Topic 1 Teachers unconscious biases: a key-factor

According to Kelisa Wing and Megan Gross (How to Recognize, Avoid, and Stop Stereotype Threat in Your Class this School Year, 2018). “We ALL have biases if we are truly honest with ourselves. The best way to identify our biases is by taking an inward look at ourselves and being honest about what we discover. Through this process, we can identify what the biases are and ensure they do not have a place in our classrooms”.

The research-informed programme Improving Gender Balance and Equalities Programmes (Scotland, April 2019), presents very important key-points from the literature review that was carried out:

  • Gender stereotypes and unconscious biases have an impact in early learning and childcare centres (ELCs), primary and secondary classrooms through multiple mechanisms. Schools are one of the social contexts in which gender appropriate behaviour is defined and constructed.
  • Practitioners may have differing expectations of boys and girls. It can be either boys or girls who are disadvantaged by these expectations.

These key-points lead us to the conclusion that, before trying to bring solutions to deconstruct gender stereotypes, teachers need to reflect upon their own perceptions, assumptions and gender bias in order to erase unconscious bias out of their teaching.

Indeed, “there are various common mindsets that teachers are not even aware of, which are rooted in biased beliefs” (Thompson, 2004). Thompson, therefore suggests a “check up from the neck up”, which leads us to these questions teachers should ask themselves:

  • Do I truly believe that all students, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or socioeconomic background, are capable of being academically successful?
  • Do I have beliefs about their home lives or community that prevent me from seeing their academic potential?
  • Do I treat students how I want my own children to be treated by their teacher?

They are quite simple questions, but difficult enough to answer bearing in mind that, according to Matt Pinket, of Kings College, “teachers don’t like to admit they are human. There is a pressure on us to think of ourselves as saints: to admit our fallibilities is to admit we are humans” (Boys don’t try, 2019).  He believes that in order to change behaviours in schools, teachers need to recognise they are susceptible to have the same biases as other people.

After all, no one wants to think they are biased, particularly not people who devote their time, money, and energy to teaching the next generation (The Graide Network, 2018).

According to a research carried out by Rigisa Megalokonomou, from the University of Queenland, Professor Victor Lavy, from the University of Warwick, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Teacher gender bias is real and has lasting effects on students’ marks and study choices), biases are profoundly rooted in the attitudes and behaviors of teachers. Only some teachers were gender-neutral in their behavior. Some teachers like boys and other teachers prefer girls, and these preferences are different from subject to subject. These attitudes, which may be conscious or unconscious, have an impact on the potential of the individual exposed to them.

Even the most devoted teachers have stereotypes and beliefs that have an impact on their students. Unfortunately, these beliefs can be as damaging as inevitable – when not examined. (The Graide Network, 2018).

They thus need to work on their biases first, although it is clear that it is not easy to recognise them since they are so deeply embedded within each human being.