University of Western Ontario - Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Program

Education

Supervisor

Dr Wayne Martino & Dr. Michael Kehler

Abstract

In light of current debates and media-generated concerns about the impact of feminization on boys’ literacy achievement and in particular the call for male teachers to address this problem, this thesis investigates the influence of male teachers in terms of their capacity to impact positively on boys’ literacy achievement. This Ontario study created “spaces” (Denzin & Lincoln, 2000, p. 23) for secondary-school male English teachers and their male students to speak about the multiple and complex contextual and pedagogical factors (i.e., teacher knowledge, socioeconomics, streaming) influencing their experiences in the secondary-school English classroom. By drawing on feminist poststructural, Foucauldian and critical masculinities frameworks, this research examines the nature of particular truth claims about the influence of male English teachers in terms of their capacity to influence boys’ literacy achievement in their classrooms.

Given the regime of accountability, driven by a neoliberal agenda, which relies on a single measure (high-stakes test scores) to determine boys’ disadvantage, a qualitative case-study approach has been adopted to gather more nuanced context-specific and school-related data. Unlike the quantitative data as reported by educational bodies such and the EQAO, this research does not seek to make generalizable claims about male English teachers and boys as homogeneous groups. Instead, its research design and its guiding questions create an opportunity for “widening” what counts as evidence in boys’ literacy debates (Luke et al., 2010).

This research found that the majority of boys who participated (twenty-five out of twenty-nine) indicated that literacy achievement for boys cannot be reduced to the singularity of the teacher’s gender. These boys pointed to their own experiences with particular teachers, both male and female, to identify a number of gender non-specific factors to account for their connections or disconnections with their teachers and the potentiality of such pedagogical relations to impact on their literacy achievement. This research also found that the male English teacher participants embody multiple masculinities. Their individual histories, biographies, geographical locals, teaching contexts, masculinity politics and philosophies as English teachers are intertwined and complex, calling into question essentialist claims in which teacher effectiveness or influence is reduced to a biological basis of male embodiment. In particular, this research draws attention to the pedagogical practices of teachers which are influenced by multiple and complex factors. These practices are understood to be critical factors for boys’ engagement and achievement in secondary-school English language arts.

This research makes a significant contribution in that it crosses a number of fields: boys’ education and policy, English language arts education and critical sociology of masculinities. It provides a lens to rethink assumptions that underpin the call for male English teachers as a remediation strategy for improving boys’ literacy achievement.

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