I am now in my seventeenth year of teaching. I’ve worked in many schools, the vast majority of them inner city, challenging, hugely rewarding schools. As well as the schools where I have been solely a classroom teacher or leader (four, in all), when I was an Advanced Skills Teacher I also worked across a group of ten inner city Birmingham schools. So I have direct experience of teaching and leading in fourteen schools. Bizarrely, in all these schools I’ve worked in, only two of them had female senior leaders in whole school pastoral positions, with a focus on behaviour.
I’ve never understood this, but it is a myth that, perhaps not overtly, has been perpetuated over the years: that women are better at nurturing than managing behaviour. There are, indeed, female teachers in middle leadership pastoral positions, perhaps leading year groups or houses. But, in my experience, there are few, and even fewer in whole school pastoral positions. I want to pause for thought to consider why this might be the case. I don’t claim to base this in any research; this is my own experience over the years. You may empathise, you may not, but hopefully it will stimulate some thinking.
When I was a young teacher, many of the deputies or assistant heads that were in a whole pastoral school role were overtly very masculine: testosterone-fuelled, chest-thumping, shouty. They were often seen as the go-tos for dealing with behaviour – problems were passed to them and they sorted it. Done. Sometimes with a little football or rugby anecdote thrown in for effect (regardless of whether the children involved even knew anything about rugby or football). It was, you know, just what was done. No one questioned it. Female leaders and teachers were, on the other hand, often the ones who were automatically sent the child who was upset: they were the tissue-fetchers, the tear-wipers, the there-there-ers. I could see this happening around me, and again, didn’t really question it. I just accepted it as one of those school Universal Truths.
It’s only over the past ten years or so that I’ve questioned this more. I have seen brilliantly nurturing male teachers, and fantastically focused female teachers, superlative at managing behaviour. I’ve seen male teachers who can comfort and support, and female teachers with a great pair of lungs on them, commanding the attention of a whole hall of boisterous Year 10 and Year 11 with aplomb. And I’ve seen the opposite. This male/female divide really is a false dichotomy. Let’s value teachers and leaders, female and male, for all they have to offer: for all their skills and knowledge and intelligence. Let’s create opportunities for these talents to thrive. Because really, whether you’re female or male, it doesn’t matter. Let’s get the best people in the right positions for our kids. I’m just not convinced that only two female pastoral leaders in seventeen years, over fourteen schools, is OK. Women and men can be great nurturers and great at managing behaviour; the two are not mutually exclusive.
Women are better nurturers than behaviour managers? Come on. Let’s move past this now, and leave it in the past, where it belongs.