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Is Sexism Holding U.S. Teachers Back?

There are many theories on why Finland's students perform so well on international academic comparisons—one of the most compelling being that it's because teaching is a well-respected and coveted profession there. In a recent blog post, Esther Quintero, a research associate at the Shanker Institute, adds a new wrinkle to this hypothesis. She argues that Finnish respect for teachers might be explained by gender equity in the country.

She says that, by contrast, teachers in the United States—traditionally and predominantly female—are treated as inferiors. "Compliance is rewarded; independence and autonomy are not teacher-like," she notes.

Quintero provides several anecdotes of administrators talking down to teachers and focusing on surface-level details such as neatness rather than instructional practice. It may be a symptom of "benevolent sexism," she writes, or "the idea that women are often treated in a manner that appears positive but isn't." Because the teaching profession is viewed as requiring "female" traits such as nurturing, selflessness, and compliance, she adds, male teachers feel the effects of this sexism as well.

Finnish society is quite different, Quintero says:

Women (and what women say, do, represent, stand for) enjoy greater status in Finnish society. Empowerment and political participation have raised the status of women in Finland across the board, which may help to explain why Finnish teachers, while still predominantly female, are more respected than in the U.S.

Consequently, Quintero says, to raise the status of teachers—both male and female—the U.S. must first raise the status of women.

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