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Life histories and career decisions of women teachers

Smith, Joan Margaret (2007) Life histories and career decisions of women teachers. PhD thesis, University of Leeds.


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This thesis reports on a life history study of forty women secondary school teachers in England. The aim of the study was to seek women's perceptions of the factors affecting their career decisions, and, as a part of this, to gain insights into the factors affecting the likelihood of women aspiring to, applying for, and achieving headship posts. Interviews were conducted with ten newly qualified teachers, twenty experienced teachers and ten headteachers. Life history was chosen for the scope it offers for allowing participants to define the factors of significance for them, in the context of their lives, rather than responding to a researcher-led agenda. Three spheres of influence on women's career decisions were discernible in the narratives: societal factors, institutional factors and individual factors. These form the basis for the literature review and analysis sections of the thesis. At societal level, key influences included women's maternal and relational roles. The impact of motherhood on career was a particularly strong theme. At institutional level, evidence emerged of endemic sexism and discrimination in the educational workplace. At the individual level, factors influencing career decisions included the women's values and motivation, aspirations and perceptions of school leadership, and personal agency. Relational values and an ethic of care underpinned the women's motivation and influenced their career decisions. Most women teachers derived satisfaction from pupils' achievements and positive relationships with pupils and colleagues. For many, this translated into a preference for classroom teaching rather than school leadership careers. Most teachers would not consider headship as a career and harboured a set of negative perceptions of the post, which contrasted starkly with the very positive view of it painted by the headteachers themselves. Headteachers perceived themselves as agents of change, ideally placed to promote pupil-centred values and ensure school effectiveness through positive relationships. Two types of narrative were identifiable. Some women saw their careers as defined largely by factors external to themselves, whilst others positioned themselves as agent in the narrative, seeing their careers as self-defined and self-powered. Again, headteachers differed from other teachers in having politicised identities, which drove career decisions. I argue that women's awareness of their own potential for agency, and the degree to which they exert it in their approach to career, within the constraints and limitations of their lives, emerge as key factors influencing both career decisions and personal satisfaction.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Academic Units: The University of Leeds > Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law (Leeds) > School of Education (Leeds)
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.441191
Depositing User: Ethos Import
Date Deposited: 12 Jan 2012 14:26
Last Modified: 07 Mar 2014 11:14
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/2051

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