Busting the maternal myth: Why women become teachers

I’m writing this report on the eve of International Women’s Day and while it will be read after the event, I trust its sentiments do not have a use-by date or are anachronistic.

Sometimes, it’s difficult being female and a teacher. Currently the teaching profession is female-dominant, and it is no surprise that it is still the lowest paid of many professions (recent pay rises in government and non-government schools have helped in some respects), but it continues to flounder as a choice career path for both females and males. The status is low relative to other money-making, illustrious professions. You don’t enter teaching for the money!

While teaching may be attractive to women (“Is this a stereotype?” you may be thinking, look at the patriarchy for an answer) think parental leave, personal leave, job flexibility, all those wonderful school holidays being with kids, parents, elderly aunts … it has become increasingly difficult balancing work and family life. For some, we have our own children, then have the responsibility of another group of parents’ and carers’ children.

Caring for, nurturing and teaching children is not innate or “natural” for women. We don’t possess special genes or maternal skills; nor are we more comfortable with children in our midst.

We are learned, intelligent, highly functioning individuals, with bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees, specialists in our fields of physics, economics, mathematics, STEM, TAS, English etc.

Primary school teachers and teachers in the early childhood education and care sector are not imbued with extra doses of “love” for other people’s children. We are teachers because we genuinely believe that making a difference to the lives of students is an important, fundamental job in society. We have the power, in our respective classrooms, to create the citizens of tomorrow. That’s one hell of a job!

I became a teacher by default – a fall-back position, you may say. It was in my early years at university that I realised that teaching children was transformative. A metamorphosis occurs when darkness becomes light, when words become practice, when knowledge becomes understanding.

In the ensuing years, I have helped shape (teaching is a collaborative process) students’ adult lives: a political speechwriter; a flight attendant; an intensive-care nurse; a beauty pageant winner; a commercial, legal strategist; an architect; a nun; a Rhodes scholar and a smattering of teachers. Not bad.

In those moments of cynicism and defeat, when the piles of marking are seemingly self-propagating or mindless, useless paperwork has a life of its own, and someone just has to adjust the thermostat in the staffroom, I remember why I entered teaching – not because I’m a woman who looked for a cushy job feeding my maternal desires, but because I am great at what I do, and society is all the better for it.

Happy belated International Women’s Day!