This paper reports on a study in which we interviewed eleven student teachers who were mothers. We wanted to understand the challenges the women faced in combining Initial Teacher Education (ITE) and motherhood, and about the factors that sustained them through the course.
Participants faced practical and emotional challenges, including financial difficulties, feelings of guilt, and time and workload pressures. They had encountered structural barriers in the Higher Education Institution, where policy and practice emerged as exclusionary and largely unhelpful in anticipating and accommodating their needs as student teacher-mothers.
Despite the difficulties they faced, the women portrayed themselves as active in shaping their own experiences at university, on school placement and at home, within the constraints of the competing demands of ITE and motherhood. They emphasised their agency in making the decision to train to become teachers, in their motivation to qualify as teachers so that they could offer their families a better life, and in strategizing to overcome the various obstacles they encountered. They described forward planning, prioritising and managing time, themselves and their families to ‘get through’ the ITE year, which was, essentially, viewed as a temporary stepping stone for which they needed to make short-term sacrifices.