Push-Ups Versus Clean-Up: Preschool Teachers’ Gendered Beliefs, Expectations for Behavior, and Disciplinary Practices
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Using data from observations in three U.S. preschools (nine classrooms total) and interviews with nine preschool teachers observed, the present qualitative study examines moments of gender socialization through disciplinary interactions in preschool classrooms. I ask: How do teachers’ expectations for children’s behaviors and use of disciplinary practices contribute to gender inequality in preschool? And, how do preschool teachers transmit and “do gender” through disciplinary practices and interactions? Using a grounded theory approach to data analysis, I find that in preschool, teachers discipline boys and girls differently and create gendered stories about why these differences exist. Teachers tell these gendered stories to account for, and justify, their gendered beliefs, expectations, and differential treatment of children during disciplinary interactions. Preschool teachers’ gendered beliefs are also associated with gendered disciplinary responses to children’s misbehavior in preschool classrooms. My data suggest that teachers’ gendered beliefs and expectations for behavior are related to how boys and girls are disciplined differently for engaging in the same behaviors. I argue that teachers’ gendered beliefs and gendered disciplinary interactions with children in preschool classrooms contribute to the embodiment and enforcement of gender and gender inequality in early childhood. My findings suggest that in preschool, gender differences continue to be constructed and reified as natural in young children.
KeywordsGender socialization Children Classroom discipline Preschool teachers Qualitative research
I would like to thank Karin Martin, Elizabeth Armstrong, Erin Cech, and the members of the Gender & Sexuality Workshop in the University of Michigan’s Sociology Department for their feedback on the present paper. I would also like to thank Jamie Skirba for their research assistance.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Disclosure of Potential Conflicts of Interest
The author has no potential conflicts of interest to report.
Research Involving Human Participants and/or Animals
This research was reviewed and designated exempt by a university institutional review board.
Numerous steps were taken to protect participants’ confidentiality, including the use of pseudonyms for names of participants and preschools.
Informed consent of teachers was obtained prior to the start of interviews.
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