Psychological Research On Emotions Education Essay

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Psychological research on emotions increased rapidly during the early 1980s (Lewis and Havilandm, 1993). However, with a special edition of the Cambridge Journal of Education issued in 1996, the topic obtained great importance in teacher education. Moreover, many articles written in the 1990s (Hargreaves, 1998a, 1998b, 2000; Lasky, 2000) continued to place the topic of emotion firmly within the sphere of teacher education. Further to that, recently researchers have been developing a strong link between teachers' emotions and teacher burnout (Chang 2009; Schutz and Zembylas 2009).

Emotions are multifaceted and are thus affected by multiple factors. Researchers think of emotions as being a "judgement" subjective to oneself (Solomon 1993, Winograd 2003), meaning that emotions elicited by a person depend on his own values, culture, gender, social class, and education. Sutton and Wheatley argue that most of the times, people think of emotions as "irrational" and thus showing that one is "out of control, destructive, primitive, and childish" (2003, p.328). However further to that, Sutton and Wheatley (2003), argue that emotions can indicate that a person is an adult, civilised and thoughtful. These different thoughts about emotions result in negative and positive perceptions of emotions in our society.

Teaching is an emotional job

Various authors (Hargreaves 1998a, 1998b, Woolfolk and Davis 2005, Chang 2009, Schutz and Zembylas 2009) consider teaching as a highly emotional job. Davis (2001) explains how teachers take on many roles within the classroom, including those of "friend, protector, mentor, disciplinarian and gatekeeper to academic success" (p.431). This continued change and variety in roles and responsibilities undoubtedly requires teachers to draw on a variety of emotional and intellectual resources (Woolfolk and Davis 2005). This contributes to an increased emotional effort from the teachers, once more confirming that teaching is indeed an emotional job. In addition, according to Shutz and Zembylas, teaching is an occupation that involves significant "emotional labour" (2009, p.3). Such "emotional labour" involves teachers' "effort, planning, and control" needed to "express organizationally desired emotions during interpersonal transactions" (Schutz & Zembylas 2009 p.3).

As Chang (2009) suggests, teaching involves both pleasant and unpleasant emotions. Pleasant emotions include emotions such as "passion, excitement, joy, pride, and hope" while unpleasant emotions include emotions such as worry, frustration, guilt, anger, powerlessness, fear, vulnerability and disappointment (Chang 2009 p.203). Negative emotions and emotional labour may eventually result in teacher stress which if not taken care of, may eventually result in teacher burnout. In fact various authors have shown how emotional labour is associated with job dissatisfaction, health symptoms and emotional exhaustion, which are key components of burnout and are related to teachers who drop out of the profession (Jackson et al. 1986; Maslach 1982; Morris and Feldman 1996; Schaubroeck and Jones 2000). However on a positive note, in a study carried out by Schutz and Zembylas (2009), it was found that the emotion most frequently reported by teachers in both primary and secondary schools in Germany was enjoyment.

Teaching is a stressful job

In the United States, a secondary school teacher has been rated as the top most stressful job (Bureau of Labour Statistics 2010). As time goes by teaching is becoming even more stressful due to societal changes which are resulting in "greater demands, more complex responsibilities, and an expanding knowledge base which is continually being upgraded" (Gold and Roth 1994 p. 2). In the Maltese National Curriculum Framework, it is clearly stated that such a document will "raise a number of challenges for practitioners, administrators and other stakeholders" (2011, p.11). It proposes a different way to approach education. It proposes that teachers should adopt a "socio-cultural/constructivist approach" to education (2011, p.11). This implies that teachers should provide a context in which students are allowed to work cooperatively and "interact with the teacher and other learners" so to construct their own knowledge and learn new skills (2011, p.11). It therefore proposes that learning should be "student-centred" rather than teacher-centred since interactive lessons have been associated with promoting learning to students (2011, p.11, McPhee & Foley 2008, Bransford et al., 2000). This is quite a difficult shift to make for teachers who have been teaching for multiple years. Such teachers have never been exposed to such pedagogy and may fear of losing their 'power' in the classroom. While this in itself such shift is a positive and undoubtedly necessary thing, it also requires teachers to change the way they look at teaching and learning. In the Malta Union of Teachers questionnaire, conducted in November 2011, 54% of the teachers who participated stated that they "do not agree that the reforms are actually filtering down to students" (2011, p.4). This might be an indication to the number of teachers who have not been able to make such a shift, or an indication that our students are not used to such a classroom environment. In addition to this 69% of the teachers who participated have claimed that "the many reforms are negatively affecting teachers' work in class" (2011 p.4). This might imply that teachers are experiencing more negative feelings in the classroom.

Moreover nowadays, with the reality that in many families, both parents work, parents have less time to help their children with school work. Thus teachers cannot depend much on parental support any more. Further to that, problems of drug abuse and alcohol abuse are on the rise, confirming the increased pressure and stress on teachers (Hibell et al, 1995, 1999, 2003, 2007). In fact this is evident in the Malta Union of Teachers questionnaire, which indicated that 88% of teachers that participated feel that compared to about five years ago "pressure in their work increased" (2011 p.5). Moreover, 58% of the teachers who participated "feel that compared to about five years ago they do not feel happier in their work" (2001 p.5). In addition 60% of the teachers who participated indicated that they "do not agree that compared to about five years ago they feel they are now deriving more satisfaction from their work" (2011 p.5). Such percentages further confirm to the above, that pressure for teachers is on the increase. This eventually may lead to an increase in stress and maybe an increase in burnout of Maltese teachers.


"Teaching is a profession characterized by high levels of burnout and emotional exhaustion" (Chang 2009, p. 194). Haberman (1995) defines burnout as a "condition" in which teachers stop functioning as professionals although they are being paid (p.60). Teachers who are burned out have "no emotional commitment to the task" and have "no sense of efficacy" (Haberman 1995, p.60). Teachers become cynical and thus see no reason to care or make some kind of effort with their students. "Their only goal is to do the minimum required to remain employed" (Haberman 1995, p.60).

In the United States it has been found that "nearly 50% of teachers entering the profession leave within the first five years" further confirming Chang's statement (Alliance for Excellent Education 2004 p.2??). The major concern of teacher burnout is that teachers who are "idealists" and thus have high expectations and a lot of enthusiasm for teaching are the ones "who are significantly more likely to leave teaching" (Miech and Elder 1996 p.238).

Transactional Factors

Teachers' attributions/ judgments of student misbehaviours, Perceptions of organizational leadership style, Perceived principal, peer support, administrative support, Teacher efficacy/ socially reflected self-concept, Norms of student-teacher interactions, Internal rewards/ professional satisfaction.

Individual Factors

Age, gender, Marriage status, Years of experience, Educational background, Personality, Self-esteem/self-concept, Teacher resilience, Coping strategies, Religious background.

Organizational Factors

Class size, Work demands, Inadequate salary, Role ambiguity, Teacher preparation, School SES/Culture, Organizational rigidity, Teacher participation in school, decision making.

Sources of Burnout

Figure 1. Chang 2009, p.199

Figure 1. above shows that burnout is multifaceted meaning that multiple factors contribute to teacher burnout. Many researchers have only been focusing on organizational factors (Coates and Thoresen 1976, Lortie 1975, Kyriacou and Sutciffe 1977, Gritz and Theobold 1996; Tye & O'Brien 2002, Demerouti et al. 2001) or only on individual factors (Flett et al. 1995; Friedman, 2000, Cano-Garcı´a et al., 2005). However Chang (2009) categorizes the sources of burnout into three groups as shown in Figure 1.; "Individual Factors", "Organizational Factors" and "Transactional Factors" (p.198). Individual factors are defined as factors which determine "who" experiences burnout while organizational factors determine "what" results in teacher burnout (p. 198). Transactional factors are described as including "interactions of individual factors with organizational factors and/or social factors" (p.199).

Although researchers (Schutz and Zembylas 2009, Haberman 2004) have found that the most frequently cited source of burnout is students' misbehaviour, Chang (2009) emphasizes that it is the "teachers' attribution/ judgments of student misbehaviours" which is the actual source of burnout (p.199). In fact it is now believed that, such source of burnout leads to different emotions in different teachers, depending on their culture, values and personality (Chang 2009, Schutz and Zembylas 2009). Such sources of burnout may thus lead to either pleasant or unpleasant emotions which may therefore lead to burnout. Such perspective emphasizes the fact that teachers' emotions need empirical attention (Chang 2009, Schutz and Zembylas 2009) because teacher emotions are believed to affect the teacher, the student and the school. It is believed that the students' perception of their student-teacher relationship is important since it effects; learning, performance, classroom motivation and school completion (Davis 2003; Davis & Dupper 2004).

In addition to such sources of burnout, it is believed that educational reforms "intensify teachers' emotional experience of their job" since the "calls for change" may imply "a (negative) judgment about teachers' work" (Schutz and Zembylas 2009 p.218). The Educational Reform in Malta which includes the National Curriculum Framework 2011 is asking teachers to modify their methodologies and pedagogies. They are being asked to take a "student-centred" approach and thus teach in a more interactive way (NCF 2011 p.11). This may result in the eliciting of certain emotions in teaching.

How teachers' emotions affect teachers, students and the school

Teachers' emotions may affect teachers' self-efficacy (Sutton and Wheatley 2003, Schutz and Zembylas 2009, Hargreaves 2000) since emotions have a large impact on one's behaviours and thoughts (Dagleish and Power 1999). Self-efficacy is crucial and may affect teachers' intrinsic motivation and their professional life trajectories (Bandura 2000). Bandura suggests that "perceived self-efficacy is concerned not with the number of skills you have, but with what you believe you can do with what you have under a variety of circumstances" (1997 p.31). In the teaching context it involves the teachers' judgement in his/her capability of promoting learning and student participation and motivation "even among those students who may be difficult or unmotivated" (Tschannen-Moran et al. 1998 p.202). Self-efficacy also affects "the effort teachers invest in teaching" and the "goals they set" (Hoy and Spero 2005, p.345). It is believed that teachers' effort and enthusiasm has a "positive impact on student learning", thus influencing students' outcomes and hence promoting teacher effectiveness (Haberman 2004, p.3). Schutz and Zembylas argue that "creating schools as organisations which care for teachers as well as pupils is no longer an option, but a necessity in the contemporary contexts of teaching" (2009 p.28).


"Appraisal theory explains why the same external event may not lead to the same emotions in individuals" (Sutton and Wheatley 2003 p.330). When a particular appraisal pattern is used in different situations, it leads to the same emotion (Scherer et al. 2001). Whereas appraising the same situation differently will result in different emotions (Scherer et al. 2001). "Each distinct emotion is elicited by a distinctive pattern of appraisal" (Scherer et al. 2001 p.6) appraisal theories imply that emotions are the result of the interpretation of an event rather than the event itself (Scherer et al. 2001). Appraisal can occur at two different levels which sometimes can be in conflict - the "conscious" and the "unconscious" level (Scherer et al. 2001 p.8). It is believed that both appraisal levels are required in our life since appraisal at the "conscious" level helps us to slowly search for information which will help us make a judgment, while appraisal at the unconscious level is important since it is more "rapid" and "efficient" (Scherer et al. 2001 p.51). Lazarus (1993, 2000) argues that the intensity of emotions aroused depends on how we evaluate the significance of events through primary and secondary appraisals. The defining characteristics of the primary appraisal processes are relevance and goal congruence (Chang 2009). For instance "the more relevant a teacher judges an incident or interaction, the more intense the emotional experience is" (Chang 2009 p.205). Moreover Chang insinuates that teachers may set several goals such as that of; "maintaining order", "managing students' behaviours", "following lesson plans", and "helping students reach learning goals" (2009 p.205). Goal incongruence may thus result in unpleasant emotions (Schutz and Zembylas 2009).

The defining characteristics of secondary appraisals are accountability, coping potential, controllability and future expectancy (Smith and Lazarus 1990, Schutz and Zembylas 2009, Chang 2009). Scuthz and Zembylas define accountability as "the extent to which we appraise ourselves, or another to be responsible for bringing about a desired outcome" (2009, p.105). If one is experiencing "goal-incongruence", since a desired goal is blocked, and it is paired with "other-accountability", it often results in the formation of "anger" (Averill 1983; Kuppens et al. 2003; Parkinson 1999; Smith and Lazarus 1993; Weiner 2007, Sutton 2007, Schutz and Zembylas 2009 p.131). In contrast if one is experiencing goal-incongruence and self-accountability one is likely to feel guilty or disappointed (Schutz and Zembylas 2009). Moreover, similar to accountability is controllability, which indicates how much the teacher believes that he/she can control the situation or event. Schutz and Zembylas define future expectancy as" the judgments we make about the certainty or uncertainty of an event" (2009, p.105). Schutz and Zembylas (2009) believe that the emotions involved with judgments of uncertainty are hope, anxiety, fear and sadness. The coping potential is one's perceived ability to cope with a given situation. Chang (2009) states that when one's coping potential is perceived to be low, the higher the intensity of the elicited emotions would be.

Sutton and Wheatley help us understand how the same event can trigger different emotions in someone by giving this illustration, "if a student swears at a teacher and refuses to do any work", one teacher may view such behaviour as "demeaning offense" thus leading to anger, while another teacher may view such behaviour as a sign of "irrevocable loss due parental neglect and abuse" (2003 p.330). Thus leading to the emotion of sadness (2003 p.330). Although appraisals teachers make lead to certain emotions, some teachers "short-circuit" such process by "drawing on a set of prior appraisals" (Schutz and Zembylas 2009, p.106). Thus teachers may start associating certain emotions with specific situations resulting in a "habitual pattern" in the "teachers' judgments" of a situation such as student misbehaviour (Chang 2009 p. 193). However if teachers "become aware", "interpret" and "question the judgments" that lead to their emotions, they can "better understand" and regulate their judgments, resulting in being able to regulate the emotions they experience and avoid getting burned out (Chang 2009, p.194).

Habitual patterns

Unpleasant Emotions

Instructional Behaviour

Student's Behaviour

Teacher's Judgments

Figure 2: Concept map linking teacher appraisal, emotion and behaviour (Chang 2009, Schutz and Zembylas 2009)

Figure 2 illustrates Chang's explanation of appraisal and the formation of habitual patterns of appraisal. If the cycle shown above is experienced very often by a teacher he/she risks becoming burned out.

Coping Strategies/ Emotional Regulation

Historically, coping was viewed as trying to alter the way we react or respond to a particular emotion (Schutz and Zembylas 2009). However Folkman and Lazarus (1988) started viewing coping as trying to alter the emotion triggered itself rather than our reaction or response to it. Lazarus, 2001, distinguished between emotion-focused coping and problem-focused coping. Problem-focused coping involves teachers whom strategies are aimed to "obtaining information about the disruptive behaviour, or conflict and focus on changing the situation" (Schutz & Zembylas 2009 p. 110). However, emotion-focused coping involves teachers whose strategies are aimed "at regulating the emotions that were elicited by the events" (Schutz & Zembylas 2009 p. 110). A third coping process was developed by Schutz and colleagues, 2004, involving regaining-task-focusing processes which involve teachers' attempt to "get back on task after experiencing an unpleasant emotion and regaining perspective" (Schutz & Zembylas 2009 p. 110). This process therefore includes "tension reducing" and "reappraisal strategies" (Schutz & Zembylas 2009 p. 110). Lazarus, 2001, defines reappraisal as the construction of "a new relational meaning of the stressful encounter", which in turn would result in the eliciting of different emotions, helping teachers cope with stressful events(page no not given -pg110shutz&zembylas) . "There is no universally effective or ineffective coping strategy" (Scherer et al. 2001 p.45). "Emotional regulation refers to the processes by which individuals influence which emotions they have, when they have them, and how they experience and express these emotions" (Gross, 1998, p. 275). As Schutz and Zembylas argue, emotional regulation involves regulating the "precursors of emotions" such as; the appraisal of a situation, the inhibiting of emotional displays and "through conscious modification of the psychological or observable signs of emotions" (2009 p.57, Gross 1998; Hochschild 1983,). Moreover Schutz and Zembylas state that the "critical element of adaptive coping", for instance with disruptive behaviour "involves knowing when to seek help" (2009 p.120). Seeking help must not be seen as a sign of incompetency but as admitting that one doesn't know everything and that he/she wants to learn more!