Interviewing Women Teachers about Anger in the Workplace: Some Implications for Teacher Education

By Dorney, Judith | Vitae Scholasticae, Fall 2010 | Go to article overview
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Interviewing Women Teachers about Anger in the Workplace: Some Implications for Teacher Education

Dorney, Judith, Vitae Scholasticae

Over time.... What was once a sign of girls' strength and resiliency--their capacity to feel their anger, to know its source, and to respond directly--becomes a liability, at least in those places where white, middle-class values and conventions of femininity prevail. (1)

In the cause of silence, each one of us draws the face of her own fear--fear of contempt, of censure, or some judgment, or recognition, of challenge, of annihilation. But most of all, I think, we fear the very visibility without which we also cannot truly live.... And that visibility which makes us most vulnerable is that which also is the source of our greatest strength, because the machine will try to grind you into dust anyway, whether we speak or not. (2)


This qualitative study investigates the understanding and experience of anger in the work of women educators in public schools in the Northeast. I undertook this study for a few reasons. First, I am very interested in Parker Palmer's claim that the person of the teacher matters; that the psychological, emotional, and spiritual development of teachers has an impact on their pedagogical and disciplinary expertise and that this development influences what is communicated to students in classrooms and schools. (3) Palmer's assertion has resonance for me as a former high school teacher and now as a teacher educator. Secondly, I have conducted a number of teacher retreats and workshops focused on exploring gender messages communicated to students. The retreats and workshops invariably have involved discussion of the participants' gender development, and it is in this context that women teachers indicated that anger is frequently a barrier in their relationships with colleagues and administrators and, at times, serves to derail the women's efforts to address problems in their schools. These retreat and workshop encounters underscore the significance of Palmer's views. They have also led me to explore, through the vehicle of interviews, how women teachers develop their understanding and expression of anger and consider what influence anger may have on their work. This essay focuses on the interviews of three of the twenty-seven teachers involved in this project. In addition to demonstrating the kinds of situations that spark their anger in their schools, the interviews reveal what is at stake for these women when they decide to act on or silence their workplace anger. Ultimately, I reflect on implications for the development of teachers through teacher education.

Women, Anger, and Self-esteem

Psychologists within the last three decades have identified the repression of women's anger and examined how this silencing has influenced the development of girls, women, and their relationships in both private and public worlds. (4) These psychologists, along with poet and essayist Audre Lorde and theologian Beverly Harrison, have reinterpreted anger as an essential relational and political emotion because of its potential to instigate change in relationships and to address imbalances in power. Ethicist Sharon Welch illustrates the connection between anger and action in her examination of African American women's literature. Welch identifies an ethic employed by black women in the United States to confront the injustice of racism that uses anger as a source of knowledge. The ethic of risk, which she contrasts with an ethic of control, is dependent upon anger as a touchstone providing information about the insidious nature and persistent presence of social injustice, particularly in the form of racism. This ethic of risk, sparked by anger, recognizes the need for and practice of long-term communal responses to injustice. (5)

The association of anger with action illuminates the frequent conflation of anger and aggression. A distinction must be made between the emotion and the action. Aggression can be expressed both creatively and destructively, and may be sparked in response to a feeling of anger.

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Interviewing Women Teachers about Anger in the Workplace: Some Implications for Teacher Education


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