Sex Roles

, Volume 80, Issue 7–8, pp 393–408 | Cite as

Push-Ups Versus Clean-Up: Preschool Teachers’ Gendered Beliefs, Expectations for Behavior, and Disciplinary Practices

  • Heidi M. GansenEmail author
Original Article


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.


Gender 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.

Informed Consent

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.


  1. Ajzen, I., & Fishbein, M. (1977). Attitude-behavior relations: A theoretical analysis and review of empirical research. Psychological Bulletin, 84, 888–918. Scholar
  2. Anyon, J. (1980). Social class and the hidden curriculum of work. Journal of Education, 162, 67–92. Scholar
  3. Arnett, K., & Turnbull, M. (2008). Teacher beliefs in second and foreign language teaching: A state of the art review. In H. J. Sisken (Ed.), Thought to action: Exploring beliefs and outcomes in the foreign language program (pp. 9–29). Boston, MA: Thomson Heinle.Google Scholar
  4. Best, R. (1983). We’ve all got scars: What boys and girls learn in elementary school. Arlington Heights, IN: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Bigler, R. S., & Liben, L. S. (2007). Developmental intergroup theory: Explaining and reducing children’s social stereotyping and prejudice. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 16(3), 162–166. Scholar
  6. Blaise, M. (2005). Playing it straight: Uncovering gender discourses in the early childhood classroom. New York, NY: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.Google Scholar
  7. Borg, S. (2011). The impact of in-service education on language teachers’ beliefs. System, 39, 370–380. Scholar
  8. Bredekamp, S., & Copple, C. (1997). Developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.Google Scholar
  9. Browne, N. (2004). Gender equity in the early years. Berkshire, MA: Open University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Cahill, B., & Adams, E. (1997). An exploratory study of early childhood teachers’ attitudes toward gender roles. Sex Roles, 36, 517–529. Scholar
  11. Calderhead, J. (1996). Teachers: Beliefs and knowledge. In D. C. Berliner & R. C. Calfee (Eds.), Handbook of educational psychology (pp. 709–725). New York: Macmillan Library Reference USA.Google Scholar
  12. Charmaz, K. (2006). Constructing grounded theory: A practical guide through qualitative analysis. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  13. Chick, K. A., Heilman-Houser, R. A., & Hunter, M. W. (2002). The impact of child care on gender role development and gender stereotypes. Early Childhood Education Journal, 29(3), 149–154. Scholar
  14. Clark, C. M., & Peterson, P. L. (1986). Teachers’ thought processes. In M. C. Wittrock (Ed.), Handbook of research on teaching (3rd ed., pp. 255–296). New York: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  15. Connell, R. W. (1987). Gender and power: Society, the person, and sexual politics. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Corsaro, W. A. (2014). The sociology of childhood. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  17. Czerniak, C. M., & Lumpe, A. T. (1996). Relationship between teacher beliefs and science education reform. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 7, 247–266. Scholar
  18. Eccles, J. S., & Blumenfeld, P. (1985). Classroom experiences and student gender: Are there differences and do they matter? In L. C. Wilkinson & C. B. Marrett (Eds.), Gender influences in classroom interaction (pp. 79–113). Orlando, FL: Academic Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Emerson, R. M., Fretz, R. I., & Shaw, L. L. (1995). Writing ethnographic fieldnotes. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Erden, F., & Wolfgang, C. H. (2004). An exploration of the differences in prekindergarten, kindergarten, and first grade teachers’ beliefs related to discipline when dealing with male and female students. Early Child Development, 174, 3–11. Scholar
  21. Fang, Z. (1996). A review of research on teacher beliefs and practice. Educational Research, 38, 47–65. Scholar
  22. Fishbein, M., & Ajzen, I. (1975). Belief, attitude, intention and behavior. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.Google Scholar
  23. Friedman, A., & Waggoner, A. S. (2010). Subcultural influences on person perception. Social Psychology Quarterly, 73, 325–327. Scholar
  24. Gansen, H. M. (2017a). Reproducing (and disrupting) heteronormativity: Gendered sexual socialization in preschool classrooms. Sociology of Education, 90, 255–272. Scholar
  25. Gansen, H. M. (2017b). Researcher positionality in participant observation with preschool age children: Challenges and strategies for establishing rapport with teachers and children simultaneously. In I. E. Castro, M. Swauger, & B. Harger (Eds.), Researching children and youth: Methodological issues, strategies, and innovations (Vol. 22, pp. 81–102). Bingley, UK: Emerald Publishing Limited.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Gansen, H. M. (2018). Building blocks of difference: How inequalities are (re)produced through disciplinary practices and interactions in preschool (unpublished doctoral dissertation). Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan.Google Scholar
  27. Gestwicki, C., & Bertrand, J. (2011). Essentials of early childhood education (4th ed.). Toronto, CA: Nelson Education.Google Scholar
  28. Gilliam, W. S., Maupin, A. N., Reyes, C. R., Accavitti, M., & Shic, F. (2016). Do early educators’ implicit biases regarding sex and race relate to behavior expectations and recommendations of preschool expulsions and suspensions. Research Study Brief. New haven, CT: Yale University, Yale Child Study Center.Google Scholar
  29. Giraldo, E., & Colyar, J. (2012). Dealing with gender in the classroom: A portrayed case study of four teachers. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 16, 25–38. Scholar
  30. Giroux, H., & Purpel, D. (1983). The hidden curriculum and moral education. Berkeley, CA: McCutchan.Google Scholar
  31. Glaser, B., & Strauss, A. (1999). The discovery of grounded theory: Strategies for qualitative research. Chicago, IL: Aldine Transaction.Google Scholar
  32. Gracey, H. ([1975] 2008). Learning the student role: Kindergarten as academic boot camp. In J. Ballantine & J. Spade (Eds.), School and society: A sociological approach to education (3rd ed., pp. 131–136). Los Angeles, CA: Pine Forge Press.Google Scholar
  33. Granger, K. L., Hanish, L. D., Kornienko, O., & Bradley, R. H. (2016). Preschool teachers’ facilitation of gender-typed and gender-neutral activities during free play. Sex Roles, 76, 498–510. Scholar
  34. Guskey, T. R. (1986). Staff development and the process of teacher change. Educational Researcher, 15, 5–12. Scholar
  35. Hashweh, M. Z. (1996). Effects of science teachers' epistemological beliefs in teaching. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 33, 47–63.<47::aid-tea3>;2-t.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Isikoglu, N., Basturk, R., & Karaca, F. (2009). Assessing in-service teachers’ instructional beliefs about student-centered education: A Turkish perspective. Teaching and Teacher Education, 25, 350–356. Scholar
  37. Jones, M. G., & Carter, G. (2007). Science teacher attitudes and beliefs. In S. K. Abell & N. G. Lederman (Eds.), Handbook of research on science education (pp. 1067–1104). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  38. Jordan, E. (1995). Fighting boys and fantasy play: The construction of masculinity in the early years of school. Gender and Education, 7, 69–86. Scholar
  39. Kane, R., Sandretto, S., & Heath, C. (2002). Telling half the story: A critical review of research on the teaching beliefs and practices of university academics. Review of Educational Research, 72, 177–228. Scholar
  40. Lamb, M. E., Easterbrooks, M. A., & Holden, G. W. (1980). Reinforcement and punishment among preschoolers: Characteristics, effects, and correlates. Child Development, 51, 1230–1236. Scholar
  41. Luft, J. A., & Roehrig, G. H. (2007). Capturing science teachers’ epistemological beliefs: The development of the teacher beliefs interview. Electronic Journal of Science Education, 11, 38–63.Google Scholar
  42. Maccoby, E. E. (1998). The two sexes: Growing up apart, coming together. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  43. Mandell, N. (1988). The least-adult role in studying children. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 16, 433–467. Scholar
  44. Martin, K. A. (1998). Becoming a gendered body: Practices of preschools. American Sociological Review, 63, 494–511. Scholar
  45. Martin, C. L., & Ruble, D. N. (2009). Patterns of gender development. Annual Review of Psychology, 61, 353–381. Scholar
  46. Meyer, E. J. (2010). Gender and sexual diversity in schools. Netherlands: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Orenstein, P. (1994). School girls: Young women, self-esteem, and the confidence gap. New York: Anchor Books.Google Scholar
  48. Paechter, C. (2007). Being boys; being girls: Learning masculinities and femininities. Berkshire, England: Open University Press.Google Scholar
  49. Pajares, M. F. (1992). Teachers’ beliefs and educational research: Clearing up a messy construct. Review of Educational Research, 62, 307–331. Scholar
  50. Richardson, V. (1996). The role of attitudes and beliefs in learning to teach. In J. Sikula (Ed.), Handbook of research on teacher education (pp. 102–119). New York: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  51. Ridgeway, C. L., & Smith-Lovin, L. (1999). The gender system and interaction. Annual Review of Sociology, 25, 191–216. Scholar
  52. Risman, B. J. (2004). Gender as a social structure: Theory wrestling with activism. Gender & Society, 18, 429–450. Scholar
  53. Sanger, M. N., & Osguthorpe, R. D. (2010). Teacher education, preservice teacher beliefs, and the moral work of teaching. Teaching and Teacher Education, 27, 569–578. Scholar
  54. Serbin, L. A., O’Leary, K. D., Kent, R. N., & Tonick, I. J. (1973). A comparison of teacher response to the preacademic and problem behavior of boys and girls. Child Development, 44, 796–804. Scholar
  55. Streib, J. (2011). Class reproduction by four year olds. Qualitative Sociology, 34, 337–352. Scholar
  56. Thorne, B. (1993). Gender play: Girls and boys in school. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  57. Wallace, C. S., & Kang, N. H. (2004). An investigation of experienced secondary science teachers' beliefs about inquiry: An examination of competing belief sets. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 41, 936–960. Scholar
  58. West, C., & Zimmerman, D. H. (1987). Doing gender. Gender & Society, 1, 125–151. Scholar
  59. Williams, C. (2006). Still missing? Comments on the twentieth anniversary of “the missing feminist revolution in sociology”. Social Problems, 53, 454–458. Scholar
  60. Wooldridge, P., & Richman, C. L. (1985). Teachers’ choice of punishment as a function of a student’s gender, age, race, and IQ level. Journal of School Psychology, 23, 19–29. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

Personalised recommendations