How Boys Changed the Way I Think About Teaching

10 valuable lessons one teacher learned about the joys and challenges of teaching boys.

My first class was 90% boys. I thought I was prepared. I wasn’t.

In general, boys are sent to the office for disciplinary reasons about four times more often than girls. With stats like these, it’s no wonder I began to doubt everything I thought I knew about teaching in my first year. I was spending way too much time managing the boys’ behaviors and not nearly enough teaching. It was so frustrating.

Some of you may be thinking, “Seriously? Boys are no different than girls—that’s just stereotyping and generalizing!” Or you may be thinking, “Finally! Someone is telling me what I’ve felt all along—boys are so different than girls!”

I’m definitely not trying to overgeneralize here. After all, there are plenty of girls that share some of the behaviors listed below…they always need to be moving, they like to touch EVERYTHING, and they can be noisy and messy. Plus, there are plenty of boys who these things don’t apply to at all. However, if you’re like me and have struggled with teaching (and reaching) the boys in your classroom, then these observations may ring true. Here’s to hoping that some of my takeaways and “lessons learned” can you help you, too!

1. Boys may take longer to answer your questions. Don’t fill the silence. 

Give boys a warning that you will be asking them a question. Then ask another student and then circle back to them (don’t forget). Ask your question again and wait for his answer. Be patient!

Thinking_boy

2. Try giving directions one step at a time.

Rather than giving all the directions so students can get started on their work, break it down. Give only one direction, allowing completion, before giving the next step. Boys will often forget step two, three, and four, causing you to repeat yourself (and get frustrated).

Confused_boy

3. Build hands-on exploration into your lessons.

If a lesson is project-based and there are components to it (such as a science project with measuring spoons, beakers, and scales), allow all students to touch everything before giving directions. Your students’ focus will improve when they aren’t distracted by the objects they want to touch. If a student is particularly sensory-oriented, have him or her hold a squeeze ball or something similar while listening quietly.

Boys_Touch_Everything

4. When boys can move, they often process better.

Moving during learning, and then moving to process that learning is essential for boys. Sitting still is mind-numbing to them. Moving keeps students engaged, happier, and they’ll remember more of what they’ve learned.

Boys_moving

5. When they’re scared, hurt, anxious, or embarrassed, boys can get quiet (or loud).  

Depending on their temperament, boys may get quieter or louder when filled with big emotions or feeling stressed. For a boy, being told to sit still and be quiet can be stressful. Water dilutes these stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) in less than 5 minutes. Keep kids hydrated.

Boys_Quiet

6. Boys tend to love superheroes. (Psst: You might be one of them.) 

Encourage superhero play and be explicit about the good works that superheroes can do in the world. Plus, make sure your boys have plenty of real-life superheroes to model. They need strong male role models to balance the over 95% of early childhood and elementary teachers that are female.

Boys_Superheroes

7. Boys LOVE pee, poo, blood, boogers, farts, and burps—all are hilarious.

Boys love gross, and they enjoy your horrified reaction to it. They love to talk about it, joke about it, and draw about it. Treat all of these subjects with the same neutrality and interest that you treat the rainbows and unicorns, hearts, and flowers drawn by girls.

Boys_Laughing

8. Most boys love noises (and making them).

Boys make noise to entertain themselves and each other. Noises mean they don’t have to use as many words. Boys detect animal noises and loud sounds better than girls but beware, because they don’t hear your soft female voice as well as girls. Speak clearly and louder to help him tune in to you.

Boys_Making_Noises

9. Anything can be turned into a competition.

Boys are programmed to compete, always striving to be at the top of the hierarchy. Boys spend 65% of their time playing competitive games compared to girls, who spend just 35% of their time playing competitive games. Give both boys and girls opportunities to compete. Make it part of your day.

Boys_Competition

10. You might have to look a little bit harder for those vulnerable moments.

Boys can be sensitive, loving, and kind. However, it might not always come across that way. They likely will show their affection for you in a physical way, grabbing your arm or bumping you with their heads. Recognize this ‘code’ language because they may not communicate their affection and feelings in words. It may be subtle, and you don’t want to miss it.

Boys_Kindness

Here’s hoping that now, when you find yourself angry, frustrated, confused, anxious, and exhausted by the boys in your classroom, you can take a step back and look at the situation from a boy’s perspective.

Janet Allison is an advocate for changing the approach that educators and parents take when it comes to working with boys. You can learn more about Janet on her website

Janet Allison

Posted by Janet Allison

I raised daughters – and knew I’d met my match with my first 1st grade class – 10 very active boys and 2 girls. Since then (2 decades later), I’ve dedicated my work to helping parents and teachers understand how boys play, relate, communicate, and learn through Family Coaching, Mentoring and Professional Development, On-line Courses, and my book.