Who can tell me what the product actually means, and Kate’s got the right answer-ish, let’s just tweak it…” Follow-up strategies in the U.K primary school classroom: Does teacher gender matter?
Jobs are rarely seen as gender neutral but built on gendered stereotypes as to what they involve, and the gendered characteristics assumed needed to perform them. Despite an increase in the number of women entering ‘male’ workplaces, gendered occupational stereotypes continue to endure as they are so deeply entrenched within community. Furthermore, even with frequent government initiatives, men’s numbers are not increasing in ‘female’ occupations such as teaching as these jobs persistent to be seen as only suitable for those with ‘feminine’ characteristics. Fewer than 15 percent of United Kingdom (U.K.) primary school teachers are male. De-stereotyping this work role is therefore of key importance as we need more qualiﬁed teachers in the U.K. To date, there has been relatively little research into the linguistic behaviour of men working in primary school teaching. To address this gap, this current paper focuses on men’s discursive behaviour in the occupation of teaching in an attempt to begin to de-stereotype this profession through an exploration of how the job is actually performed through language to assess whether teacher gender aﬀects teaching strategies utilised in the classroom. This paper reports on the qualitative ﬁndings from an exploratory case study that examines male and female primary school teachers’ linguistic strategies in teacher-led class instruction. To provide empirical insights into how this work-role practice is performed, this paper focuses on the oral feedback given by the teacher to pupils to examine how they use follow-up strategies. Data collected by 12 teachers across 4 schools in Hertfordshire in the U.K. was explored using Interactional Sociolinguistics and a social constructionist perspective. Results demonstrate both female and male teachers actively constructing a context-dependent teaching identity, with their language breaking stereotypical gendered norms of speaking. The discursive behaviour of these teachers should therefore not be described as ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’, but rather labelled as the discourse of doing ‘being’ a teacher. They are using the unmarked speech styles in this environment as the work role guides, shapes and permeates their discursive choices. Arguably then, gender is not an overriding variable here in being a teacher. These ﬁndings lend support to the current ongoing debate for the imperative need to de-gender how we think about language use, occupations, and the skills and characteristics one is assumed to have simply because of their gender. Men often decide against becoming a primary teacher because they think it is a female profession. We must re-interpret language use as reﬂecting professional identity rather than gender identity. By raising awareness of primary school teachers’ linguistic behaviour, we may start to take steps towards de-gendering the job for only then may we see more men taking up such professional occupations. This research has important implications for U.K government incentives which currently try to recruit men by stressing that they are needed for hegemonic ‘masculine’ reasons, which only serves to strengthen gender stereotypes.