*Marilia Carvalho

Since the 1980s, a debate about the professional identity of female elementary and middle school teachers has existed in Brazil. Nevertheless, almost without exception, this debate fails to acknowledge that the fact that most of the teachers are women has consequences on this identity and on the ways teachers organize their work. Even when the debate does take this aspect into consideration, there is a tendency in the studies to emphasize exclusively the negative consequences of this feminization in teaching. This chapter approaches feminization as a process that has both positive and negative consequences for the organization of teaching and for the professional identity of the female teachers. It is based on empirical material collected through ethnographic research performed in a public elementary and state middle school in São Paulo.

In this ethnographic research,2 I observed that the discourse and attitudes of the female teachers, the way they perceived teaching, the manner in which they organized their time and space, as well as the relations they established with the children and with the children's mothers, all had domestic life as a reference point; that is, housework, motherhood, and the overall socialization of women in the home. I observed also that without this understanding, the teachers' attitudes and practices would be incomprehensible, illogical or without meaning. However, the main focus of this research is on the relationships the female teachers established with school administrators and parents of the students. At first, I did not perceive the need to establish a link between the domestic work of the female teachers and their professional actions. This need began to emerge along with the theoretical construction of the explanations and generalizations about what was being observed. For this reason, neither systematic observations in the classroom nor observations in the homes of female teachers or staff were performed. These observations would have allowed the examination of a wider range of questions raised by the home-school relationship. Such questions would have included, for example, the consequences of this relationship for learning or for the relationships between female teachers and students of both genders.

The Domestic Style of the School

School and family are somehow two competing institutions in the sense that both are thought of as being responsible for the education of children. The boundaries between the family's responsibilities, especially those of the mother, and the responsibilities of the teachers are not well defined. At the same time that the child is considered the center of the family and motherhood as a function of the private life, the child is perceived as a citizen, future worker, reproducer, and as an object of public institutions, such as the school.

This ambiguity is even more serious if we consider that our schools function in a way that blurs the public dimension of educationCthe schoolCand its private dimensionCthe home. In addition to the well-known saying among female teachers that the school is an extension of the home, we also observe an organizational style of work based on improvising, on the simultaneous exercise of different tasks and on the constant interchange of functions. This "style" is due to the lack of resources, staff and equipment, which requires that every professional perform a diversified range of tasks for which in many cases he/she has not been trained. At the same time, it is also a consequence of the kind of abilities and knowledge to which the women responsible for the functioning of the schools have access: their abilities for domestic and motherhood work, for which they are primarily socialized, as are the majority of women in our society. As Fulvia Rosemberg and Tina Amado point out, we do in fact frequently find features of domestic work in school work: "the attention dispersed by the many tasks, the accumulation of simultaneous functions, the improvisation and the temporary interchange of functions" (1992, 70).

This relationship is hidden in most of the studies about the work of teachers primarily because many authors do not acknowledge that most of the teachers are women, in spite of very clear statistics (Bruschini and Amado 1988). In the public schools of the state of São Paulo, for example, the percentages of women in 1990 were: supervisors: 72.3 percent; principals: 76 percent; assistant principals: 79.5 percent; middle or high school teachers: 75.5 percent; elementary school teachers: 97.2 percent; secretaries: 81.8 percent; accountants/bookkeepers: 85.7 percent; supervisors of students: 80.8 percent; support staff: 87.8 percent (Departamento de Recursos Humanos da Secretaría de Estado da Educacao, 1990). A second reason is, as Edith Piza points out, that the studies on women's work in general have ignored the interference of domestic work in the other activities exercised by women:

Domestic work is socially and culturally understood as defining the so called feminine activities and, nevertheless, it has always been an isolated object of study, without taking into consideration the impact of its presence on the lives of the majority of women, and in the activities performed by them. (1992, 2)

In the case of teaching, there are only a few studies which take into consideration the double work shifts of the women teachers (Madeira 1982).

In this chapter I attempt to provide an understanding of the work of women educators in schools by using as a point of reference domestic work, motherhood, and the household world of family relationships as a point of reference. In the school I observed, which we will call "Silvio Gardini School,"3 I could see, for example, the principal defrosting the school's freezer; teachers working simultaneously with two classes; and mothers of students performing tasks under the purview of school staff, such as those regularly conducted by secretaries, janitors, and student supervisors. The tasks of domestic work and motherhood of the women educators were constantly present in the school: teachers who lived near the school would do their grocery shopping during their working hours; they went to their houses to pick up clothes hung outside to dry when it looked as though it was going to rain; and they used hours when they were not teaching to go home to feed their babies. In conversations in the teachers` room, they would exchange recipes, decoration ideas, information about where the best sales were, and sometimes even buy clothes, if any of the female teachers and staff were selling them. The female teachers, principals, and staff brought their children to school many times, especially during meetings and parties (on Saturdays) or during school days close to a vacation. In these cases, they would divide their attention between the task they were performing and their own children.

The teachers' conversations during their free time or during meetings often involved domestic issues. Most of the time the topics of conversation were related to the areas society reserves for women: children, family, fashion, sex, and cooking. Many times cakes and pies, photo albums, magazines, lingerie and earrings, necklaces and bracelets, and samples would be passed around for sale during meetings. Female teachers made the school space similar to their own domestic space: they would invite people into their offices (or into "their" kitchen, in the case of the cooks) as if they were in their own homes; they would decorate their desks, their windows, and their bookshelves. In short, the way the school functioned and its activities were generally marked by domestic features, reflecting how the female teachers had been socialized and how the home was the center of their lives.

These characteristics allow us to situate the school, as female teachers live it, as a point in transitionCneither completely public nor completely domestic. In my view, the school in Brazil can be perceived as one of the social spaces occupied by women where they have been able to exercise some degree of power and social influence. Excluded for many years from the public and political dimensions of society, as well as from a great part of the labor market,4 women seem to have made schools a kind of safe area within the structures of the subordination of their gender. Thus, for the female teachers, the professional work in the school appears as an extension of their domestic role, of mothers and housewives, which has consequences on how the schools function, on the pedagogic relationships, on the administration, and on the relationships among female teachers and between female teachers and mothers of students. These effects, as we will argue next, are not necessarily negative.

Differences Among the Female Teachers in Daily School Life

In the Silvio Gardini School, the principal and her assistants, as well as 81 percent of the professionals there were female. Only among the teachers of the fifth to eighth grades was the proportion of women lowerC53 percent (7 women and 6 men), a situation similar to the public schools in the state of São Paulo as a whole. These professionals performed different types of functions, worked in three different shifts, had different positions in the hierarchy, and had different types of professional links to the state (e.g., direct and indirect contracts, competition processes, etc.).5 Because of the way the school shifts operateCthe first shift serving younger students and the second shift the older onesCthe female teachers grouped themselves according to their training degrees, age, and teaching experience. This created strong differences between the groups in each shift. In addition, the school work was organized differently in each shift, making the gap between the way schools work during the morning shift and the night shift even greater.

A greater division prevailed that split the teaching body even further at all levels: the division between the female teachers for first to fourth grades and the female teachers for fifth to eight grades. Thus, a traditional separation between the elementary and middle school grades created, in an abrupt way, two very different cultures among the teachers, in spite of the existence of Law 5692 of 19716 which consolidated eight years of schooling into a single school. The difference between these two levels of courses and the teachers was reflected in the continued use of the old names, "primario" (elementary) and "ginasio" (middle school), and was marked by the use of a bureaucratic denomination to distinguish the two types of teachers: Professores-1 and Professores-2 (Teachers-1 and Teachers-3). It was also common to hear the female elementary and middle school teachers referred to as "o P-1" and "o P-3"--the masculine form.7

Two classic studies about the Brazilian public school have shown the different characteristics of these two groups of teachers at the end of the 1950s. They make reference to two historically construed models of teaching. Luis Pereira, in his study of an elementary school in the urban region of São Paulo during 1958-1959, describes the "good elementary teacher" in this manner:

The `good' primary teacher has great devotion to the students, feeling somewhat the `owner' of his/her function and of the children in his/her classroom.... He/she solves everything alone, and seeks help only from the principal in extreme cases. In this sense, he/she conceives of the school as a conglomerate of classes, each one of them very independent from the others and semi-independent in relation to the administration. (Pereira 1967, 78)

In contrast, the teachers from middle school were supposed to have a more global vision of the school and establish a more distant relationship with it, becoming less involved with the community, the students, and their families. This is what João Batista Borges Pereira observed in a night shift at a public middle school at the periphery of São Paulo in the years 1959-60:

Some [teachers] live in the center of the city (downtown), others in the south zone of the city and go the Vila Flavia [the neighborhood of the schools] only at night to teach. Very few are the ones who have seen the school and the community in the daytime. (Pereira 1969, 82)

In 1990, these two different models of professional performance still existed in the Silvio Gardini School. Third grade teacher Leila, for example, when talking about her work almost repeats Luis Pereira's words:

I don't let what comes from the outside affect my class. Because I think that in my classroom it's just me and I am not interested in what comes from there, what they come to know; I don't let this affect me. My students do [what I think is best]; this is my position.

The working relationship of the P-1 teachers was personal: it was their students and their classrooms. They frequently made references to "their" students, or "one of my" students when talking about them: "There is a student who was mine until she got to the fourth grade"; "I'll be right back, I'm going to tell my students."

On the other hand, middle school (P-3) teachers had a very impersonal working relationship. The middle school teachers did not have their classrooms or their students. In the class meetings and in the pedagogical meetings with the parents, for example, the students were called by their numbers and frequently the teachers did not know who they were talking about:

Meeting of the 5th-grade committee, third quarter: Jerusa: Number 1: does not present any problem. Number 2: is at risk in Portuguese, right, Vania? Vania: Right. .... Jerusa: Number 15: this kid is naughty. Look. After the remedial sessions he improved. Mario, Nice, and Vania: It is a girl, it's Edna. .... Jerusa: Number 21: how is she doing? Mario: It's not a she, it's a he; it is Fabio. Nice: Which Fabio? Vania: Number 21--it is the blonde Fabio. Number 22 is Fabio from Chagas, the one who is repeating the grade, who sits right next to the window.

For the middle school female teachers, the school was an impersonal and transitory site, and they constantly made efforts to identify themselves with it. Their own spaces, for example, were limited to the bookshelves inside the teachers` room and many of these gray bookshelves were decorated with pictures, drawings and other materials such as newspaper and magazine clippings.

A Feminine Professional Model

The differences between the models of the elementary and middle school teachers can be explained by the different organization of work in the lower grades (elementary) and higher grades (middle school). The typical work of an elementary teacher consists of being the teacher of a class of the same students for the entire year. The work of the middle school is organized by subject. Thus, teachers in the middle school must interact with hundreds of students of different grades and ages. The time, space, and work rhythm as well as the possibilities for autonomy and self-control are different in these two school levels. Various explanations for this can be advanced: differences in the student's ages, requiring diversified pedagogical relationships; a higher rate of new teachers in the middle school; differences in their places of residence, in the type of pedagogical formation, in their life trajectory and professional expectations; and ingrained traditions about the concept of work. In this respect, it is interesting to highlight an additional aspect related to the former: the differences in the degree of feminization of the two groups of teachers. In the Gardini middle school, there were 6 male teachers out of a total of 13, while in the elementary school there was only 1 male teacher among the 29 teachers.8

Studies done by female educators in Brazil in the 1980s to understand the connection between gender and teaching conveyed a very negative vision of female elementary teachers, but they did not present any critique of the professional model adopted as a reference. According to this perspective, the presence of a majority of females at the elementary school level leads to a maternal, strictly affective conception of pedagogical work in which female teachers mix profession and family life and perceive themselves as "second-mothers" or "aunts" of the students. Maria Eliana Novaes, for example, states:

Traditionally, the female teacher in the schools was seen as a `second mother.' Today, it is very common to call them `aunts.' It seems that the female teachers have internalized this perspective which sees the school as a new home. They commonly refer to the school as `the house'.... After all, the female teacher needs to feel `at home.' She assumes the role of `mother' or of `aunt,' identifying herself as an `adopted relative` of the children rather than as their teacher. (Novaes 1984, 105-6).

Paulo Freire (1994) has recently reopened the discussion of this identification between teacher and aunt, emphasizing once again the losses which it may represent for the professional identity of the female teachers: accept the `aunt' identification does not provide any positive value. It means, on the contrary, the taking away of something fundamental to the teacher: her professional responsibility.... [It] is almost like saying that female teachers, like good aunts, must not fight, must not rebel, must not go on strike. (11-12, emphasis in original)9

The same terms that are used by these authors appear in the discourse of the female principal of the Gardini school. Jerusa, a middle school teacher and principal, who never taught at the elementary school level and identifies herself with the P-3 group at the school, stated:

It is hard to judge someone as irresponsible, but they [the elementary level teachers] feel they are more responsible than the P-3 group, they are more motherly. I said: `A teacher does not have to be a mother; the practice of being called 'aunt' must end; a professional is a professional. He/she has to have an affective relationship but the relationship has to be one of teacher and student; it is not right to be an aunt'... I can have a very friendly teacher-student relationship without having to be supermom.

There is an implicit criticism of the professional competence of the elementary level teachers in these remarksCthat these teachers are compensating for an alleged incompetence with a maternal posture. Guiomar Namo de Mello makes this criticism more explicit when talking about common sense and teaching practices at the primary level (first to eighth grades):

When we don't know what to do, we love.... I am not denying the affective dimension in teaching. Like any activity which involves human relationships, teaching will always include this dimension. However, when this dimension is absolute, it is very likely that it is being used as a way to avoid, via feelings, problems which require the competence of a specialist. (Mello 1987, 117)

Based on this type of argumentCa position which sets professional competence and a feminine model of teaching as mutually exclusiveCprofessionalism and domesticity cannot be fruitfully combined. However, I did not observe incompetence in the Gardini school. Some of the female teachers who demonstrated the most confidence, flexibility, and disposition to learn and innovate in their work would correspond to the maternal model of the elementary teacher. Jerusa, the principal, showed later in her discourse that in the school there was no incompatibility between being professional and having a maternal attitude, that the problem to which she had referred to as "lack of professionalism" existed in all the grades and had other origins: lack of a solid pedagogical formation and difficulty in obtaining professionals due to the very low wages. That is, in spite of the dominance of their maternal posture toward children and the peculiar way they viewed their work, there were, among the elementary teachers as well as among the middle level teachers, both good and bad educators. And the use of affection did not have a direct relation to weak professional training.

When the elementary teachers talked about their differences in relation to the P-3 teachers, the comparison to the role of mother and the reference to the domestic world remained linked to the type of work structure (teachers in the classroom) and to the tradition of elementary level teaching, reminding us of Clara, an elementary teacher described by Luis Pereira:

The P-1 is just that, a teacher from the 1st up to the 4th grade. The old P-1 teacher sounds like this: `This class is mine, 35 students are mine.' Then, those 35 students were her property. It is as if they are her own children when they do something wrong out there: `Whose student are you, dear? Do you know?' `I am a student of Mrs. Clara.' Thus, it is the teacher Clara who did not teach well. It has always been like this in the teaching life, hasn't it? The student who is doing something wrong outside is a reflection of the teacher who did not teach him/her better. Just like the bad son/daughter. The son/daughter who is throwing rocks at the neighbor reflects the lack of education of his/her mother. If we were talking about the 5th or 6th grade it would not be like this. `Are you from the 5th-A or -B?' It is not the teacher.

Only very recently have some studies in Brazil been concerned with investigating the relationships among domestic work, motherhood, and teaching (Piza 1992; Rosemberg 1992). From the historical point of view, Eliane Marta Teixeira Lopes has shown the obvious overlapping of the images of teacher and of mother in Brazilian pedagogical discourse:

The truth, seen throughout history, is that there has always beenCeven when we could still not talk about feminization of teachingCa strong association between teaching work, when performed by a woman, and motherhood. Throughout time, women in their teaching tasks were expected to be as spiritual mothers, or intellectual mothers or simply mothers. (1991, 37)

Almost no empirical material about the discourse and current educational practices in the schools was collected. Thus, some of the statements made here should probably remain as questions to be answered: to what extent does "mothering" in the female teacher's job contribute to making the construction of a clear professional identity more difficult? In what ways (e.g., by invoking abnegation and a spirit of sacrifice) is this identity constantly reinforced by the official discourses interested in maintaining low salaries and precarious working conditions among the teachers? To what extent can female teachers perceive themselves as the carriers of knowledge acquired for the education of children, knowledge that goes beyond their technical school formation and is at the same time not naturally derived from their femininity?

I believe that it is necessary to look at the work of the elementary school teachers with less prejudice than has most of the academic research to date. To consider that the only, or best, way to act as a professional is by a radical separation of remunerated work and personal life, means to consider as the only, natural, or ideal professional model one that has been historically and culturally constructed. It means turning the model of paid work by the male segment of our society into a universal and unquestionable model. Recent studies of masculine identity have begun to question that model, showing that it is socially constructed and that the separation it proposes has substantial cost for the masculine personality. A good example is the work of Socrates Nolasco (1993), which states: "Work, for men, has a cartographic dimension, since it sets a dividing line between public and private lives" (50).

The actions of the female elementary school teachers must be seen as a teaching model constructed by hard work throughout the history of teachers' movements and throughout the history of women's paid work; as a markedly feminine way of organizing tasks and of relating to students; and as a practice based on many years of work in the schools, one which may contain forms of resistance to external control and to restrictions to the autonomy of the female teacher. Perhaps those female teachers who identify themselves as "aunts" are also fighting for their rights, but doing so in different ways from those dictated by the labor unions or other institutions more linked to the public sphere. Could it not be possible to interpret teacher Leila's opposition to everything that "came from the outside" in this way? When the teachers close their classroom door, they can decide autonomously what to do with their time, their space, how to pace their work, and what teaching methods to use, unlike the female middle school teachers from the same school who have to obey a pre-established schedule and are more subjected to the 45-minute rhythm of the school bell and to the interference of technicians and specialists.

At the same time, would not the middle school teachers at the Gardini school, with their impersonal relations with students, have something to learn from the maternal posture of their elementary school peers? The personal and affective style of professionalism developed by the elementary level teachers can be seen as an antidote to the bureaucracy, the depersonalization, and the lack of commitment which currently ruin the quality of education offered in our schools. Etelvina Sandoval Flores (1992) in her ethnographic research on Mexican female teachers found the nourishing maternal characteristic not only in their discourse but also in their teaching practices, reflected through a "peculiar disposition to manage their class, meaning that such aspects as the formation of habits and attitudes had priority" (67). This author shows the ambiguity of meanings in motherhood, which can move from the reaffirmation of the most traditional attributes of women in our society to a professional self-valuing strategy, once the communities where they work perceive them and value them as devoted professionals. She shows also that the maternal posture can have beneficial results for education due to the sense of responsibility and commitment to children it conveys. This may lead educators to seek a better technical preparation and training and to exert a greater effort in performing their tasks.

Affection, Fear, and Silence

Even though dedication to schoolCwhich generally means working outside the regular school hoursCused to be a very common characteristic among professionals in the Silvio Gardini School, it had different manifestations. For the elementary school teachers this dedication was closely related to the affective, maternal relationship with their students. It was mainly a devotion to Amy students," more than to the school as a whole, or to the profession, or to an ideal. They did not deprive themselves of a personal involvement with their classes, an involvement characterized by being affective or aggressive, happy or frustrated, proud or dismayed.

Affection, an emotional and personal filter and a common element in the domestic sphere, prevails in a world where abstraction is subordinated to emotion. For example, in an interview my attention was caught by how many times a young female elementary teacher repeated the adjective "gostoso" (enjoyable), in both affirmative and negative statements, to describe a wide range of experiences such as the school and her participation in the teachers union, her class, and her experience in college. On other occasions, I observed issues which seemed very broad being "translated" in terms of personal relationships, as the following segment of an interview with Maria Alice, an elementary teacher, shows:

Question: "What do you think about the different school shifts?"

Maria Alice: "Do you mean differences in the relationships? Are you talking ... about us? In the morning there are very nice people, they are very cool...."

The relationships among educators tended to be personal:

You get very used to the people; that group over there is a very good one, not only as working peers, but even outside of work. If you have any problem, everybody is there ready to help you. I think that is very important. (Soraya, elementary teacher)

Because Jerusa [the principal] stays in the school mostly during the morning shiftCduring the afternoon she stays only on Wednesdays--what I feel lacking is a more personal contact between the principal and the teachers. (Denise, elementary teacher)

Intuition and affection were structuring elements in the world vision of these teachers. I would even say that first they felt the world.

When I state that the emotional and personal prevail over the abstract and formal, I am not disqualifying the world vision of these teachers, since I do not believe in the superiority of one model over another. I only highlight this differenceCso characteristic of the sexual division in our societyCto show how women are socialized mainly to accept life at home and to develop the experiences of affection and primary and informal relations (Chodorow 1979). I would like to point out that many of the interpretations, attitudes, and solutions applied by those female teachers to their students and used in their work at school are incomprehensible outside this reference.

Among the feelings which marked these women, there was one that seemed to gain more importance the more I got to know them: fear. The word fear, and its euphemismsCdistrust and reluctanceCwere repeatedly used in different circumstances:

Now I don't even use the school's scissors; I am afraid. I bring my own scissors from home, which I always carry in my purse. (Comment by an elementary teacher in reference to a pair of scissors that had disappeared)

I am afraid to go downtown alone [São Paulo]; I already got lost once. You have to travel by train. I don't know my way around very well. (Elementary school teacher, on a day in which the union called for a public demonstration)

We now try to talk less.... I don't know if it is fear but I'll say something and suddenly another person will disagree with what I said. (Soraya, elementary school teacher)

I came to this school to substitute for a teacher who was ill. I had to teach first grade and I believe that to teach a first grade, it is one of the grades which demands the most responsibility. I was really feeling a little bit scared. (Denise, elementary school teacher)

Fear, in most situations, is human and understandable, but sometimes it produces irrational traits and threatens to crystallize itself as a posture against the world. At times, fear would paralyze the teachers and would make the whole group present a defensive attitude, especially when facing new proposals or critiques related to their work. In some teachers the difficulty to learnCand teachCseemed to be directly linked to the fear of new things, taking risks, and dealing with the unknown.

This traditional, defensive posture would express itself in the attribution of problems to others. The "others" could be the student's family, other schools, the experts from the school district (Delegacia de Ensino), the general state of education, other teachers, or even the other shift within the school. In general, an accusation of the "other" was made in such a way as to present the teachers in the situation as passive victims of circumstance, which at the same time would take away their responsibility and the possibility for them to act upon the situation. In a meeting of the first school shift, for example, when facing criticism from the principal, they attacked the school district, the working conditions, "other teachers, who were born retired," and even strongly criticized the teachers from the second shift, who were not present at the meeting. In a number of personal stories, some key decisions, such as entering the teaching career or moving from cities or neighborhoods, were always attributed to others and the teacher ended up appearing like a victim of her own life:

Then, when I got married, my husband told me: "You studied to be a teacher, go and work as a teacher [laughter]. Go teach." And I had never even worked.... These days it's: "If you are going to take care of the house, what are you going to be doing the rest of the time? So, at least go and find a job." So, I did, right? (Clara, elementary teacher)

The teachers themselves, however, or at least some teachers, showed ways to break this circle of fear-defensiveness-accusation-victimization-passivity-fear. In the same meeting where much of the mutual accusation was taking place, for example, one teacher, Elisete, made a courageous and extremely subtle statement. When the topic under discussion was over, she addressed the principal: "Jerusa, I would like you to give me three minutes to share something about which I feel guilty." She told a story about a student who had not attended for 45 days and ended up failing math with her. She said that she regretted failing him and considered that the type of test she made was in error. Elisete's surprising statement, spoken in a tone of self-criticism and whose content had no direct relation to the other topics discussed in the meeting, seemed to me a very profound and appropriate critique in that meeting, where until that moment no one had admitted making any mistakes, even though they had made many important criticisms of instances higher in the school bureaucracy and of the general teaching conditions.

The big insecurity revealed by the female teachers, as well as their difficulty in getting involved in any evaluation of their work, seems to be related to their precarious professional identity. As women, in spite of the fact that their profession is predominantly female, they almost always incorporate messages of inadequacy of the feminine gender into their paid professional activities. In their socialization, they were prepared mainly for motherhood and domestic work and learned to be insecure and fearful especially in public spaces. In spite of the marked presence of domesticity inside the school, the female teacher still maintains, and it could not be otherwise, elements of her public character. Female teachers appear to be frightened, especially outside their classrooms. Regarding evaluation of their work, they can hardly count on their technical teacher training, which in most cases is precarious and directed toward domesticity and motherhood. While teaching, they face extremely bad working conditions and do not have social prestige. They are seen as second category professionals, missionaries, or amateurs. Thus, they frequently question their own ability and competence and are extremely vulnerable to any criticism related to their work.

Within this context, the main solutions for ending this fear, enabling them to experiment with new ideas, also seem to be associated with affection and with personal experiences:

Last year, at the time of the strike, the group at this school was different, the girls from the third [period] were a very nice group ("grupo super-gostoso"). We would all go to all the meetings, everybody would go together, it was a great group, everybody would stick together, and this would really bring us closer to one another. Every day, little by little, you become more conscious, you start learning not to be afraid. (Denise, elementary school teacher)

Another marked characteristic of the elementary teachers of the Gardini school was silence. Most of them would never speak at the meetings or in conversations with larger groups. They would restrict themselves to talking very softly with colleagues seated next to them while one or two "more talkative" teachers would express themselves, representing the whole group. Apparently, they abdicated their right to dispute power arrangements and to influence decisions; furthermore, they did not feel obliged to take a clear position in these disputes.

Fatima, a former principal of the school, expressed what she thought about the elementary school teachers:

You see, the P-1 is a problem for the school. Do they participate less? I don't know. They just stay aside, they don't go deep. Because, for example, the P-3 boycotts you, fights, gets upset, or are by your side working with you. I don't see this in the P-1. So, the P-1 is an unknown entity, really.... Their participation is cold, as if they were not very excited. They don't want to get involved much with anything. They want to be neutral--that's the term they use.

Actually, the teachers' distance and silence seemed to me not an abdication of power but a very typical feminine strategy in our society to resist the power directly facing them: "We prefer doing to talking. Talking is very difficult." (Patricia, elementary school teacher)

Elementary teachers had a reasonable level of autonomy in their classrooms, they tended to perceive the school as a conglomerate of relatively independent classes, and they had difficulty joining discussions and making decisions in larger groups. In general they would listen to the discussion and to the decisions, vote when necessary, and then act according to what they thought was right. Their silence rarely meant agreement, resignation, or even impotence. In general, it meant disinterest or disdain for those discussions, which--they could predict--would have little influence on their work. For them, meetings and groups with many people emerged as instances of the public sphere, where they did not feel very comfortable, even though most of the people there were women. Their classrooms, on the other hand, were perceived as part of the domestic sphere, as extensions of their homes and there they seemed to feel comfortable enough to exercise their full autonomy.

The school workers--janitors, cooks, secretaries, file clerks, student monitors--were mostly women. They constituted, therefore, the group that was most strongly linked to the community and to the students' families, with whom they shared socio-economic and residential conditions, in addition to being themselves mothers of students. These workers had an ambiguous situation in relationship to the school. Sometimes they would act as members of the school bureaucracy, but more often they would act as part of the community which the school served.

Regarding the participation of school workers in the formal decision-making bodies (the school committee and the parent-teacher associations), the number of female staff members who had never participated was high: 56 percent (9 out of 16). The observations indicated that a small number of the female staff were close to the power and decision-making sites. These were friends and perceived as trustful persons by the school administration. Most of them, however, felt excluded. The way they participated in formally established committees contributed very little to change the situation. Dona Elisa, an office assistant and one of the oldest staff members in the school, when asked about the School Committee elections of that school year, explained:

One person selects the other. Among the staff one person chooses the other person... This year it was like this: there was a need of ... oh, I don't remember how many staff members. Anyway, then they [the principal and her secretary] came and asked me: do you want to continue working? I said: yes. So, I did, right?

In general, the two representatives of the office assistants (who had worked at the school for many years) would sit together at School Committee meetings and would talk very little, mostly about subjects related to their own work. Among the staff members, the level of knowledge about the way the School Committee operated, as well as about the mechanisms of representation or even who the representatives were, was very limited.

In spite of the fact that these peoples' work is not centered on the teaching/learning relationship, they doubtlessly perform a very relevant role in the socialization process of the students, in that broader process of transmitting values and attitudes. This dimension of their work, however, is disavowed in the school's everyday life, even by the female staff workers themselves. This failure to acknowledge the educational character of their actions reinforces the assumption that they do not need any type of previous or permanent training. This is what Lucilia, the mother of a student, questions in a very appropriate way:

The school workers should at least be trained better. The fact that she is a school janitor does not mean that she does not deserve to have a course about how to treat the students, about how she should relate to the students. Sometimes the cook and janitor of the schools treat the student as if they were interacting with any child they happen to run into. But they work in education! The example has to come from above, it should come from them. It is not only the teacher but everybody who interacts with the student who has to participate in pedagogical meetings to know how to go about... you know? I think that everybody should be there....

In the absence of such formal training, these workers would resort to what they had learned during their socialization as women and particularly in their preparation for and practice in motherhood: how to deal with the children and concepts about education, childhood, discipline, etc.

When I got know the staff better, their problems and perspectives, I could perceive that most of the female teachers and the school administration knew little about these women and about the stories they had told me. Obviously, this made it difficult for their points of view to be taken into account by the school administration. Even simple information would circulate in awkward ways:

Just recently I went to talk to my daughter's teacher and she did not know I worked in the school. She was surprised when I told her I worked here. (Dona Elisa, office assistant)

In the teachers' room, the comments about the staff workers had a tone of inferiority, as though someone of superior status were talking about a subordinate and, in general, they involved complaints. The teachers would complain about the nasty mood of the cooks and student monitors, they would complain that the staff did not do their work well, and that they did not perform school practices in a manner appropriate to their positions. One of the student monitors came near the window yelling at a child, and teacher Clara commented that she has a bad temper:

She is like that and this is only the beginning of the year; can you imagine her by the end of the year? One day she came into my classroom without asking permission. Can you imagine! I am going to complain to Neide [administration assistant].

In general, the relationship between the staff, on one hand, and the teachers and principals, on the other, follows the pattern of relationships between housewives and maids. Luis Pereira observed this same thing in an elementary school he analyzed:

The inferior position of the staff, in relation to the teachers and principal, is due not only to their lower position in the school hierarchy, but also--and mainly--due to their socio-economic status. Thus, the representation of the `good' worker has much of the connotation of the `good' maid. (Pereira 1967, 86)

What the author emphasizes is that, once again, the relationships established in the school are based exclusively on references constructed in the domestic sphere, leading to the reproduction of the housewife-maid pattern.

The socio-economic distance between the teachers and the staff in the school observed by Pereira was greater than that observed in the Gardini School. This can be explained by the fact that the latter occurred in 1990, when a constant wage reduction for teachers was taking place.10 However, even when there was an approximation in terms of living conditions, the symbolic distance remained the same: the teachers would demand from the staff the kind of respect that comes from subordinates, they would supervise and criticize their work, and they considered it natural that the workers should carry out personal services for them not included in their formally established functions, such as preparing meals or relying messages to their homes.

It is likely that the difficulties encountered in attempts to merge the unions of teachers and school staff stemmed largely from the housewife-maid relationship pattern which has been so long a part of the schools, so strongly rooted in the Brazilian society as a whole, and so characteristic of the relationships between middle-class women and working class women. These difficulties in relating between the staff union (Afuse) and the teachers' union (Apeoesp) are reported by a teacher who is a union activist and one of those who tried hard to give value to the work of the staff:

Sometimes we try to discuss the issue of unification of Afuse with Apeoesp and they [the staff] say that they don't agree with that.... They think that the Apeoesp has its own set of demands and so does the Afuse. I think we are all in the same boat, but they don't agree, you know? (Mario, middle-school teacher)

Besides revealing the difficulties in the union's goals for addressing the differences and the specific and collective interests within the group of those who are "in the same boat," Mario's speech shows us how distant the union discourse, centered on the public universe of formal and impersonal relations, was from the women's frame of reference, not only regarding the issue of unification, but in many situations observed in the Gardini School, I saw a lack of correspondence between the perspectives and spoken language of the union activists and the teachers.


To view a primary school as a social setting in which the public and domestic spheres articulate themselves and confront or complement each other in different ways presented rich insights about the professional identities of first to eigth grade female teachers. This perspective allows us to understand why teachers identify themselves as "aunts" and also explains some of the ambiguous positions they hold as paid workers while keeping domestic life and family relationships as a point of reference.

Many negative aspects of this mixture of public and domestic spheres have been underlined: the substitution of technical competence with simple loving devotion; the ideological use of this posture to demobilize collective organizations of teachers and to facilitate the accepting of low salaries; the unclear definition of the functions among school workers; the invasion of a public arena by relationships typical of the domestic sphere. While these features cannot be denied, they certainly must be seen in relative terms. On one hand, they are negative only if we are comparing the school and teachers to a pattern that is considered positive. Many times it is this pattern that has to be questioned, by revising our notions of what it means to be good professionals, to demonstrate competence, to show docility or activism, and to engage in appropriate professional relationships. On the other hand, even if some of the above patterns remain negative after our questioning, they can certainly be combined with positive aspects.

The empirical evidence we have allows us to state that the personalization of the relationships within the school is a positive factor within the increasing neutralization of the bureaucracy and ritualization of the relations among the pedagogical agents and between them and the students and parents. We were able to observe how, on a daily basis, emotions, affection, feelings, and personalization break down the impersonality of these relations. This is reflected in comments made by some of the school's teachers:

I play with my children, and...even outside the classroom, with the parents, I have much personal contact. I had students in that school...and now we are close friends, you know.... We visit each others' house. I think that is very nice; it is great. (Dayse, elementary teacher)

On an individual basis they [students and parents] complain. For example, I have many parents [of students] who are mine [now] in middle school and who were mine in elementary. So, when we run into each other, they make comments, sometimes even outside of school. (Maria Alice, middle-school teacher)

I think: when they [students' mothers] go to enroll their children in the first grade, they prefer those teachers who know the student more, who are closer, and who know where the house of the student is, where to go if there is any problem.... I think that they prefer those classes which they know. (Soraya, elementary school teacher)

It is in these contacts based on friendship or the neighborhood, rather than in formal contacts, where the information, complaints, and alliances occur. Thus, what we call the domestic style of the school, characterized by informality, improvisation, and the unclear definition of obligations, brings into the school's daily world the possibility of personalized relationships.

Regarding the relationship between teachers and staff, its similarity to the domestic relationship between housewife and maid seems to be more a way to reduce the value of the staff and their work.11 A position in favor of valuing all types of work and unifying all school professionals around educational or union struggles must take into account the nature of this relationship and the need to overcome it. A discourse which talks about unity will not have much effect if we do not overcome the daily enactment of this hierarchy.

Many other aspects, however, remain open, some of them crucial. One of them concerns the consequences of the "mothering" of teaching on the pedagogical process. We have some indication that the maternal posture can be part of an attitude of commitment and devotion toward the student. This posture is certainly not contrary to the possession and the expansion of the teachers' qualifications and technical competencies, but we know very little about its impact on pedagogical relations, about its influence in the construction of the identity of boys and girls, or about its efficacy in teaching and learning.

Other important questions that can be enlightened by the "mothering" perspective are the political and labor union participation on the part of the elementary teachers, and the ways they may or may not insert themselves into public situations where citizenship and political power are exercised. It will be necessary to investigate the role that unions and political parties have played for women who identify themselves so precariously as employees and citizens, and who show tremendous difficulties speaking in public spaces.

In the environment of the school administration, the presence of personal relations and domesticity in confrontation with the school bureaucracy has scarcely been investigated, at least in Brazil. Regarding the relationships between female educators and the students' mothers and fathers, I have realized, in a different study, how these relationships are profoundly determined by the home-school patterns which were described here. (Carvalho and Vianna 1993).

Finally, if we overcome the prejudice attitude that sees as negative all consequences of the nexus between home and school, the domestic sphere and the public sphere, family life and scholastic lifeCrelationships that female elementary teachers have brought to the schoolCwe will be able to learn in a more appropriate way about the professional identity of teachers as well as about the functioning of the school. Instead of accusing the elementary teachers of being incompetent or docile, we will be able to work together with them. By giving more respect to the teaching profession, we would be moving in the direction of a more egalitarian education as well.

*Marilia Carvalho is a professor in the School of Education of the University of São Paulo. She has conducted several qualitative studies centering on the community/school relationship. She is currently conducting studies of teacher-student interaction at the primary school level with the support of the Ford Foundation.


1. This article was translated from Portuguese into English by Ana Vilma Tijiboy, M.A. student in the School of Education, Stanford University.

2. This school is located in a low-income neighborhood in the city of São Paulo. Approximately 160 observation hours took place between February and December 1990. Observations were made of teacher rooms, faculty meetings, meetings between teachers and parents, the school playground, the business office, and the times of arrival at and departure from school. At the same time, semi-structured interviews took place with 6 teachers (5 women and 1 man), the principal and vice-principal, 2 staff workers, 2 groups of students and 5 groups of parents. In addition, a questionnaire was given to all of those working in the school in 1990.

3. All names have been changed.

4. In this regard, see the works of Cristina Bruschini, which reveal not only the ghettoization of the labor market in Brazil, but also the active participation of women in few fields in technical schools (Bruschini 1981 and 1985).

5. These differences are described in detail in Carvalho 1991.

6. In the state of São Paulo, level-one teachers cover students from first to fourth grade. Level-two teachers are often students or graduates from short-term university programs and can teach students in fifth and sixth grades. Level-three teachers are those with regular university studies and can teach any grade.

7. Maria Candida Delgado Reis, for instance, shows that "since the 20th century the teaching force has been characterized as a clearly feminized field, [with women] reaching 70 percent of the teaching staff in 1921" (citing educator Lourenço Filho; Reis, 1991, 67 and 72).

8. Regarding Argentina, Alicia Fernández discusses the use of the term "señorita" for teachers, a practice similar to the use of "aunt" in Portuguese (Fernández 1994).

9. According to DIESSE, the real value of the average salary for teachers in state schools underwent a reduction of about two-thirds. The minimum salaries for maids, very close to the minimum wage, suffered a less severe reduction.

10. According to DIESSE, the real value of the average salary for teachers in the state school underwent a reduction of about two-thirds. The minimum salaries for maids, very close to the minimum wage, suffered a less severe reduction.

11. The responsibilities, rights, duties, and working norms are set in the Common Regulations of First-Grade State Schools.


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