After I ask about how to handle the traditional behaviour problems of male students, the two female teachers I'm interviewing take their time to respond. “It’s not actually the boys we struggle with,” says one eventually, glancing at the other for support. “It’s the girls. Classroom management-wise, girls are an absolute nightmare for female secondary school teachers.” I get first-hand experience of the problem when one of the teachers – a long-time member of the English department – invites me to observe her lesson. Almost immediately, the girls are looking to dominate the room, shouting to each other across the class, getting in the teacher’s face at every opportunity. They laugh and stare at her. They whisper about her. She does an incredibly good job of controlling them, but eventually sends the ring leader out the class. She had no other option. The boys, meanwhile, cower in their seats. Research suggests that this experience should be an anomaly, according to Georgia Neale in the 30 May issue of TES. A joint study between the Institute of Education, Birkbeck, University of London, and the University of Oxford found that “between the ages of 11 and 14, the gender gap for social-behavioural outcomes widened, with girls improving the positive behaviours”.
Georgia, a female teacher with 10 years’ experience, says that this is simply not the case in her school. The two teachers mentioned at the start of the feature say the same thing. Indeed, at every school I visit, it is girls singled out by female teachers as not necessarily being the naughtiest, but certainly being the hardest to manage.
So what’s going on? Georgia’s view is the following: “Female teachers in particular have an uphill struggle with managing girls’ behaviour. The fight for the alpha-female among young girls groups doesn't stop at the classroom door; the ‘queen-bee’ of the girls will often try and use her top-notch position to undermine female teachers. It is difficult to teach a girl who feels you should be her subordinate. “Ultimately, naughty girls are hard to control for all teachers, but female teachers can find it particularly hard to get past the teenage feminine power struggles and maintain authority.” Whether you agree or not that girls are particularly hard for female teachers to manage, the tips and strategies Georgia identifies to cope with tricky female students are essential reading for all teachers, reinforcing as they do the importance of respect, time-out and being firm-but-fair in behaviour management. But Georgia argues that for female teachers with problems with girls in particular, these elements are all the more crucial.
Read Georgia’s feature on how female teachers can manage difficult girls here or on your tablet or phone by downloading the TES Reader app for Android or iOS.