Growing up, especially in high school, I was the kid in the class that never looked at you, never said a word…basically tried my best to just be invisible. If you have seen The Middle, you know that Sue is pretty much the opposite of that. She embraces who she is regardless of her label. In school, I would have thought she was the coolest, and honestly, that’s kind of funny!
Because I worked so hard to be invisible, it was really hard to be good at anything that took collaboration or thinking aloud at all. For that reason, I was…gulp…a book worm. I gained a love of reading and literature because within the confines of the pages, I found friends. I discovered a life that held so many adventures, and I found that I could be anyone. It didn’t hurt to take risks because the characters took them for you. I remember sitting in a World History class in high school. I was new to the school and as a freshman that was tough enough, but being in this man’s class was torturous. He was the football coach and his voice just BOOMED, all the time! Well, one day, he actually asked me a question, and though I had been paying attention, he startled me so much that I couldn’t answer the question. So he threw a desk in my direction. That was the day I decided to become a teacher.
If that happened in history class, you can imagine how my math and science classes went. In math it was, “do it this way and practice until you get it right”. In science, I just didn’t think I was smart enough to figure it all out. No one told me that it was ok to do it my way, to think outside of the box. It wasn’t until college where I was permitted to explore those subjects in a way that made sense to me, that I gained a love of math and science.
How many girls feel this way today in your class? Do we give them the permission to take risks and think in a way that makes sense to them? Do we let them know, verbally and non-verbally, that it is alright to think abstractly, to verbalize ideas that may or may not be logical or correct? Do we encourage them to love the subjects that typically have been reserved for males?
I think one of the reasons the gender gap in these subjects exists is simply because of the way girls are wired. Think about it…girls like to talk. A LOT! If you had known me in high school outside of the building, you would know that this was true even of me. Those of you who know me now are probably dumbfounded. (I am anything but quiet). We use language. To girls, it is logical to need to know how to read and write. Our world consists of it. What I didn’t know as a young girl is that science helps us understand EVERYTHING in the world around us. I would have learned a whole lot more and had a greater love of these two subjects if the concepts taught had been tied to something I already knew or with which I already felt confident in my level of understanding. I am not alone in this belief. Take a look at this interview session with these STEM professionals (incidentally, all women).
I believe that we can make these connections for students. STEM gives us that opportunity to let all of the subjects work together for a common cause. I love that. As a teacher, that makes so much sense. As a student, I can imagine that it makes a whole lot more sense than studying these subjects in isolation, independent of the real world implications. In my next post, I will show you an example of bringing literature into the math classroom. It was an awesome experience that I can’t wait to share! Even some girls in my class who live as I did in the past, turned into Sue Heck, even if just for a few moments.