Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society
Everyone has a story about the cool teacher: the refreshingly unconventional one, the memorably irreverent one, the one who broke the rules, the iconoclast.
It recently occurred to me that, way more often than not, the teacher in those stories is male. I don’t think I’m imagining that, though you might convince me otherwise. Two counterexamples that come to mind are both from literature: Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and Charles Baxter’s short story “Gryphon.” But the portrayal of the female teachers in those works is considerably darker than that of the typical “cool teacher”; in the former she’s revealed to be a fascist, and in the latter she’s insane.
Hypothesis: women do not have the same societal permission to be unconventional and irreverent in the workplace, and have to worry much more about being called unprofessional. I’ve heard women in academia, for example, say that they have to worry more about projecting an air of authority in the classroom, or about being “tough” enough that they don’t lose the students’ respect. I think it is much easier, for example, for a male professor to allow students to call him by his first name than it is for a female professor.
Is there truth to that hypothesis? If so, what effect does it have on K-12 schools, which are staffed predominantly by women?