The Macalester community provides a space that fosters learning. Students of different backgrounds come from across the globe for the opportunity to learn at this institution. However, as I’m sure you’ve heard your professors say, you aren’t the only ones learning here at Mac. While students are the ones being directly taught, professors and other staff are learning and growing alongside you each day. As you head back to your on-campus dorm or home a short distance from campus, many of your professors leave Macalester and return to homes of their own, often with families of their own. In the classroom, it may be difficult to imagine your professor as having any other profession, but as three Macalester professors explain, motherhood is a full-time job. For them, the communities of learning here at Mac are complexly interconnected with their identities and learning communities as mothers.
At Macalester, three tracks are offered for professors who have recently given birth or have adopted a child. These three options are six weeks leave with full pay, a semester leave with reduced pay or a one course reduction in teaching load. This last option seems to be the most popular with the professors I have spoken to. While I focus on motherhood here at Macalester, these options are available to all new parents, regardless of gender. These options, explained by professors Lori Ziegelmeier, Samantha Çakır and Amy Damon, help to establish a culture at Macalester that is supportive in building a bridge between motherhood and teaching.
According to these professors, the most valued element as expressed by the professors is a sense of flexibility. Many of the challenges that the professors spoken to related to the difficulty in finding an uninterrupted plan when dealing with children and students. Things happen. Children get sick. Heavy grading periods hit hard. “There are no foolproof strategies,” Damon explains in reference to managing the balance between her home and Macalester lives. Because of this, Damon explains, “I feel pretty lucky to have a job where I can have flexibility.”
This is echoed by both Çakır and Ziegelmeier: “Without the flexibility that this job offers, it wouldn’t be possible to balance [being a mother and a working professional],” shared Çakır. She also explained that while she does “try to keep them as separate as possible, the ‘mom-ing’ and the teaching,” the flexibility of this jobs helps her to be able to “piece it together” where she needs to.
Ziegelmeier elaborated on this flexibility to combine her roles as mother and teacher saying that she feels supported by the Macalester community. The administration, fellow faculty, staff and students have all been open to understanding her needs as a mother, whether that be providing her with workable options for time off or even just allowing her child to come to office hours and meetings, a common occurrence for all three professors.
Still though, there are significant challenges that revolve more around the physical demands of being a mother and a professor. All three professors speak to the difficulties that come with lack of sleep. Ziegelmeier mentions the effects of feeling “scatterbrained at times” and Damon speaks to some of the difficulties that come with having to “be ‘on’” in front of a classroom despite both the hormonal changes post-partum as well as sleep deprivation. However, they all expressed that they simply “make things work,” as Ziegelmeier said.
A part of making things work comes with the support of the Macalester communities. Despite the possible stigmas that may come with being a woman, a parent and a professor, Damon, Çakır and Ziegelmeier all said that they have felt little to no judgement.Ziegelmeier said that while she has received some concern from colleagues about the possibility of having less time to dedicate to research, she feels that this has not been a huge issue. Despite being pre-tenure, Ziegelmeier feels she is “still able to keep up with [her] research program and do a good job teaching” while caring for her child. Outside of her academic community, Çakır shares that she experiences some pushback from the “mom community” who have judged some of Çakır’s decisions about childcare. Çakır says that this has not had a significant impact on her; she explains that she feels incredibly lucky to feel connected to both her family and her communities she’s built as a professor.
It is these two communities that make being a mother and a professor unique. The two identities overlap. Damon explains that to her, “being a parent has been another stage of my personal development” and that objectives of being “kind and firm and fair” are “transferable” between motherhood and teaching. Teaching and parenting share a lot of the same principles. Additionally, Damon shares that she has “done a lot of thinking about how learning happens,” a statement that she adds to by saying “in both contexts” in reference to parenting and teaching. Damon shares that she feels that parenting has led her to be “more appreciative that people learn at different paces,” a lesson that both Çakır and Ziegelmeier extend on by saying that parenting has helped them to be more “compassionate,” as Çakır explains.
With this compassion another idea brought up by all three professors is that through watching their students and their children, they have identified the strength and the importance of self motivation and personal curiosity in learning. Ziegelmeier, who was holding her six month old daughter during our interview, shares the excitement she feels when she notices her daughter “being curious” and exploring her surroundings, a feeling that is mirrored when she sees her students do the same.
“It’s all about learning and teaching,” Ziegelmeier concludes. So it stands: Macalester is a place of learning, teaching, growing and developing. However, so is a home. While society expects women and mothers to bear the brunt of domestic work, these professors challenge this notion through their intersecting identities as professors and as mothers. Does a “normal family” or a “normal mother” even exist anymore? Lori Ziegelmeier, Samantha Çakır and Amy Damon challenge normative ideas by simply doing what works for them. The combination of teaching and parenting can lead to some unique challenges, but the goals of growth and learning span across the two identities and have led Ziegelmeier, Çakır and Damon to build strong identities as both professors and mothers.