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“There Are No Emotions in Math”: How Teachers Approach Emotions in the Classroom


by Meca Williams, Dionne Cross, Ji Hong, Lori Aultman, Jennifer Osbon & Paul Schutz — 2008

Background/Context: Our research describes teacher emotions and the way that teachers manage emotional events in the classroom. Recent work completed by these researchers suggests that teachers’ emotions and their reaction to student emotions are influenced by the teachers’ beliefs.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: In this study, we explored teachers’ beliefs and their descriptions of emotional events within their classrooms to understand how these teachers attempted to address or repress student emotions. The research questions were written accordingly: (1) How do teachers view their role in addressing student emotions? (2) How do teachers approach student emotions in building relationships with their students to establish suitable learning environments?

Setting: From previous studies on emotions and building relationships with students, we surmised that the beginning of the school year would be a useful time to develop an understanding of the teachers’ perceptions of emotions in the classroom. Participants were interviewed twice in their classrooms, the first time 2 weeks before the beginning of school, and the follow-up was conducted 2 weeks after school started.

Population/Participants/Subjects: Eight in-service teachers were individually recruited from one of the researchers’ graduate courses at a southeastern university. These particular teachers were purposefully recruited because they expressed an interest in improving themselves as teachers, were willing to talk freely about their classroom transactions, and discussed the importance of developing relationships with their students.

Research Design: This research used thematic analysis from qualitative data interviews.

Data Collection and Analysis: A semistructured protocol was used in the interviews to encourage the participants to reflect on their thoughts and feelings about events that transpired during the first few weeks of school. Questions such as “Tell me about your first day of class” and “What happened?” were asked to examine how participants described their perceptions of their students, their introductions with the students, and developing their classroom atmosphere.

Findings/Results: This research sheds light on the multiple issues that are involved in developing a useful emotional climate in the classroom. Many of the teachers were consistent in their teacher beliefs, the teacher selves they wanted to portray, and approaches they used when emotional events occurred within their classrooms or with a particular student. Frequently, the participants described instances in which they juggled their daily instruction agendas while handling student emotions. We found that those participants who believed that teachers should shoulder the responsibility of addressing student emotions did so to create a more nurturing and sensitive classroom environment. The participants also revealed that their perceptions of dealing with student emotions changed or shifted after working with their students. Realizing that teaching students is more than instruction, one teacher described his conceptual change of what teaching was and how emotions impacted his students and their relationship.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Having a thorough understanding of the prevalence of emotional experiences in the profession might help teachers to feel more competent in acknowledging and helping manage student emotions, rather than avoiding emotional situations in the classroom. Additionally, different subjects tend to elicit different types and levels of emotional experiences for both teachers and students. Although we tend to focus more on unpleasant emotions, both preservice and in-service teachers also need to be able to address pleasant emotions, which can also be disruptive and cause harm if they are not dealt with appropriately. As such, teachers within specific subject areas should be educated on how to handle emotions that are commonly felt within their domain.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 110 Number 8, 2008, p. 1574-1610
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15153, Date Accessed: 4/25/2017 12:30:56 PM

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About the Author
  • Meca Williams
    Georgia Southern University
    MECA WILLIAMS is an assistant professor of educational research methods at Georgia Southern University. She earned her doctorate from the University of Georgia in the Department of Educational Psychology, and her research interests include mixed-method research, African American education, home education, parental involvement, and student motivation. Recent publications include, with J. DeCuir-Gunby, “The Impact of Race and Racism on Students’ Emotions: A Critical Race Analysis” in Emotion in Education (Elsevier, 2007); and “Learning to Read Each Other: Black Female Graduate Students Share Their Experiences at a White Research I Institution” in Urban Review (2005).
  • Dionne Cross
    Indiana University, Bloomington
    DIONNE CROSS is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Indiana University, Bloomington. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Georgia and M.A. from Wake Forest University. Her research interests are related to how motivation, beliefs, and emotion influence pedagogical practice, specifically in the area of mathematics education. Recent publications include, with P. A. Schutz, J. Y. Hong, and J. N. Osbon, “Teacher Identities, Beliefs, and Goals Related to Emotions in the Classroom” in Emotion in Education (Elsevier, 2007); and, with D. Mewborn, “Mathematics Teachers’ Beliefs and Their Link to Student Learning” in NCTM 2007 Yearbook: The Learning of Mathematics.
  • Ji Hong
    University of Oklahoma
    JI HONG is an Assistant Professor in the department of Educational Psychology at the University of Oklahoma. She received her Ph.D from University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia, and M.A. from Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona. Her research interests include pre-service teachers' future self and goal setting, in-service teachers’ professional identity development, and their emotions and motivation. Recent publications include, with P. A. Schutz, D. I. Cross, and J. N. Osbon, “Reflections on Investigating Emotions Among Social-Historical Contexts” in Educational Psychology Review (2006); and, with P. A. Schutz, D. I. Cross, and J. N. Osbon, “Teacher Identities, Beliefs, and Goals Related to Emotions in the Classroom” in Emotion in Education (Elsevier, 2007).
  • Lori Aultman
    University of Georgia
    LORI AULTMAN is an assistant professor at the University of Georgia. She earned her doctorate from the University of Georgia in the Department of Educational Psychology, and her research interests include self-regulation, motivation, and college student learning. Recent publications: “An Unexpected Benefit of Formative Student Evaluations” in College Teaching (2006); and, with S. M. Glynn and A. M. Owens, “Motivation to Learn in General Education Programs” in the Journal of General Education (2005).
  • Jennifer Osbon
    University of Georgia
    JENNIFER OSBON is currently a Dual Diagnosis mental health therapist in Florida. She is finishing her master’s degree in educational psychology at the University of Georgia, and her research interests include motivation, emotions, psychopathology, and decision-making. Recent publications: with P. A. Schutz, D. I. Cross, and J. Y. Hong, “Reflections on Investigating Emotion in Educational Activity Settings” in Educational Psychology Review (2006); and, with P. A. Schutz, D. I. Cross, and J. Y. Hong, “ Teacher Identities, Beliefs, and Goals Related to Emotions in the Classroom” in Emotion in Education(Elsevier, 2007).
  • Paul Schutz
    University of Texas at San Antonio
    PAUL SCHUTZ is a professor in the Department of Counseling, Educational Psychology, and Adult and Higher Education at the University of Texas at San Antonio. He earned his doctorate from the University of Texas at Austin in the Department of Educational Psychology. His research interests include motivation, emotion, and research methodologies. Recent publications: with R. Pekrun, Emotion in Education (Elsevier, 2007); and, with J. Y. Hong, D. I. Cross, and J. N. Osbon, “Reflections on Investigating Emotion in Educational Activity Settings” in Educational Psychology Review (2006).
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