Parents trust teachers to take care of their children. It’s a relationship built on trust and mutual desire to provide the best for the younger generation.
But how are teachers expected to care for others’ children when they lack the resources to support their own family life?
Dr. Sarah Baker studied this dynamic for her dissertation. Specifically, she studied women school leaders who were also mothers and the challenges they faced in these identities.
With her background and personal experience, she helps teacher candidates understand the complexities of their future role.
Teaching is often seen as a maternal, female role because of the historical conditions teaching developed within.
Prior to public education, most classrooms were led by men. After public education was established, however, there was a new demand for teachers.
“To accommodate to this new need, raising taxes to pay for salary increases for the men was not going to happen,” Baker said. “It wasn’t abbot paying men more. It was that public education for all meant that all children regardless of race or socioeconomic class would receive a free education.”
To accommodate to the influx of students into public classrooms, there was a need for teachers.
“Since there were more students attending school, there was a need for a cheaper work force,” Baker said. “They looked to women because communities could pay women less, since they were unmarried with without children. They didn’t need much money to cover their living expenses, especially when many communities also housed and fed their one-room schoolhouse teacher.”
Baker explained that because once women were married, they were expected to enter the home and get support from their husband. There wasn’t a perceived need to pay women comparably to men.
“When we see that salaries for teaching are still poor, that goes all the way back to that idea that a teacher’s salary was never intended to support a family,” Baker said.
Current policies haven’t changed to meet the financial needs of today’s families.
“Most families need two incomes to provide for their family,” Baker said. “The low pay for teachers is rooted in the past in the history of the beginning of public education and why a low salary was given to women to teach.”
Apart from teachers having low salaries, there are additional concerns when it comes to becoming a mother while being a teacher. Unpaid maternity leave, additional time commitments, finding substitutes while on leave are all real things teachers must navigate on their own.
Being a mother and a teacher
As a mother and previously a kindergarten teacher, Baker understands the struggles that teachers encounter when wanting to start their own families.
“You see statistics that say women are anywhere between 75% or 85% of our nation’s teachers, and yet there are not policies and practice in place that support women in the role of being a mother,” Baker said.
While the community’s parents are trusting teachers to take care of their own children, teachers are often having to make it work as they go.
“The ultimate goal of schools is to support child development in multiple ways whether that’s cognitively, emotionally or socially,” Baker said. “But there has to be some support for teachers who are parents.”
To Baker, it’s about more than just supporting teachers financially. It’s also about supporting them as qualified, valuable professionals.
“It’s all connected with how we raise up the profession,” Baker said. “People need to feel dignified in the work that they’re doing and that their work is able to support their families.”
What’s being done
Baker strives to educate the teacher candidates in her class about the complexities and historical context of women as teachers.
This topic also holds a special place for her because it was her dissertation topic as she pursued her doctoral degree. Since then, she’s continued to see the field evolve and learned more about the system mothers must navigate.
“I’m trying to help my students understand that perspective and help them understand how they can be advocates for policy,” Baker said. “It’s also important to be proactive about those policies. My students may not be thinking about maternity leave now, but they may need it a few years down the road.”
Baker said her own experience in her undergraduate program didn’t touch on those topics.
“I think that’s why it’s so important to me to bring those perspectives to them. It’s important for them to really think about what all this might mean for their future,” Baker said.