Forget gender, lend your ears

20th June 2008 at 01:00
Perhaps we should be wary of best-selling authors promoting their books
Perhaps we should be wary of best-selling authors promoting their books. But by any standards, Celia Lashlie, a parenting expert, has stirred things up by saying female teachers should talk less and listen more for the benefit of the boys in their class.

Her forthright views, reported on page 3, are likely to cause a lively debate - and not a little amusement - in the nation's staffrooms. Can it really be true that female teachers talk too much? Well, yes it can. But so too can their male colleagues - and they frequently do. As a general rule, teachers need to shut up and listen more to their pupils, including the girls. They also need to create the opportunities for children to do the talking, thinking and finding out for themselves.

This is particularly true of teenagers, who are easily bored. Boys especially can quickly become disengaged from learning if Sir or Miss spends most of their time holding forth from the front of the class, without allowing time for questions and debate.

Ms Lashlie also believes boys would benefit if schools employed more male staff and dealt with their fathers rather than their mothers. One simple way to bring more men into teaching would be to increase salaries (admittedly unlikely in the current economic environment). Schools can also do many things to increase the presence of male role models through mentoring schemes, coaching and other extra-curricular activities. These might well involve fathers too. The more schools do to make fathers welcome the better.

But the suggestion that schools should, as a general rule, deal with boys' fathers rather than their mothers is impractical, particularly where boys are brought up by single mothers who find it hard to cope with their children's behaviour. In such circumstances, it is often unrealistic to expect teachers to deal directly with a boy's father if he is not living at home. The most important contact must be with the parent or carer who looks after the child.

Blaming women for the success or failure of boys is ludicrous. There is no credible research to suggest that boys, or girls, do better according to whether their teacher is male or female. What matters is the attitude of the teacher. Both male and female teachers have the ability to help both boys and girls if they use the right strategies. Listening is one of them.

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