Care in the Lives of Women Teachers

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2006-08-03

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Title of Dissertation: CARE IN THE LIVES OF WOMEN TEACHERS

Jennifer Lynn Hauver James, Doctor of Philosophy, 2006

Dissertation directed by: Professor Jeremy Price Department of Curriculum and Instruction

This is a study of care in the lives of six women elementary school teachers. It expands and challenges some of the dominant constructs of care found in the literature that often underplay the dynamic of context, gendered identity and power in the making of caring pedagogies. I chose narrative inquiry as a means to study because I was particularly interested in exploring how these women understand and experience care in their lives as teachers. This approach looks to the three-dimensional space of experience as a source of knowledge and understanding. The pedagogies of care held by these six women reflect their needs to care in particular ways: They see themselves as self-sacrificing, they see care as an isolated act, and they believe they need to look to the authority of others to validate their knowledge and experience. I assert that these understandings of care are informed by dominant patriarchal discourses about womanhood and caring that contribute to their enactments of care as teachers. Through these enactments, I believe these women are unknowingly complicit in the devaluation of their voices and experiences. The culture of the school contributes to these understandings in complex ways. There seems to be a dynamic relationship between these teachers' ability to free themselves from the determination of others and their ability to care for students. I posit that if pedagogies of care are to meet the needs of students and at the same time empower women teachers to name themselves as gendered beings, they will need to be more authentic, critical, collective and inclusive than those explored here. This study complicates traditional constructs of care by drawing on the voice and experience of these women. The findings significantly contribute toward conversations at the intersection of pedagogy and gendered identities. As such, it raises critical questions about how contexts shape our life experience and the meanings we make of that experience as women and as teachers.

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