The Crass Ceiling

I don't get many unwilling students.

I get students who party all night and don't have the energy to study all day - and that's fine. It's their youth to enjoy, their choice to make, their quota of daily strength to allot how they choose.

I'm all in favour of fun - in fact, I wish I'd had a lot more of it when I was a teenager. Getting drunk for the first time at 23, eating a block of marijuana resin at 28 - supplied by a friend who'd decided to give up...and falling hopelessly in love for the first time at 32 - that's my pattern, trying everything a decade after everyone else.

I do get students who want to learn english, but don't want to put in the hours practicing, so they never become fluent - that's okay too. I don't have the patience to get good at the guitar, or program properly in python, so I understand.

I get students who're only want to use english for one purpose - whether that's discussing ponies on facebook or (I kid you not) qualifying as a teacher of english. Kein Problem (german), La'isa Moshkila (arabic), No Hay Problema (spanish).

What I almost never get is students who aren't at all interested in the subject, and don't want to be enrolled in the first place. When I get them, it's because their pushy parents or pointy-haired bosses are making them take the course.

You can't force someone to be interested, you can't bribe them into it, and you can't rationally persuade them they ought to force themselves to work at it until magically it becomes interesting to them. Which is why, contra the preachings of certain managerial types, I don't try.

Teaching in the private sector, your job security is nonexistant and whether your employer is sensibly professional or a delusional nutjob is luck of the draw. But the job of teaching itself is bearable, because you actually are a teacher, not a glorified prison warder.

However, I do get two distinct types of student. Type A is happy to forumulate opinions, present them in clear sentences and discuss them openly. Type B is afraid to form any clear belief, really really doesn't want to put them into words, and is afraid to state them in case someone else disagrees.

Type A is known as "most of the boys". Type B is "most of the girls".

It's the conventional wisdom - and therefore probably wrong - that boys outperform girls academically until about 13, then girls overtake them. For all I know, that could be broadly true of physics and literature. But for language learning, the boys consistently outstrip the girls.

It's not for lack of raw ability - not that I think there really is such a thing. It's confidence. The attitude that there's no personal shame in making a mistake and being corrected, that if you don't understand the explanation you have the right to ask again, that one doesn't need to fit in and have fashionable opinions to be respected.

Among the boys, even the nerds are jocks. Among the girls, even the most forward are apologetic about it.

So what can I do about it? Not much. Simply because you can't force someone to be free, and you can't inject confidence by encouraging someone to invent their own there and then from nothing.

In talking about this with female teachers, they say the same, so I don't think it's just that I'm intimidatingly butch (ha!) or that female student connect better with female teachers.

The classroom is a rather artificial environment, so perhaps in the real world outside the boys become taciturn and the girls are the gossipy flirts. But I don't think so.

It seems that even though young women now want careers, independence, and not to be quiet housewives...they still habitually act as though they don't.


  1. I think it's also cultural and societal influences. I grew up in a remote area that relied heavily on agriculture and fishing. Women and men both stood equal chances of being leaders and breadwinners. It comes down to the best person for the job. Men and women both cooked and raised the children, because that's how we got things done, through cooperation and necessity. Everyone had to work together to ensure a good harvest and successful catch. Poor and friendless is the lazy person who, if unwilling to contribute or change to being helpful, will soon find themselves hungry and homeless. No one likes a freeloader.

    At school, nerds, jocks, artists, musicians, farmers, fishers, and builders all mingled together; there was no definitive or strict separation of groups; in fact, most groups were composed of various kids with various talents; the common factor was that they were all friends, usually from the same neighborhood. I didn't realize there was a social division in school until I visited the big cities; I always thought those tv shows and movies about high school social order was made up. Until I visited the big city and started living out here, I had no clue there was a separation of groups according to popularity. Back home, every one thought their own group was popular; and there really was no established hierarchy like some of the places I've seen.

    Imagine my surprise when I visited the big city and learned that there was a gender division of labor, that women did mostly domestic stuff while men were expected to bring home the bacon. And what was even more baffling was the idea that certain jobs, even leadership roles were denied women, just because their pair of gonads were on the inside, not dangling on the outside.

    Any society or culture that discriminates against its own people by gender or other unfair means only limits their potential and power and reduces their success and survival rate in the world.

  2. I have nothing to add to your comment except agreement.

  3. I have nothing to add either, except to say that every time I contribute something to a "leadership" type conversation - or indeed any kind of conversation - I'm treated like a three-year-old who's just wet her pants. So much for gender equality.