Mother teachers living on the edge: idealized conceptions and miserable realities
Pflum, Lisa Mungello
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The goal of this feminist research study was to examine expectations held by society for women who concurrently fill the roles of mother and teacher. This study explored the challenges elementary school teachers face in seeking to combine the role of teacher with the role of mother of young children. A qualitative study consisting of interactions via interviews and online journals was completed over a two-year time frame with three mothers of one of more infant or pre-school children who also taught full-time at the elementary level. In recounting their impressions and experiences juggling these two roles, study participants describe drastic contradictions between how they view their lives and how their lives are lived. They depict their lives as ones which flow seamlessly from one set of responsibilities to other, yet the words they use to describe their day to day experiences reveal conflict, guilt and unease. In order to understand these contradictions, I propose that the lives of mother teachers be viewed in terms of a reality continuum. On one end of this continuum are the idealized, wishful lives of the women, which I refer to as Idealized Conceptions. The other end of the continuum is the reality end, the lives as lived out by the mother teachers- I refer to this end as Miserable Realities. The mother teachers in this study are forced by hegemonic expectations to live their lives at either end of the continuum. Wanting to fulfill societal expectations for them as mothers and teachers, they speak about their lives as if they were lived on the Idealized Conceptions end of the continuum. However, unable to meet these unrealistic and conflicting goals they instead dwell in the land of Miserable Realities. This research is an attempt to reveal the full spectrum of possibility in the lives of mother teachers- the space between Idealized Conceptions and Miserable Realities- and provide and encourage these women to use such alternate language and imagery to reject dwelling on either end of this patriarchal dichotomy and instead search out new possibilities for description and interpretation of their lives.