Friday, April 06, 2007

Gender bias in students' expectations

I'm still seething over a couple of postings an anonymous student made to the discussion board for my freshman biology course. I had asked a colleague (Dr. X) to give two lectures, in exchange for three I had done for him earlier in the term.

I've already responded on the discussion board to the implication that when I'm not lecturing I'm resting (see posts below), but here I want to point out the implicit gender bias in this student's expectations.

The student views Dr. X's research work as more important than his teaching responsibilities. (I had told my students he was doing botanical research, but in fact he was accompanying his wife on a trip combining her research with a vacation for them both.) The student assumes that of course I should make sacrifices to support this work.

On the other hand, although I run a much larger research program than Dr. X, I am seen as only a teacher. And in addition to teaching, I'm judged on how deeply I appear to care about my students.

These different expectations are one of the many reasons women faculty have a hard time. Students make excuses for male faculty (who they see as having more important things to do than teach), but expect women faculty to be substitute mothers, sacrificing any other goals to take care of their students. On Wednesday the students will do their teaching evaluations, and I expect as usual to be criticized for insufficient nurturing.

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Here are the discussion board posts:

From an anonymous student:
I felt really bad for him. He was just given a package of slides and then tried to teach from there. I thought a lot of people were really disrespectful. Like if you went the monday lecture and found him insanely boring, why did you come to the one on wednesday just so you could talk the whole time and then make a huge scene by leaving early?
My response:
Hi everyone,

Dr. X normally teaches another section of Biology 121. He taught
these two classes for me because I had taught three classes for him in
late February, while he was in Thailand.

He did not have any prepared material that he thought would be suitable
for my students, so I provided him with copies of the slides I used last
year, thinking that he could use them as a framework to develop two
classes on sustainability. I did not expect him to simply show my
slides, and I apologize for any problems with the classes he taught.

Dr. Redfield
From another anonymous student:
Its quite rediculous that she asked Mr. X to teach for her although she helped him
teach 3 classes. Mr. X was away for a reason, but dr. Redfield is just taking a
break and not being responsible for our class. Just so dissappointed.
(I deleted this post, and last night a new one appeared - same sentiment and same spelling error so probably the same student.)
I actually disagree on that. Some parts were interesting, but this teaching skill was not good. Dr. Redfield's teaching method was really better and have the skill to actually crab your attention! However, I am quite dissappointed that she wasn't able to teach our class. She taught Dr. Xs class because he was away to Thailand, but now he is taking over her class while she is resting. This really shows that she is very unresponsible for our class. She is a good, interesting and smart prof, but maybe she needs to care more.
And here's my response.
!!! RESTING???

Pardon the 'shouting', but I've been working night and day, holidays and
weekends, on this course; just check the dates and times of my
Discussion Board postings. Since my last lecture to you I've taken
exactly one day off (yes, it was a weekday, but I worked on all of the
weekend days).

If my lectures are interesting it's because of the work I put into them.
For example, I've spent part of the Easter weekend working on
Wednesday's final lecture. This is a lot of work because I've decided
to replace about half of what I had prepared with material from the new
IPCC Report on climate change. I'll be spending much of today on it too.

I also spent part of the Easter weekend compiling and posting the PRS
marks. This including tracking down the errors students had made in
entering their student numbers so they would get the marks their answers
have earned.

I spent part of it analyzing and posting the Reading Quiz marks. This
included going back over the original 'opt-out' quiz to find those
students who had never realized that if they weren't going to take the
quizzes they needed to actively opt out. (About 15 students had marks
of zero; I discovered that they had not opted out but never taken a
quiz, so I opted them out retroactively.)

I spent part of it reading and responding to Discussion Board postings.

I spent part of it working on the final exam.

I spent part of it reading reports of students' projects.

And I spent part of the weekend doing an experiment in my research
laboratory. Today (Easter Monday) I may even find time to analyze the data.

At the end of February I took valuable time away from preparing my grant
proposals to teach Dr. X's classes, so that he could spend an extra
week in Thailand. We agreed in advance that he would repay this favour
by lecturing to my classes, freeing me to catch up on other

I realize that students don't have many opportunities to see the work
their professors do outside of class. But 'resting' is the last thing
we have time for.

Dr. Redfield

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