could support women in taking up the opportunities, and what could help them to address some of the challenges/limitations?
Click here to learn more about female teachers in community-based schools in Afghanistan.
Gender is not just about women and girls. Clearly, we need to better understand the gendered experiences, perspectives, priorities and needs that female and male teachers bring to the classroom. We also must try to understand the multiple social roles and identities of teachers and the ways in which these roles may change in contexts of crisis, post-crisis or state fragility.
As you have been reading, there is now a little research related to female teachers' experiences in such contexts, including from the Healing Classrooms assessment findings, but there is much less research on masculinities (qualities traditionally considered to be characteristic of a male) and male teachers' gender identities.
More research on male-gendered identity would help us to better understand the relationship between masculinity and professional identity for male teachers. It may also provide better insight into some of the dynamics behind the sexual abuse and exploitation of female students by male teachers. With that understanding we can develop better training and professional development strategies to engage male teachers in protective, gender-responsive education.
In times of conflict, displacement, refugee life, etc., male teachers may experience changes in their sense of self, as well as in their professional identity. The Healing Classrooms assessment in Ethiopia highlighted how young male refugee teachers experienced a shift in gender roles as they fled their homes and were separated from their families. For example, they are now forced to wash their own clothes and cook their own food for the first time in their lives, whereas previously their mothers or other women did this work. Such identity challenges may leave male teachers feeling somewhat "off-center." These teachers may anger easily and lack patience with their students, especially if the men feel frustrated that they cannot do some of the things that are usually expected of men in their community, such as earning money to support the family.
Of course, most men who experience identity challenges and changes during crises do not misuse their positions and power to abuse or exploit children and youth. Some male teachers now performing non-traditional gender tasks become strong advocates for more gender equality in the school; for example, giving girls and boys tasks such as classroom cleaning or providing more opportunities for young women to engage in traditionally male skills training programs.
Reflection/Discussion: In your context, what changes in male roles and responsibilities have occurred? How do these changes affect male teachers in particular?
In order to promote high standards of professional conduct by teachers and to eliminate abuse of students by teachers, the INEE Minimum Standards recommend the introduction of codes of conduct (Teachers and other Education Personnel, Standard 2).
Teachers and other Education Personnel, Standard 2: Conditions of Work: Teachers and other education personnel have clearly defined conditions of work, follow a code of conduct, and are appropriately compensated.
Such codes of conduct are an important step in creating conducive teaching and learning environments. However, in isolation, a code will not stop sexual abuse and exploitation in schools. Although there can be no excuse for unprofessional, immoral and illegal behaviors, a male teacher perspective can help us to understand and effectively address the complex pressures that might cause difficulties for the men and their students.
Reflection/Discussion: In your context, what might ensure greater compliance with codes of conduct and higher levels of professional conduct by teachers? What kind of teacher training/professional development might be appropriate to work with male teachers on issues of gender identity?
One important way to promote positive teacher masculinities is by incorporating into gender training more discussion of the different positive roles and responsibilities of men and boys in families and communities. The following questions for reflection/discussion could also be used as part of a workshop/training with teachers:
Activity – Part 1:
Brainstorm generally held beliefs about what it means to be a man in your community. What sort of qualities does the community believe men should have? Organize this list into groups of qualities that are positive and those that may be negative. Rank the positive qualities in order of priority for teachers to encourage in boys.
Activity – Part 2:
Take the top-most ranked positive qualities and brainstorm ways in which teachers can model these to boys and young men in school and to other men in the community, for example, using discussion and negotiation when trying to solve problems and differences of opinion. For each positive quality, try to come up with several concrete examples.
Activity – Part 3:
Make a list of possible classroom activities teachers could incorporate to engage older male students in discussions of positive male characteristics. For example:
Read a story with a male protagonist and discuss which of the character's behaviors were positive and which were not.
Role-play particular issues in which boys and young men act out common masculine behaviors that may have negative impacts (such as using force to get their own way). Then re-play the same scene using positive behaviors instead.
Have a group discussion about positive and negative male interactions with female co-workers in the workplace.
This list could then be used by teacher trainers to develop teacher training workshops/sessions on this topic.
Encouraging teachers and education personnel to think about gender dynamics and openly discuss these questions could be a very important step in promoting the positive elements of gendered teacher identity.
Talking openly about gender, power and identity, and how these affect teaching and learning, is essential for effective educational programming. But be prepared for the possibility that male teachers in your context might resist talking about gender issues in general and about changing male roles and responsibilities in particular.
What might be the specific issues to discuss with male teachers and other education personnel in your context in relation to gender, power, identity? What resistance (if any) might there be to such discussions? How could teacher educators and education and livelihoods development program staff anticipate and creatively work with those resistances?
Click here for more examples of work with male teachers and students on masculinity issues.