Contrary to their archetypal image as nurturers and carers, female teachers interviewed by Open University academics claim that the job requires mental toughness and strength of character. "If you're a woman in a secondary, you must have balls," one of the teachers said.
Interviewees rejected the perception that the teaching profession welcomes those with children of their own. "I'd given up a whole year of my life for school. I hadn't once, during the times I'd lain awake all night, ever thought of my own children... I'd only thought of other people's children," said one female teacher.
The two authors interviewed 20 teachers suffering from stress, with an even split between the sexes.
Peter Woods, co-author of the research said: "I think the feminine aspects are intrinsic to teaching: you have to like children. But it is no good going into teaching if you are a weak person. You need to possess a certain strength to control the classroom and to rise to certain situations that develop.
"The pressure of teaching eats into home life and colonises time out of school. It increases the guilt complex, which bears more heavily on women than on men."
In Britain 68 per cent of teachers are female. Primary schools have difficulty attracting men: 84 per cent of primary teachers are women.
"Teacher Identities Under Stress: the Emotions of Separation and Renewal" by Peter Woods and Denise Carlyle, appears in Sociology of Education, vol 12, no 2, 2002