Pondering Priorities: Reflections on the Careers of Three Francophone Women Teachers in Ontario (1)

Article excerpt

Teaching has long been regarded an appropriate occupation for women, though women have faced challenges with regard to preparation, advancement and promotion, particularly when it involves the teaching of minority languages by women, often themselves members of a minority group. This paper focusses on three francophone women who began their careers leaching French in largely English-speaking Ontario in the mid-twentieth century.

L'enseignement a depuis longtemps ete considere une profession convenable pour les femmes, malgre le fail qu'elles aient ete confrontees a des defis au niveau de la preparation, de l'avancement, et de la promotion, surtout lorsqu'il s'agit de l'enseignement de langues minoritaires par des temmes, souvent elles-memes membres d'un groupe minoritaire. Cet article met en scene trois femmes francophones qui ont commence leur carriere dans l'Ontario anglophone au milieu du vingtieme siecle.

Background and Introduction: Theoretical Grounding

This paper derives from a study to document the history of women teachers in the 20th Century in Ontario, Canada. (2) Through written accounts and oral histories of the teachers who taught in a variety of circumstances, supplemented by analysis of documents and policies, the research team sought to learn what actually happened in the classrooms of those days as teachers were called upon to respond to waves of educational reform, to take account of changing social circumstances, and to struggle for professional standing. It is grounded in the largely feminist literature dealing with the history of female teachers (Prentice and Theobald, 1991; Mackinnon, Elgqvist-Saltzman and Prentice, 1998, Weiler and Middleton, 1999; Weiler, 1997, Duling, 1997; Munro, 1998; Reynolds, 1990, 1995; Biklen, 1995), literature which probes the role of women teachers in a hierarchical operation which often did not value their contributions, and which maintained as an implicit goal, the reinforcement of systemic discrimination. The study directed its analyses to the context of women teachers in Ontario, Canada in the 20th century, and expanded on work already done on such areas as teachers' lives during the Great Depression (Reynolds and Smaller, 1994; Arbus, 1990), the history of the professional organization of women teachers in Ontario, The Federation of Women Teachers' Association of Ontario (FWTAO) (French, 1968; Staton and Light, 1987; Labatt, 1993), the effect of school restructuring on women teachers (Coulter, 1996, 1998), and the impact of legislation (Khayatt, 1992).

Methodology: the problematic of engaging in oral history research

The researchers contend that women's experiences are usually not evident in historical texts and that oral history is an excellent means to give women voice (see Pierson, 1991). Hence, over a period of four years, seven women colleagues in an Ontario Faculty of Education from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds undertook to collect the stories of Ontario women teachers who had taught during the twentieth century through an information questionnaire and open-ended interviews. (See Appendices A and B for the questionnaire and interview questions.) Close to 200 interviews were completed with retired women who had taught between the late 1920s to the 1990s. The women interviewed had taught in rural settings in all areas of Ontario in one-room schools, in city schools, both elementary and secondary, public separate Roman Catholic and French language schools. Some women had become school principals or consultants at some point in their careers; some became active in the teachers' federation and a very few had worked as superintendents, directors of education or Ministry of Education officials. My part of the study involved a particular population of teachers usually overlooked in studies of women teachers in Ontario; namely, Francophone women who taught French as a first or second language. For this paper I focus on the stories of three Francophone women who began their careers in the 40s and 50s. …