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Ambivalent Partners: Power, Trust, and Partnership in Relationships Between Mothers and Teachers in a Full-Time Child Care Center

by Wendy Hobbins McGrath - 2007

Background/Context: There is much rhetoric regarding “parents and teachers as partners” despite little evidence that such partnerships, as described in the early childhood education literature, actually develop. The literature on parent-teacher partnerships does not examine parents’ and teachers’ interactions or what those interactions mean to them.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: This study focuses on the daily exchanges between mothers and teachers in a child care center during drop-off and pick-up times. In so doing, it examines aspects of parent-teacher partnerships and parent involvement that are absent in the current literature.

Setting: The setting for the study was an ethnically and economically diverse child care center in a large East coast city serving children from the ages of 2 to 5.

Population/Participants/Subjects: Participation in the study was voluntary in terms of interviewing and videotape recording; all mothers and teachers were observed. Thirteen mothers participated fully in the study. All the staff agreed to be videotaped. I interviewed 12 of the 17 permanent staff members.

Research Design: The study was an ethnographic case study of mother-teacher relationships in a toddler room of a child care center. Embedded within the study was a microethnographic video analysis of mother-teacher interactions in the classroom during morning drop-off and evening pickup times. Fieldwork was conducted over the course of 1 year.

Findings/Results: The findings suggest that mothers and teachers in the center were “ambivalent partners.” In interactions with teachers, mothers’ trust in the child care arrangement was at stake, and they looked to the teachers to provide them with information about their children, which bolstered their trust in the center and made them feel connected to their child’s experience. Teachers were less invested in trusting parents, and they appeared relatively unaware of how much power they had in their interactions with parents.

Conclusions/Recommendations: I found little evidence of mothers and teachers working as partners in the care of their children. Given the fluctuating power dynamic in parent-teacher relationships and the necessity of trust for parents, the development of partnership was framed in ambivalence.

Mothers and teachers come to the table with different expectations, knowledge, and needs, but also with a desire to work together. That interest in working together could be fostered by the child care institution by structuring more time for parents and teachers to interact and by providing support and training for teachers in their relations with parents.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 109 Number 6, 2007, p. 1401-1422
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 13130, Date Accessed: 1/21/2021 7:48:34 PM

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About the Author
  • Wendy McGrath
    Independent Researcher
    E-mail Author
    WENDY HOBBINS MCGRATH’s research interests include teachers’ work lives in varied educational settings; school-family relations; and the culture of child care. Her doctoral degree is in Education, Culture, and Society from the University of Pennsylvania. Prior to attending graduate school, she was a child development specialist in the Early Childhood Development Center and Campus Child Care Center at the University of Vermont.
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