Why we need to pay attention to the emotions of beginning teachers


After having been ignored for a long time, because they were considered harmful and contrary to reason , emotions are now experiencing renewed interest both among the general public and in the context of research. By showing that emotions and cognition are inseparable, Damasio has given back their letters of nobility to emotions in the educational context.

Since the late 1990s, international studies have looked at emotions in the classroom. This research most often focuses on students’ emotions and their link with learning. When they are interested in teachers’ emotions, it is generally to analyze their impact on students and learning. But in the current context of the crisis in the attractiveness of the profession, studying them as such could help to understand how teachers experience their profession, and what is pushing a growing number of them to resign, especially at the start of their career. .

If there is initially a vocational crisis which partly explains the shortage of teachers, a large number of trainees still enroll in initial training showing great motivation for the profession. It is only during the year that they express a certain unease.

Little research has so far been devoted to novice teachers (trainees and newly tenured teachers) in France. What emotions do they feel on a daily basis? What triggers their emotions?

An emotional whirlwind

Remember that an emotion is not a simple response to a stimulus as we have long thought. It cannot be defined in isolation because it needs a context to construct itself . Its starting point lies in the representation/mental image/scenario that a person has of a situation. When this scenario is confronted with reality, the resulting discrepancy then brings out the emotion .

Novice teachers begin their career with representations of the profession linked to their path as successful students, to the clichés conveyed by the media and the general public such as “Teachers are always on vacation”, “being a teacher is the best job in the world”, “teaching English to beginners requires little preparation”, “in some neighborhoods, things can only go wrong”, etc.

These mental images generate in beginners fantasized representations of what is a “good” teacher, a “good” student, a “good” course, the institution, colleagues, etc. The actual reality in the classroom can be very different and this discrepancy can generate intense, even painful emotions.

In order to understand what are the most frequent emotions among teachers, what triggers them and how they change with experience, a study was carried out over four years, from 2016 to 2019, with cohorts of novice English teachers. and more experienced teachers at different stages of their careers.

Analysis of the responses obtained revealed that, regardless of their seniority and skill level, teachers mostly feel negative emotions on a daily basis (57.5% among novice teachers). However, if we establish a classification of emotions according to their number of occurrences, joy always comes in first place, and anger in second place. This means that the teaching profession plays on extremes and is not easy emotionally speaking.

Between doubts and anger

Quite consistently, breach of the pedagogical contract, and more specifically “inappropriate student behavior” emerges as the primary trigger for anger, as can be seen in the following example:
“I felt anger with a difficult sixth class today: talkative, passive, work not done. If we can no longer count on the little sixths who are nevertheless quite fearful of authority, then where are we going? ! »
We see here that the representation that the teacher has constructed about sixth-grade students (“little sixth-grade students who are nevertheless quite fearful of authority”) is out of step with the reality in class (“a difficult sixth-grade class” ), which generates anger.

Another teacher says:
“I had orchestrated everything as we were taught and as my tutor does. I even got myself a wireless keyboard and mouse for the students to write on their own. Everything was done to go well. But, as usual, too much chatter, insolence, “but I didn’t do anything” when I SEE the students doing! I got fed up and ended up screaming. »
Here, three scenarios are upset: that of the “efficient trainee teacher” who manages to give a “good” lesson and to which “the students adhere”. The anger can only be strong as evidenced by his screams.

Anger can be linked to the teacher himself, especially at the beginning of a career. It can come from his difficulty in establishing his professional identity, from his doubts and questions about his practices and his legitimacy, which is very common among novices and could explain some early resignations. I feel “anger that I failed to channel one of my classes and fell behind. I did a course that was very far from what I had planned,” notes a participant in the survey. The mental representation of the course is explicit here, through “what I had planned”.

Regardless of the seniority of the teachers, all feel anger when they feel they have given a “bad lesson” and/or are aware of their difficulties and mistakes, as the following testimony shows:
“I felt anger towards myself by excluding a student. It was a failure for me. I failed to save this student. »
We see a gap between the representation of the all-powerful and flawless professor, and the reality on the ground.

Anger can also come from a discrepancy between the vision that the teacher has of the institution and reality: “I feel anger and loneliness because I feel judged, evaluated, criticized, but not supported”, said one of the participants; “Anger, fury. The feeling that our material is totally sacrificed, that our work, our profession are devalued, reduced to nothing. Fed up, want to get out of national education, ”wrote another.

Deconstruct representations

If the job generates anger, it also arouses a lot of joy. The actual realization can be in line (zero difference) with the scenario that the teacher has developed, or even go beyond (positive difference) by going “better than expected”.

Here are some examples of the emergence of joy, linked to the involvement of students: “I expected that few of them would do anything constructive. Joy that they are involved in the activity and show enthusiasm”, to their success: “joy to see my students pass their final assessment better than I thought”, and to their complicity with their teachers: “surprise and joy that a student tells me that he hopes that I will be his teacher next year”.

These are important vectors, regardless of the seniority of the teachers, as is the perception of having given a “good lesson”. Novices also feel joy when they feel they are progressing and supported by the institution.

Novice teachers are caught in a daily emotional whirlwind in which negative emotions dominate. If anger is very present and painful, joy is also there. These emotions are generated by the gap (negative or positive) between the constructed scenarios and the actual realization. A reflection on these representations in order to analyze them in order to deconstruct them appears today as a central axis of work to be generalized within the initial training to fight against the suffering of novice teachers and the failure of the beginnings of their career.

Author Bio: Marie-Claire Lemarchand-Chauvin has a PhD in English teaching (associate researcher at Sorbonne-Nouvelle University, PRISMES laboratory, SeSyLIA) at Paris-Est Créteil Val de Marne University (UPEC)