33 SES 05 A, Gender and Teaching During the COVID-19 Pandemic
This paper explores how women as teachers at the compulsory school level in Iceland were affected by the changes caused by the rise of Covid-19 and how they negotiated their professional and personal responsibilities under the pressure of postfeminist and neoliberal ideologies.
Working mothers in Iceland is the norm. Women are 2/3 of University graduates and the main workforce in the care-economy. Still this paper shows that despite having a full job as teachers transforming educational practices due to Covid19 the main responsibility of home chores and upbringing rests heavily on their shoulders. Time is gendered as research has shown (Bryson and Deery 2020). This has become evident during Covid-19 in Iceland as women are on the run trying to live up to all standards, giving no discount despite unprecedented times (Auðardóttir and Rúdólfsdóttir 2020).
The societal discourse on teachers as main agents in educational change and continuous emotional labor reflect hegemonic neoliberal understanding of education as services vital for the competitiveness of students in the future. This is echoed in societal demands on teachers who see themselves as responsible for the care and emotional responsibility of the system instead of seeing the system as something to fix, echoing demands of neoliberal and post-feminist ideologies laid on working women (Olmendo and Wilkins 2016; McRobbie 2013). The data form this study contributes to our understanding of the vital role of women as teachers and mothers in pandemic times under pressure from hegemonic neoliberal ideologies and postfeminist discourse on legitimate womanhood. This paper uses post-structuralist conceptualization of identity as felt, embodied and discursively constructed and performed (Butler 1999; Zembylas 2003). Emotions are seen as interwoven in identity and emotional relations and experiences seen as important factors in self-knowledge and meaning making (Zembylas 2003). Teachers’ identities and experiences are thus influenced by discourses of power and knowledge in society, implicated by politics, regulatory forces and hegemonic ideologies (Foucault 1979).
The study draws on written reflections of 36 teachers collected for five weeks during the first peak of the pandemic in Iceland. Data also consists of open-ended interviews with 7 teachers in order to gain deeper insight into their views and experiences. Reflections from 8 schools in various parts of Iceland were collected. The teachers were all mothers and all had been working as compulsory school teachers for more than 5 years. The participants were recruited through invitation letters sent to 10 teachers in 10 compulsory schools (6-16y students) who were asked to recruit future subjects from among their co-teachers, using the snowball sampling (Braun and Clarke 2013) After providing informed consent, participants were asked to answer a questionnaire consisting of background questions and questions about their experiences at work during in the time of the pandemic. The Interviews took place on the internet on the app: Teams, the interviews consisted of semi-structured and open-ended questions and each interview lasted for 1 – 1 ½ hours. Teachers’ written reflections and typed interviews were analyzed drawing on Braun and Clarke’s (2013) phases of thematic analysis. These texts were read several times, notes written, and the texts coded applying an inductive approach. The initial coding was open and focused on getting to know the participants’ experiences without engaging too much with existing literature and theories. Then codes and text segments were collated to identify repeated patterns of meaning across the data: professional responsibility, anxiety, working demands and work-life balance. Participants were promised confidentiality and that measures would be taken to prevent identification.
The findings imply that, during the first peak of the pandemic, Icelandic teachers were put at the forefront of the society seen as one of the crucial wheels when it came to keep the economy on track. They were expected, due to their care and emotional labor to take care of the wellbeing of their students inside and outside schools. They were also expected to change and develop their teaching methods, make new teaching material and teach for the first time, for many, through the internet. Many of the teachers were mainly worried about students at risk and minimum attendance. They felt enormous responsibilities towards their students as their safe-keepers and mentors. They also experienced lack of professional development resulting in panic and stressful circumstances when it came to tackle new teaching-methods but most tried to be optimistic. As mothers the teachers felt exhausted as they were responsible for their children’s academic homework, making sure they practiced their instruments or sports during restrictive measures. They had become chess and music teachers and sport coaches making sure the children were compatible and keeping up the same learning pace as usual. They reported on doing their best, staying positive and being the best edition of themselves, living up to the standards of perfect motherhood and empowered femininity as reflected in post-feminine discourse (McRobbie 2015) and echoed in neoliberal discourses.
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