School Snippets #2


Just found out that one of my Grade 2 students, whom I thought was a girl, is actually a boy.

And I’m wondering why I’m such a dummy, why I was so sure he was a girl. I mean, on the first day, I actually thought to myself, Wow, what a strange name for a girl! (It’s the same name as the basketball in Cast Away.) But I never wondered about it, I simply… thought he was a girl.

And he wears boy clothes. He has a high voice, but he’s in Grade 2 – they ALL have high voices. It could be the shaggy, collar-length hair, but that’s still a silly reason – LOTS of boys have long “girlie” hair, especially at my school. (In fact, at least four of the Junior boys are growing their hair long to donate it.) I guess I combined that hair with his un-boyish attentiveness… and when I say un-boyish, I don’t mean that some boys aren’t attentive keeners, they are. There’s just something in the quality of this child’s manner that is so unequivocally feminine that I never doubted my assumption – and apparently I can’t put my finger on it, even by blogging.

Now I’m questioning my whole perspective on people. What insidious stereotypes have led me to make this mistake? (Not that anyone knows about it but the classroom teacher who set me straight – I’m pretty sure I never vocalized my error in front of the class or anything.) What other wrong assumptions do I make on a daily basis about students I teach? I, who pride myself on remembering that all students are so much more than meets the eye! What a travesty.

To be honest, I’m not stressing about it that much… but it is a wake-up call to be reminded so forcefully that I can be as dense as anyone under the right circumstances. It’s good to be humbled every once in a while.


7 thoughts on “School Snippets #2

  1. Darci says:

    I can’t speak for the children in your school, but it seems (around here anyway), that kids these days (like that? How I sound like the old guys on the TD commercial??)try to be as ambiguous in their appearance as possible? Is it a trend?

  2. KMWY says:

    Hey! I have the same name as the basketball in Cast-Away! I spent a good deal of energy as a young person fighting in a passive and almost subconscious way with gender stereotypes. (It started more than 50 years ago, ergo not a recent trend) There are sub-clinical things we pick up from each other, and my hunch is that your young friend is just letting you know that he wants a larger piece of humanity’s pie. Good on you for reflecting on this.

  3. emoley says:

    THE SAME THING HAPPENED TO ME! Except it was a girl that I thought was a boy, and without even the little-kid factor to mess with me. This student was grown up, not sure how old but in university I think. She was from Taiwan I believe, had shaggy-trendy hair, wore androgynous clothes baggy enough to obscure the question of feminine curves, no makeup. Yeah, for some reason I just had it in my head that she was a guy, to the point where I thought, oh dear, I wonder if this boy knows that the English name he chose is a girl name!

    I think the name was Candy, which is so much more cutesy than she was, but for some reason stripper names seem to be popular choices for a lot of our Asian students. No offense intended to anyone reading this! That’s a whole other topic to go into another time…

    I don’t remember what it was that triggered me to question the assumption I’d made – maybe she took the female role in a role play in class – but at that point I actually had to pull back and examine the situation… and admit that I WASN’T SURE which she was! And of course I couldn’t ask her or any other student directly, or even admit indirectly that I was in doubt. SO embarrassing to realize I actually couldn’t tell.

    I did eventually confirm that she was female somehow, but in the meantime I had to find ways to refer to her without using personal pronouns. And I had to wonder whether I’d used the wrong pronoun in the past! At least in an ESL classroom people are less likely to notice, since they make those mistakes often enough. I just hoped I hadn’t embarrassed her at any point inadvertently.

    The whole situation made me question all the same things you did, Di – why did I think she was male at first, how did the way I viewed her change when I wasn’t sure, and when I realized she was female… She was a great student and a sweet person, I only had her for a couple weeks but missed her when she was gone and she gave me a lovely card. I had to wonder whether I was nicer to her than I would’ve been if I hadn’t been feeling bad for mistaking her for a boy! But I doubt it.

    Although… there is something wonderful when you have a student who is male but defies the male stereotypes. The interesting thing to consider is the difference between seeing a person as a male with some characteristics you think of as possibly “feminine”… and seeing the same person you know to be female but who has certain things that DON’T look “feminine.” Because what does that even mean? And how does the way you perceive the same personality change depending on whether you think it’s a girl or a guy?

    It’s like that picture of the ballerina who twirls both ways and you can see either one depending on the way you look even though the picture never changes… only WAY more complicated!

  4. emoley says:

    Ok, I realize that stripper names thing looks bad. What I meant was that there are certain names that have certain associations in North America. Not that people are choosing them because they like the idea of having a name that sounds like a stripper. They’re very pretty names. (I’m probably just making this worse…)

    It’s just an example of how there are all kinds of things about language and culture that you may not realize just from studying. Like people getting Chinese character tattoos that turn out to be something wayyy different from what they meant…

  5. bd says:

    It’s Pat!

    Seriously, though, I’ve learned never to make assumptions if there’s even a hint of androgyny (and the trend towards emo makes this waaay more common than it used to be). I once (probably 15 years ago or more) tried to turn down a panhandler with “Sorry, man” and had to quickly disengage in embarrassment when SHE spoke up in a clearly feminine voice. Conversely, I’ve made similar assumptions when I was cold-selling long-distance plans over the phone. It’s very hard to make a sale after you’ve mistaken Mrs. Balakrishnan for Mr. Balakrishnan!

  6. diblog says:

    Sorry everyone, I’ve been reminded by Sean that it’s actually a VOLLEYBALL, not a basketball, in Cast Away.

    Darci, I haven’t been finding the kids super-androgynous lately, although boys’ hair is tending toward 60s and 70s styles that do cloud things, especially pre-puberty, especially from a distance.

    KMWY, thank you. I love the idea of a “larger piece of humanity’s pie”! I hope he gets as big a piece as he wants.

    emoley, I can’t help thinking the same thing: thank goodness it’s Grade 2 FSL immersion, because if I did refer to him as “elle” at some point, it’s highly unlikely anyone noticed!

    bd, that telephone sales thing hits close to home… my hubbibi hates it when strangers mistake his gender over the phone…

  7. Krista says:

    🙂 I’m so glad Sean reminded you…. lol… I have to admit that was my first thought on the whole issue (what basketball? wasn’t it a volleyball??).

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