I Love Teaching Boys

Heather Szymendera

Heather Szymendera

I love teaching boys. I love their humor laced with sarcasm, their directness, their camaraderie, their enthusiasm and energy, and even their occasional misstep that lands them in trouble. They come to class with a palpable desire to please and be liked by their teacher. Unfortunately, this desire is often intertwined with insecurity and false bravado. My job as their teacher is to give them a genuine confidence in their ability and themselves that they can carry into the next challenge they may face.

When they come into my class, it is their first experience with a coed math class.   They may come with a confidence in their athletic ability, their writing ability, or even their social ability, but many come feeling unsure of their math ability. I am not sure if it’s because they think boys are supposed to be good at math but they seem more embarrassed than their female counterparts if they don’t know something. They will go to great lengths to appear as if they understand it. They become masters of illusion, saying, “I get it” when they don’t, nodding when they are actually lost, and appearing to work a problem furiously only to have just written down the question.

I have learned not to accept their statement of “I get it” or their own resignation of never getting it. Sitting with them one-on-one ensures that I can catch the mistakes they make, and they can’t hide the fact that they are missing the concept. Assigning them in-class problems that they must continue to do until they get them right improves not only their understanding, but also their confidence in their skills. When I am able, I have them do corrections on an assessment to earn back points. The reason boys like video games is the same reason they like these last two methods. They find satisfaction in repeating a process until they find success and then moving on to the next level[1].


I have also found over the years that praising them out loud, not just for them to hear, but for their peers to hear can improve their confidence. You can visibly see them beam with pride, in their expression and body language. They will also receive echoes of my praise from their male peers with, “way to go,” “get it,” “go Robert.”  These comments are both a gentle ribbing and a show of respect from their classmates.

There is nothing better than seeing any student, girl or boy have that “aha” moment or leave your class more confident than when they came. But there is something particularly satisfying about seeing a young man sit a little straighter, give a half smile of personal satisfaction, or on rare occasions give an actual fist pump.   On days like these, I can say I have done my job.

[1] “Teaching Boys”, Andrew Fuller

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  • Jane Emrick says:

    Yes…I think every teacher lives for those “aha” moments.
    I particularly like your mention of the Furious writing that goes on, and when you walk around behind them you see they have just written down the question. I watch for that in my classroom so that I can address and reteach while I’m walking around.