Child care teachers' perceptions of their work as women's work



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This qualitative study explores six child care teachers’ perceptions of their work as gendered work. The purpose of the study is to understand how the experiences of women child care teachers are connected to the larger issue of gendered teaching embedded in culturally pervasive beliefs about child care teaching. This study answers the following questions: 1) What do child care teachers perceive about their work? 2) How do they conceptualize child care teaching as women’s work? 3) How do they describe the practice of their perceived work as women’s work? Data were collected through in-depth interviews and, following Corbin and Strauss’s (2008) grounded theory methodology, analyzed to find emergent themes. Six themes emerged from the analysis of interview data: 1) child care teaching is not gendered work, 2) child care work is an identification of self, 3) child care teaching is a way of relating to one another, 4) vulnerabilities of child care work, 5) child care is hard work, and 6) contradictions and paradoxes. These themes answer the three research questions. First, these teachers perceive their work to be gender-neutral work, self-identification, mutuality, vulnerabilities, and labor profession. Second, the teachers conceptualize child care work both as gender-neutral and gendered, as creating women’s culture, and as women’s culture being stigmatized. Third, the teachers show paradoxical and inconsistent attitudes about the practice of their perceived child care work as gendered work. The categories about the participants’ conceptions of their work are interrelated and interwoven. They reflect a complexity in the participants’ understandings. The inconsistencies of the teachers’ perceptions reflect the complexity of child care teachers’ reality and their negotiations between dominant beliefs about what child care work means and the elements of their individual and collective experiences that they bring to their profession (Biklen, 1995; Dillabough, 1999, 2005; Murray, 2006; Ryan & Grieshaber, 2005). The findings of this study provide implications for teacher educators. The implications involve the need to utilize contemporary theories and feminist perspectives to better understand the nature of child care teachers’ work and to help teachers develop a critical and more realistic understanding of the nature of their work.