Editors note: The following is summary of information and expressions of concern voiced by education and/or management researchers, compiled for the Encyclopedia of Educational Research - Sixth Edition, sponsored by the American Educational Research Association and published by Macmillan Publishing Company, in 1992. The text, according to its editor, Marvin C. Alkin of the University of California in Los Angeles, "was designed as a major work of scholarship to enlighten and guide readers on matters relating to educational research for the next decade."
The principle body of work was written by Michael J. Sedlak, of Michigan State University, in his article written for the encyclopedia and entitled History of Teachers and Teaching, on pages 1369-1373. Several supporting references have also been provided. Read and weep at this pathetic tale, for teaching is NOT what you might have thought it was.
"During the Colonial era, and through the mid-nineteenth century, the vast majority of teachers in America were young, white men. There were, of course, some female teachers: women in cities who taught small children the alphabet, for example, or farm girls who managed groups of young students during a community's brief summer session. But when districts recruited schoolmasters to take charge of their winter session scholars—boys and girls of all ages—they commonly hired men for the work. Convinced that good deportment was synonymous with good learning, community leaders believed that women lacked the stature—physical and social—to win or impose the authority and discipline essential to an efficient school.
"Rare were schoolmasters who taught beyond their late 20s... Surviving evidence suggests that the few females who taught typically did so as adolescents, and male teachers largely abandoned their "careers" in education by age 25.
"...They viewed school keeping as temporary work. The defection rate among teachers undoubtedly exceeded 95% within 5 years after entry. Women taught briefly as adolescents before establishing their own households and families as young adults. Young men taught while preparing for other careers--as ministers or lawyers, perhaps--or during agriculture's slow season. Teaching was transient work in America. The rewards were too low, the work brief and seasonal, and other economic opportunities were too great to keep healthy young men committed to careers in education.
"...There is reason to believe that many of the masters who built long-term careers in teaching were largely captives of the occupation. That is, in contrast with other fields open to them, teaching was a haven that offered them some degree of social mobility. A powerful colonial tradition bestowed public service jobs, such as teaching, grave digging and bell ringing, on social dependents who had few employment opportunities. (Rury, 1989; Sedlak, 1989; Sedlak and Schlossman, 1986).
"After the mid-nineteenth century the social composition of the teaching force changed fundamentally, but in a way that actually reinforced problems inherent in the Colonial pattern. By the late 1840's, across all regions in the United States, women were beginning to enter teaching in unprecedented numbers... Religious and social theory about child rearing underwent a substantial change during the early nineteenth century, particularly among the moderate, affluent, and liberal Christian sects in New England and the Mid-Atlantic region. During the Colonial era, male-dominated pedagogy had assumed that children were sinful and possessed an inherent inclination toward evil that had to be controlled with force and intimidation, at least until they were old enough to experience a genuine conversion. 'Christian nurture,' as the new doctrine came to be called, increasing rejected assumptions about innate sinfulness and encouraged a view of children as capable of moving gradually toward the conversion experience that signified salvation... [Then] new pedagogies surfaced to enable teachers to fashion an educational environment that could nurture and guide children instead of controlling them physically or frightening them with images of eternal damnation. The personalities and dispositions of women were assumed to be particularly suited to performing this nurturing function.
"...by 1850 a majority of the nation's teachers (particularly in the Northeast and Mid-west) were women. The 'feminization of teaching,' as this trend has become known, continued through the early twentieth century, by which time roughly four out of five teachers were women. Virtually all teachers in elementary schools—where the greatest expansion occurred—were women. The remaining male stronghold—the high school—was still a small rung on the educational ladder; it was not until after the turn of the century, when teaching conditions began to improve and secondary schooling became increasingly universal, that men began to return to teaching. By the 1930s an overall gender ratio of 70% female to 30% male was achieved; it has remained constant since then (Clifford, 1989; Rury, 1989; Sedlak & Schlossman, 1986).
But the women were really no more likely than their male predecessors to remain in teaching. Their careers in education lasted only about 5 years.
"Not only was teaching unable to retain more than a handful of practitioners for more than a few years, but evidence began to suggest that prospective teachers were among the least academically talented students in their communities. Despite the presence of very bright young women who entered teaching because of limited occupational opportunities, the field was haunted by impressions left by a series of surveys and examinations, namely, that teachers were (in Lewis Terman's painful characterization) 'congenital ninth graders.' This problem worsened after 1940 with the emergence of communities of professional-class families, where parents owed their occupational attainments to their advance educational credentials, which they believed entitled them to condemn the abilities of their children's teachers." (Lanier & Little, 1985; Sedlak, 1989; Warren, 1985).
"Independent of its relationship to transiency in the classroom, the feminization of teaching left the occupation with several legacies. The unstaged career structure and typical school calendar, for example, served the interests of women hoping to integrate work, household, and childrearing responsibilities through intermittent or episodic employment, or through employment that did not require traditional forms of professional commitment. Females willingly encouraged these attributes of teaching as work in order to make the best lives they could for themselves as women, wives and mothers." (Sedlak & Schlossman, 1986).
"Teachers endured other consequences of feminization, even though they were not in the best interests of women. Scholars are beginning to raise the possibility that much of the low status of teaching is attributable not only to the relative weakness of children, but also to the diminished stature of women. Like nursing and social work, teaching has been burdened with an image of 'social housekeeping.' Such 'women's work' becomes both identified as an extension of the domestic sphere and vulnerable to loss of discretion, autonomy, and status... And it is not surprising that historians and labor economists have begun to explore connections between feminization and explicit initiatives (like installing 'teacher-proof' curricula and Individually Guided Education) to 'deskill' teaching by limiting occasions for teachers to use their professional judgment and skills. Scholarship focusing on the relationship is admittedly speculative and tentative, but the hypothesis is provocative enough to merit further research. (Apple, 1995; Clifford, 1989).
"If the knowledge that teachers are expected to acquire suffers from low status or is erroneously presumed to be simpleminded, attracting the most talented students into teaching will be difficult... Just as the rapid increase in female teachers during the last third of the nineteenth century caused the occupation to become more susceptible to tighter administrative control, the image of teaching as a nonintellectual, custodial, overly managed job currently constrains the aspirations of talented practicing teachers and threatens the recruitment of new educators."
Apple, M. W. (1985). Teaching and "women's work': A comparative historical and ideological analysis. Teachers College Record, 86, 445-473.
Clifford, G. J. (1989). Man/women/teacher: Gender, family, and career in American educational history. In D. Warren (Ed.), American teachers: Histories of a profession at work. New York: Macmillan.
Elsbree, W. (1939). The American teacher: Evolution of a profession in a democracy. New York: American Book.
Labaree, D. F. (1989). Career ladders and the early public high school teacher. A study of inequality and opportunity. In D. Warren (Ed.), American teachers: Histories of profession at work. New York: Macmillan.
Lanier, J. E. & Little, J. W. (1985). Research on teacher education. In M. C. Wittrock (Ed.), Handbook of research on teaching. New York: Macmillan.
Lortie, D. C. (1975). Schoolteacher: A sociological study. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Rury, M. W. (1989). Who became teachers? The social characteristics of teachers in American history. In D. Warren (Ed.), American teachers: Histories of a profession at work. New York: Macmillan.
Sedlak, M. W. (1989). Let us go buy a school master: Historical perspectives on the hiring of teachers in the United States, 1750-1980. D. Warren (Ed.), American teacher: Histories of a profession at work.
Sedlak, M. W., & Schlossman, S. (1986). Who will teach? Historical perspectives on the changing appeal of teaching as a profession. Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corporation
Warren, D. (1985). Learning from experience: History and teacher education. Educational Researcher, 14, 5-12.