“A quilt just for you”
Teaching equality and respect between both girls and boys and women and men is an integral part of our profession. Indeed, we have to impart these values every moment of the day because, sadly, we still grapple with stark gender inequalities when it comes to academic success, career paths and guidance, and treatment in day-to-day life.
As teachers, we therefore have to fight against stereotypes and prejudices ingrained in society. Schools, and by extension classrooms, can be seen as microsocieties that mirror the world we live in. Every child and every teacher comes to school with his or her personal culture and family values. The goal, then, is to live in harmony and to realize that we all complement one another.
I recall one of my kindergarten pupils in particular. He was five years old and he wanted to share his new passion with the whole class as part of show and tell. He would write his name on the board every day for permission to speak; yet, when his turn would come up, he would always present something other than his real interest, which he kept tucked away secretly in his pocket…
One day, however, he decided it was time to reveal his pride and joy, holding up pieces of fabric quilted together for all to see. The class’s somewhat negative reaction was immediate; pieces of fabric held no interest for the group…
This is when teachers need to play their all-important role as leaders. The children knew how much I enjoy sewing and otherwise working with my hands. So I began to ask the boy questions about his quilted pieces of fabric. What did he use them for? That prompted other students to raise their hands and take an interest. One asked, “Why did you bring these?” The boy looked at me and said, “They’re for you. I’m making a blanket for you!”
This little five-year-old (soon to be six) taught all his classmates and me a big lesson that day. There is no such thing as a girl-only or boy-only hobby or passion. Every person has to do what he or she loves. Our simple in-class activity led the children to show a deep respect for one and all. We were no longer “boys” and “girls” but a united group of individuals who could not be divided.
The best approach in the classroom is to listen to and observe our students, not to change them, but to show them different ways of seeing things and then let them decide for themselves. As teachers, we set the stage for gender equality in our classrooms, and those efforts will no doubt snowball throughout society.