Teachers assume that quiet girls need help learning to socialise, but that shy boys are self-contained and self-sufficient, new research shows.
Academics asked 100 primary teachers to respond to various scenarios, each involving a shy or withdrawn child not volunteering to speak, refusing to participate in group activities or not socialising with classmates, for example.
When discussing withdrawn behaviour, the research finds that the way teachers respond is heavily influenced by a child’s sex.
The surveyed teachers were more than twice as likely to suggest that a withdrawn girl needed support from outside the school – as well as social-skills training and help to build strong, trusting relationships – than they were with boys, according to the academics from Massey University in New Zealand.
The researchers describe shy children as displaying anxiety about their lack of participation in social activities, whereas withdrawn pupils are simply quiet.
Teachers consider it more acceptable for girls to be shy than boys, according to the academics, who are due to present their findings at the annual conference of the British Educational Research Association, held in London next week. “There is greater acceptance of shyness in girls in Western culture, by parents, peers and teachers,” the academics say.
They add that teachers’ perceptions of children can have a significant effect on those children’s development. For example, previous studies have proven that teachers’ belief in students’ academic ability tends to become a self-fulfilling predictor of achievement.
“Even minor differences in teachers’ perceptions of students may, through differential treatment over years of schooling, influence both learning and social outcomes for such children,” the researchers say.