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UIC TA Handbook - Gender in the Classroom

By Mary Todd

Former Assistant Professor
Women's Studies
UIC College of Liberal Arts and Sciences



What difference does gender make in the classroom? Women not only make up the majority of college students here at UIC and nationally, but are part of every ethnic, age, class, and ability grouping on campus. The presence of women in your classroom requires that you think about gender difference as you would think about other student demographics. Developing an intentional sensitivity to these various differences may influence the many decisions you make about your teaching.

Stereotypes, generalizations, and assumptions about women (and men) are widespread, but largely unfair if not completely unfounded. Still, sexism persists in many classrooms, creating what is often called a chilly climate for women. Teachers need first to examine their own attitudes and presuppositions and check them against what we know about types of classroom gender bias (as identified by Myra and David Sadker in their study, Failing at Fairness:

  • invisibility, or the omission of women from curriculum and texts stereotyping
  • imbalance or selectivity in examples
  • unreality, or presenting an unrealistic portrayal of women's experience
  • fragmentation I isolation, or treating women and minorities as marginal
  • linguistic bias

Research indicates that women participate less than men in the classroom. Observe the gender dynamics in your own discussion section. There are strategies you can follow to achieve a more balanced dynamic in the style of questions you pose, the time you allow for answers, the respect you show through critical listening and the way you respond to students (are you positive? critical? remedial? affirming?) which will contribute to a more positive learning experience and environment for all students, both women and men.

Some questions to consider:

Are your expectations the same for all students?

Do you recognize different learning styles, e.g. some students are competitive, others do better in cooperative or interactive settings? (While there is not a definitive parallel between gender and learning style, women are frequently understood to be more relationally oriented and men more self-directed.)

Are the examples or hypotheticals you use to emphasize a point varied or are they based on stereotypical gender models?

Is your language inclusive, e.g. do you use both masculine and feminine pronouns? Do you substitute gender­neutral words and phrases for gender-biased terms?                                     

Are you attentive to classroom dynamics with regard to gender? Do you call on male and female students equally or do you privilege certain students?

When forming small groups, do you note tendencies toward gender segregation?

Does your curriculum address gender and gendered issues?

Do your texts include both male and female authors?

Do your activities allow various levels of student participation, and thus discourage domination of the classroom by certain students?

Do all your students have equal access to you outside the classroom, e.g., during office hours?

Do you make an effort to avoid tokenism, the assumption that a student's gender /race/ sexual orientation makes her a representative spokesperson for that identity category?

Are you consistent in the manner by which you address your students?

Have you read and are you completely familiar with the terms of the University's sexual harassment policy? Your department may also have its own.


Rich, A. (1979). Taking Women Students Seriously. In On Lies Secrets and Silence: Selected Prose 1966-1978. NY: W.W. Norton.

Sadker, M. & Sadker, D. (1994). Failing at Fairness· How Our Schools Cheat Girls. NY: Touchstone.

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