Lisa was a very quiet student in my class. Unlike the other girls, she never wears skirts or skorts or jumpers. She only ever wears pants. She doesn't wear braids or barrettes or multiple ponytail holders in her hair. She has either one ponytail or her hair is down. She doesn't usually hang out with the rest of the girls (who greatly outnumber the boys) in my class. Really, she doesn't hang out with much of anyone. Not in an outcast way - the others don't avoid her, they actually all seem to quite like her. Not in a shy way - Lisa doesn't cower on the fringe of groups. She just doesn't participate in the girly giggly, hair playing, actively sucking-up-to-the-teacher activities that most of the other girls do.
Lisa is perfectly behaved, perfectly. She is the best behaved student in the class. I at times called her my "Sticker Queen" because there were days when I would get frustrated and give those who quickly behaved a sticker. Lisa ended up covered in stickers because she was always the first one to clean up, the first one to sit down, the first one to start her work. Like all my students, Lisa is Latina, but was one of the 3 students in my class who was not considered to be an English language learner. She doesn't speak Spanish. In fact, at one point on a school feedback form (that was supposed to be anonymous), her mother complained that all the ELL students were given too much attention and stole the teacher's attention from the English-only students. (Which I know is not true in my class since, of those three monolingual English speakers in my class, one is a significant behavior challenge, one is a always-in-the-middle-of-everything busybody, and one is Lisa, the sticker queen who is praised and used as a model constantly.)
Academically, Lisa was generally just slightly below where I would have liked her to have been. But, she always did her work, always tried hard, and always worked well with others, despite the fact that she wasn't drawn to hanging out in large groups.
One day Lisa whispered to me, "Ms. Grownup, I'm wearing boys shoes." I responded, "Okay. Hey, as long as they're comfy, that's great!" And that was that. They were gym shoes, white/blue/black instead of the girlie white/pink/purple color combination that is sold in the girl's shoe sections.
Lisa was always awesome. I very strategically sat her between two girls. One girl was academically much lower than Lisa and quite hyperactive. This girl, Juliette, sometimes struggled with partners. Lisa was always a fabulous partner to Juliette. Even when they weren't doing specific partner work, Lisa helped her read or sound out the spelling (she didn't tell Juliette how to spell, Lisa simply helped sound out the words). When Juliette got off task, Lisa tried to draw her back. On the other side of Lisa sat Clara, a girl with fairly low self-esteem (both academic and social). Lisa "helped" her academically, even though in reality Clara had advanced quite a bit and was about equal to Lisa in reading ability. Lisa was always there to pay attention to Clara though, which was important. When the two of the worked together, they worked quietly and slowly, but generally got the job done.
During a kind of raucous science activity one day, a student shouted across the room to me, "Ms. Grownup! Lisa says she's a boy, but she isn't." I shouted back, "Lisa can say she is whoever she want to be." And again, that was that. I was going in a thousand directions at the time, and didn't get a chance to think about it until later.
Do these conversations mean anything? I don't know.
Am I reading more into it than is actually there? Perhaps.
Does Lisa feel more like a boy, than like the girl who society wants her to be? Or was the other student misinterpreting something she had said? I'm not sure.
In class, I didn't talk about gender much except to point out that there is no such thing as a "girl color" or a "boy color." To talk about the fact that girls and boys can wear whatever colored clothes or styled clothes they want. To show examples of and talk about how there is no such thing as a "girl job" or a "boy job." I tried to make sure I called on each gender equally for each type of lesson/style of question (though I never charted it or had anyone chart it for me, so I don't know if I was entirely successful in doing so.)
Maybe next year I should talk more explicitly about gender, discussing what students' perceptions are, and why they have stereotypes about gender. In college, the first unit plan I created had a really neat lesson on gender stereotypes. Maybe I'll try to modify it to first grade and use it next year.