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Teachers, Gender and Careers


reviewed by Nancy Hoffman - 1990

coverTitle: Teachers, Gender and Careers
Author(s): Sandra Acker
Publisher: Falmer Press, London
ISBN: 1850004277, Pages: , Year: 1989
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Teachers, Gender and Careers, a carefully edited volume from England, documents variation in the careers of women and men teachers, explains why gender divisions exist, and sets an agenda for future research and for changes in practice. It shows that age level of pupils (called “phase” in England) and subject taught predict gender divisions, and that access to administrative careers is heavily weighted toward men throughout the educational system, including higher education. Furthermore, since the research methods of choice in the book are ethnography, life or career history investigation, and personal reflection, the book also documents, often with some poignancy, the very different experiences of men and women teachers. The chapters on “gender joking” in the staff room and on being a black woman teacher in a polytechnic—being the “fittest of the fit” as the author calls herself—are powerful examples.


The book begins with the following premises: Gender divisions in teaching are both genuinely puzzling and taken for granted. Previous research has often oversimplified the issues by attributing the gender division in teaching either to individual choice or to the power of social, economic, and political forces. One perspective reinforces stereotypes that women make deliberate, individual decisions to put family over career and nurturance over ambition while the other sees women as victims on whom career patterns are imposed externally. Women have little control over the outcomes of their desires to advance through the ranks, work in the higher phases or age groups, or teach “male” subjects such as physics. The authors attempt to integrate these perspectives and avoid polarization. They credit individual choice, acknowledging that many women choose teaching because they intend to “break” their careers for childrearing, but they show as well the powerful role of expectation, discrimination, and outright prejudice. For example, one chapter documents the channeling of those women who advance into administration into “pastoral” or student counseling positions and the men into academic curriculum leadership roles.


To an American reader, the basic data and findings of the volume are familiar. The patterns of gender division within teaching in England appear to replicate those here, although the extremes appear greater in England. In a wonderfully frank essay on her disastrous first two years as a department chair of social science in a polytechnic, Miriam David recalls her excitement when a woman director is appointed for the institution—a first in England. Immediately things get worse as the presence of two women leaders “escalate[s] the staffs’ fears and uncertainties.” Comments David, “The only readily available model of a woman leader is and was Mrs. Thatcher. In retrospect now I think that we three became indistinguishable in the eyes of the staff of my department” (p. 212).


David’s journey into the male world of academic leadership would not be quite so lonely in the United States today, nor would she find such a paucity of women teaching in the universities that prepare the professoriate. In her introductory chapter, “Rethinking Teachers’ Career,” Sandra Acker, the book’s editor, notes that in universities in England and Wales “2.8 percent of professors are women. . . . In university Departments of Education (including Adult and Continuing Education) in 1986-87, there were only nine women professors and thirty-five readers or senior lecturers in all of England and Wales (UGC, 1987)” (p. 12). If we compare these figures with those of comparable elite institutions in the United States, our figures, while discouraging, are somewhat better.


The familiarity of the story in this volume does not diminish its significance for American readers. Indeed, I do not know of a comparable volume in the United States, although there is, of course, a growing literature on issues of gender and education. Just collecting these studies, and labeling the issues (women teachers’ careers, teacher education and the reproduction of gender divisions, teachers’ attitudes toward gender issues in the curriculum, and the functioning of teacher labor markets) is a major service, but there is much more of interest here. Let me note, by way of example, two quite different issues. First, there are subtle nuances of tone in this scholarship that distinguishes this volume from American scholarship, and makes it distinctly European; second, among the studies there are some genuinely fresh insights into strategies that women teachers might use as we work on the agenda for change which lies ahead.


In regard to the differences in European and American analyses, Kathleen Casey and Michael W. Apple represent the American contribution with an essay on “current dominant discourse” on gender and teaching in the United States: While Casey and Apple’s point is that scholarship today is increasingly “placing women’s own understandings of their experiences at the centre of the research agenda” (p. 181), and that this approach may help us learn the importance of “women’s work”—simple and helpful assertions—the language of the essay is embattled. Set in a context of political struggle against both conservative and mainstream “masculinist” assumptions, Casey and Apple write in a radical scholarly tradition in which such categories as race, class, and gender must always be reaffirmed as legitimate categories of analysis—and so it is in the United States with much of the work on women teachers.


On the other hand, the tone of Teachers, Gender and Careers is nonideological. While there is certainly an agenda for political change implicit here, the work is decidedly mainstream to an American reader. Its matter-of-factness reminded me of seeing at the Inner Education Authority Offices numbers of small pamphlets on race issues and schooling available for sale. Because European scholarship is so much more comfortable with class analysis, the addition of race and gender do not appear to be “political” statements, but merely ways of analyzing divisions in society.


Finally a brief note on strategies for promotions as they are defined in one of the strongest  essays in this volume, Julia Evetts’s work on the internal labor market for primary teachers. Evetts studies married women primary head teachers whose careers began in the expansionist economic and political climate of the late 1960s and 1970s. She notes that “characteristics identified fro promotion success will be applied differently in times of teacher shortage and in times of plentiful teacher supply” (p. 200). As markets contract, geographical stability, continous service (no breaks for childbearing), and post-entry qualification become more important. Furthermore, Evetts concludes that in tight markets women teachers need the sponsorship of “gate keepers,” usually head teachers or principals, and must also actively seek out and organize occupational communities such as teacher networks. These, Evetts’s evidence shows, can make a major difference especially in primary teachers’ career paths. Her essay suggests a fruitful line of research on the processes by which certain individuals or groups of individuals are identified, encouraged, and sponsored for leadership roles.



Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 92 Number 2, 1990, p. 314-316
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 338, Date Accessed: 5/24/2022 6:04:36 PM

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