The dilemmas of teachers’ insider knowledge: Teacher-parents as consumers of private tutoring.

Year: 2018

Author: Briant, Elizabeth, English, Rebecca, Dooley, Karen

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Private tutoring consumption is dominated by middle-class parents who actively exercise choice to suture school and home environments conducive to educational success (Campbell, Proctor, & Sherington, 2009; Vincent, 2017). Mothers’ involvement in particular, positively influences a child’s success in school and this influence is especially important for children who are underperforming (Lareau, 2000). Neoliberal discourses of responsibilisation nudge mothers to meet the individual needs of their children in schools to mitigate risks and positively influence the child’s success in schooling (Doherty & Dooley, 2017). For many middle-class mothers, private tutoring is one risk-mitigating strategy. Private tutoring offers mothers opportunities to “intensify, expand or circumvent” what is offered by schools (Dooley, Liu, & Yin, 2018, p. 9).
In our study of parents who use private literacy tutoring for their Year 5 students we have observed that many mothers employing tutors are, themselves, teachers. In this paper we unpack the unique dilemmas faced by teacher-mothers, produced by teachers’ insider knowledge of the education system. On the one hand it might be argued that teachers’ familiarity with the education system might position them to knowledgably navigate their own children’s education without the purchase of private tutoring services. On the other, however, teachers can face unique tensions and dilemmas when making choices for their own children, sparked by their intimate insider knowledge of the education system (Lassig, Doherty, & Moore, 2015).
In this paper we undertake a Bourdieusian analysis to unpack how teacher-mothers mobilise their insider knowledge of the education system in their choice to purchase private tutoring for their child. We explore what teacher-parents share in common with other parents but also what distinguishes them. We postulate that teacher-mothers are just as worried about their children’s educational experience and success as non-teachers but are distinguished by their familiarity with the education system, including the consequences of perceived underperformance and potential learning difficulties. We explore the cultural and economic middle class’ reaction to the risks inherent in the modern provision of education in Australia’s neoliberal schooling system. Our analysis contributes to a more nuanced understanding of the affordances and constraints of middle-class mothers.