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Managing Emotions in Teaching: Toward an Understanding of Emotion Displays and Caring as Nonprescribed Role Elements

by Izhar Oplatka - 2007

Background: Much research has sought to investigate emotions and forms of emotion management among teachers worldwide, including the connection between educational change and teacher emotion; the association between the culture of teaching and teachers’ emotional experience within parent-teacher interactions; the link between teacher emotion and teacher beliefs; and the expressions and sources of a wide variety of emotions in teaching.

Purposes: Guided by a literature that explored the nonprescribed extrarole activities in noneducation sectors, the current study aimed at understanding the position of emotion management, such as caring, compassion, and emotion displays, in the teacher’s role structure.

Population: A total of 50 teachers participated in this study, of which 40 women and 10 men represent the ratio of women to men teachers in the religiously nonobservant Jewish educational system, the largest one in Israel (66% of the K–12 students).

Research Design: Open-ended questions were used to gain the respondents’ subjective conceptualizations of organizational citizenship behavior (OCB) and emotion management in teaching. Additionally, the teachers’ subjective perceptions of the context affecting their OCBs were explored.

Conclusions: Teachers’ emotion management is considered to be a discretionary, voluntary-based role element rather than a prescribed one. The teachers’ perspectives of emotion management in their role coincided with the term emotion work, which refers to situations in which employees personally choose to manage their emotions. Implications for teacher education and further research are suggested.


In recent years, the role of emotions in school has been receiving increasing attention in the education literature (e.g., Beatty, 2000; Day & Leitch, 2001; Hargreaves, 1998, 2000; Little, 1996; Nias, 1999; Noddings, 1992; Oplatka, 2003). Hochschild (1990) provided us with a working definition of emotion:

I would define emotion as an awareness of four elements that we usually experience at the same time: (a) appraisals of a situation, (b) changes in bodily sensations, (c) the free or inhibited display of expressive gesture, and (d) a cultural label applied to specific constellations of the first three elements (pp. 118119).

Emotions represent evaluative cognitions (Mandler, 1990) and are organized psycho-physiological reactions to information and knowledge about the significance for personal well-being of relationships with the environment (most often another person) (Lazarus, 1993, p. 25).

Emotional states encompass both mood, the rather generalized feelings of happiness or sadness that we all experience from time to time, and more specific emotional states, such as joy, pride, fear, anger, or disgust, that result from specific occurrences in our environment (Ashkanasy, Zerbe, & Hartel, 2002). Anger, anxiety, fright, guilt, shame, happiness, pride, relief, hope, love, and compassion are conceived of as emotional states (Lazarus, 1993). Emotions can be caught from others via empathy.

The perceived place of these and other emotions in the teacher's role in terms of mandatory versus discretionary tasks is the focus of this article. The first section discusses the literature on teacher emotions and a conceptual framework for the present study. The studys method and results follow, and the article concludes by suggesting some practical implications for teacher education.


Much research has sought to investigate emotions and forms of emotion management among teachers worldwide (e.g., Hargreaves, 1998, 2000; Klaassen, 2002; Lasky, 2000; Nias, 1999; Winograd, 2003; Zembylas, 2004). Among the issues posed in this research are the connection between educational change and teacher emotion (Hargreaves, 1994, 2000; Marshak, 1996); the association between the culture of teaching and teachers emotional experience within parent-teacher interactions (e.g., Lasky); the link between teacher emotion and teacher beliefs (e.g., Zembylas & Vancil, 2002); and the expressions and sources of a wide variety of emotions in teaching, such as guilt (Hargreaves, 1994), anger and frustration (Sutton, 2002), enthusiasm (Oplatka, 2004), and the like. Of the above-indicated issues, two have received great attention in the literature.

The emotional complexities in teachers interactions with students have been widely explored (e.g., Hargreaves, 2000; Nias, 1999; Zembylas, 2004). Nias (1989) observed that emotions play an important role in teachers relationships with students. The emotions that the woman teacher in Zembylass case study experienced in her interactions with students, colleagues, and administrators at her school were shaped by the emotional rules and discourse considered appropriate within the culture of teaching. Kushman (1992) argued that teacher dedication to helping student learning is related to emotional bonds with students, such as personal caring, because in these supportive interactions, a warm climate where students feel comfortable can be formed.

Understanding the expressions, sources, and consequences of varied emotional states in teachers work was also the focus of research on teacher emotions. For example, Hargreaves (1994) found that guilt is a central emotional preoccupation for teachers and that warmth and love underpinned the lives and work of many teachers in his study. Other studies have indicated that teachers experience a variety of positive and negative emotions in their work (Little, 1996; Nias, 1989; Sutton, 2002) as a result of the way teachers perceive, interpret, and evaluate their relationship with the environment. When teachers are asked about what they find satisfying in their jobs, they spontaneously refer to emotions of joy, wonder, and excitement. Teachers have been observed to experience negative emotions at work too: frustration, disappointment, anxiety, anger, fear, embarrassment, and sadness (Little, 1996; Oplatka, 2005).

An important area in studying the emotions involved in teaching refers to caring. The caring orientation has been explored in terms of teachers relationships with students as personal rather than impersonal and bureaucratic (e.g., Beck & Kooser, 2004; Nias, 1999; Noddings, 1984, 1992). For Noddings (1984), caring involves the establishment of meaningful relationships, the ability to sustain connections, and the commitment to respond to others with sensitivity and flexibility. In classroom teaching, caring takes the shape of encouraging dialogue, exhibiting sensitivity to students needs and interests, and providing rich and meaningful materials and activities, among other responsive pedagogical strategies.

Underlying this emergent research on teaching and emotions are two interrelated assumptions. First, the manner by which emotions are managed by teachers depends considerably on social convictions or the culture of teaching. Put differently, the capacity of teachers to display a certain emotion in their work is not just a matter of personal disposition, but also of cultural influences (Hargreaves, 2000; Nias, 1999; Zembylas, 2004). This assumption aligns with the constructive approach (Oatley, 1993; Zembylas, 1996) that suggests that cultural and ideological standards determine where, when, and how to express particular emotions with different people. Cornelius (1996) explained this perspective: The experience and expression of emotions is dependent on learned convictions or rules and that, to the extent that cultures differ in the way they talk about and conceptualize emotions, how they are experienced and expressed will differ in different cultures as well (p. 188).

The second assumption, following from the first, is that the culture of the teaching profession is likely to exert much influence on teachers management of emotions at work (Nias, 1999). When elementary education is concerned, this kind of culture is premised to be a culture of care, love, concern, affection, and other potential emotion displays toward children (Nias, 1989, 1999; Noddings, 1984, 1992). Following his extensive work on teacher emotions, Hargreaves (1994, 1998, 2000) indicated that teaching is an emotional practice; that is, it activates, colors, and expresses teachers own feelings and the actions in which those feelings are embedded. Similarly, Klaassen (2002) found that teachers in her study communicated with students in a more relational, personal, and moral manner. Their teacher-students relationships were not limited merely to pedagogical issues.


Two areas of investigation often viewed as distinct were combined to guide the research questions and design of the present study: the literature on emotions in organizations (e.g., Ashkanasy et al., 2002; Wharton, 1993), and the scholarship on organizational citizenship behavior (OCB), which originates in noneducation sectors (e.g., Organ, 1997; Podsakoff, MacKenzie, Paine, & Bachrach, 2000) but is gradually and steadily becoming a focus of research in education (e.g., Dipola & Tschannen-Moran, 2001; Somech & Drach-Zahavy, 2000).

Emotional Labor and Emotion Work

The research on emotions in organizations (e.g., Ashkanasy et al., 2002; Hochschild, 1983) deals with the question of why and how employees may display particular emotions, including emotions that differ from how they feel. A well-known distinction has been made in the literature between two terms: emotional labor and emotion work.

Emotional Labor. This concept refers to a situation in which employees are required to display particular emotional states as a part of their job (Hochschild, 1983), displays for which they receive remuneration and that are controlled by others (Wharton, 1993). Emotional labor involves selling the emotional self for the purposes and profits of the organizationa smile for sale, for example. The grocery store clerk whose manager instructs her to smile when dealing with customers is being paid not only to manage her emotions as part of her job, but she is also told exactly what emotional state she must manifest (Callahan & McCollum, 2002). In this sense, Rafaeli and Sutton (1989) showed that service employees' displays of positive emotion (e.g., smiling) were directly related to positive customer reactions, which in turn contributed to higher sales percentages.

Emotion Work. The second concept, in contrast, defines a state in which the individual is autonomous in managing his or her emotions in the workplace and is not paid for doing so, and emotion management of any kind is not enforced (Hochschild, 1983). Callahan and McCollum (2002) clarified this concept by distinguishing it from emotional labor:

We argue that the term emotion work is appropriate for situations in which individuals are personally choosing to manage their emotions for their own non-compensated benefit. The term emotional labor, on the other hand, is appropriate only when emotion work is exchanged for something such as a wage or some other type of valued compensation. (p. 282)

Tolich (1993) found that emotion work led to deeper feelings of satisfaction regarding work because the emotion displays at work were controlled by the employee rather than the superiors.

It is worth noting, however, that the distinction is not sufficiently evident, and there are many exceptional cases. For example, if employees are not paid to go to festivities as part of their actual position in the organization, yet are expected by superiors to attend and to be cheerful about it, they experience indirect emotional labor" rather than emotion work, according to Callahan and McCollum (2002).

Even though the use of the concept of emotional labor in the research on emotion in teaching is different, to a certain extent, from that of the research on emotion outside education, the educational literature seems to advocate, explicitly and implicitly, the inclusion of the teaching profession under the category of emotional labor. In teaching, external control over the emotional labor of the teacher comes in the form of cultural expectations rather than strict regulations concerning correct" emotional states at work (Winograd, 2003). Hence, teachers are expected by the culture of teaching to express love, sympathy, compassion, concern, and dedication to others and to help weak pupils to learn, not merely because they are paid to do so, but because it is the nature of their profession and their ethical responsibility (Fenstermacher & Soltis, 1986; Hargreaves, 2000).

For the purpose of this study, the above outlined distinction implies autonomous versus regulated emotion management in the teacher's role, even if the regulation of this kind of management might result from an internalization of emotion-oriented rules embedded in the culture of teaching. In light of this distinction, emotion management in teaching might either be a result of personal disposition or of the school's culture and rules. The present study focuses on this distinction between emotion management in teaching that is discretionary in nature and that which is regulated or actually "culturalized.

Organizational Citizenship Behavior

The distinction between emotional labor and emotion work is similar to a commonly held distinction in organization studies between obligatory, rewarded role behavior, and discretionary, unrewarded role behavior, named organizational citizenship behavior (OCB). Contrasting the two sets of distinctions shows that emotional labor parallels, in some sense, obligatory role behaviors, whereas emotion work is on par with discretionary role behaviors. Both sets of distinction, however, differ at the level of analysis (emotion vs. behavior), and the second set is more general and comprehensive than the first one. The behavioral distinction was included in the conceptual framework of this study because the research on OCB and related organizational phenomena (e.g., Kidwell, Mossholder, & Bennett, 1997; Organ, 1988, 1997; Podsakoff et al., 2000; Schnake, 1991) has largely been developed during the last two decades, enabling me to use the concepts, models, and guidelines of this research in devising and interpreting the research data.

Based on a synthesis of past conceptualizations of OCB (Diefendorff, Brown, Kamin, & Lord, 2002; Organ, 1988, 1990; Schnake, 1991), the working definition of OCB in this study refers to several elements: (1) voluntary, beyond what is required, task behavior; (2) discretionary-based behaviors not formally prescribed, nor enforced on the basis of formal role obligations; (3) behaviors directed toward others or the organization; (4) behaviors that are desired by an organization; and (5) avoidance of behaviors that are harmful to the organization. Examples of OCB include helping other employees; volunteering to do things that are not required; assisting newcomers to the organization; not abusing the rights of coworkers; not taking extra breaks; and attending elective company meetings (Kidwell et al., 1997).

Organ (1988) originally proposed five OCB dimensions: (1) conscientiousnessthe extent to which someone is punctual, is high in attendance, and works beyond normal requirements or expectations; (2) work-relevant courtesythe practice of checking with people before taking action that may affect their work; (3) sportsmanshiptolerating with tact the minor imposition and nuisances that are the inevitable fallout of interdependence; (4) altruismbehavior that helps others with existing job-related problems; and (5) civic virtuethe extent to which one contributes to political issues in organizations in a responsible manner. Podsakoff et al. (2000) added two other dimensions: organizational loyalty, which involves the promotion of the organization to outsiders, protecting and defending it against external threats" (p. 517); and individual initiative, which is attached to OCB on the grounds that change or innovation initiation is far beyond the actions minimally required or generally expected from employees on the day-to-day level.

Schoolteachers, like other role incumbents in modern organizations, were found to express a variety of OCBs in their work. The facets of this construct in teaching were related to the students, the team, and the school as a unit. Dipola and Tschannen-Moran (2001), who conducted research among 1,874 teachers in public schools in Ohio and Virginia, concluded that teachers work toward the achievement of overall organizational goals, while helping other teachers and students. Teacher OCB was positively correlated with job satisfaction, self-efficacy, the pervasive climate of a school and professionalism (Christ, Van Dick, Wagner, & Stellmacher, 2003; Dipola & Tschannen-Moran; Somech & Drach-Zahavy, 2000). The occurrence of OCB among schoolteachers worldwide is a useful construct to guide inquiry about the position of emotion management in the teacher's role.

Definitions and constructions of OCB were used in the present study to examine whether teachers perceive emotion management at work as an obligatory role aspect that is determined by their formal role definition, or rather as a voluntary, nonformal aspect of their job. More specifically, they helped sharpen the research purpose with respect to a variety of aspects that might be related to the place of emotion management in teaching. For instance, aspects such as the formalization of role behavior, the contribution of OCB to the organization, and the availability of sanctions, all incorporated in the concept of OCB, assisted me in devising an interview guide and questions.

In addition, the seven dimensions that illustrate the multiple components of OCB (indicated previously) were used to guide interview questions for the present research and to help analyze the data. As far as emotion management in teaching is concerned, three dimensions in particular guided the data collection and analysis: conscientiousness, altruism, and individual initiative (which are relevant to any attempt to trace the position of emotion management among the multiple roles of teachers). It was assumed that teachers might express high emotional understanding toward students while, at the same time, lacking other aspects of OCB; however, this issue is left for further research.

Guided by the distinction between emotion work and emotional labor, and by the distinction between obligatory, formal role behaviors and discretionary, nonprescribed role behaviors, the present study collected data from educators in the Israeli compulsory educational system to explore patterns of teacher OCB and its determinants and consequences. The findings reported here relate to teachers perceived place of emotion management in their role. More specifically, the study posed three questions: (1) What is the place attributed to emotions in the teachers role on the axial obligatory versus discretionary (i.e., OCB) role aspects? (2) Do teachers perceive their work as emotional labor or as embedded with emotion work? (3) What are the contextual and personal determinants that are considered by schoolteachers to be related to teachers emotion management at work?

An examination of the position that teachers subjectively attribute to emotions in their role is beneficial on two levels. First, because teaching has a bottomless appetite for the investment of scarce personal resources (Nias, 1989), understanding teachers subjective perceptions of the place of emotions in their role performance may help sharpen the boundaries between officially prescribed regulations and extrarole activities in teaching. This may result in minimizing role conflicts that may derive from ambiguity and uncertainty of role expectations.

Second, the exposure of teachers voices regarding their motives to manage emotions at their work may provide us with much knowledge about the ways by which school management and teacher educators could encourage an emotional atmosphere in the school. Thus, if teachers consider emotion management to be part of their voluntary role aspects, this means that school principals should find some informal mechanisms to promote emotional understanding or caring in school.


This study employed qualitative research methodology to collect and analyze empirical data. Following Erickson (1986), who claimed that the conceptions in qualitative research are revealed during data analysis, no defined hypothesis is tested in the study. However, based on the literature on OCB in noneducation sectors (e.g., Podsakoff et al., 2000), it was assumed that teachers might experience these kinds of behaviors in their work and attribute some behaviors and activities to voluntary, nonprescribed role aspects.

It is worth noting, however, that the position of emotion in the teachers role was not addressed directly in the initial stage of the study. At this stage, the focus of the study was on teachers voluntary behaviors and extrarole activities, and the place of emotions was drawn inductively from the data. The teachers were those who referred to emotion management at work in relation to teacher OCB.


A total of 50 teachers participated in this study, of which 40 women and 10 men represent the ratio of men and women teachers in the religiously nonobservant Jewish educational system, the largest one in Israel (66% of the K12 students). Ages ranged from 28 to 64, the average age being 43. All the teachers were tenured, with teaching experience in years ranging between 8 and 38. The average number of years of experience was 17. Forty-two of the teachers were married, 3 were single, 3 were divorced, and 2 were widowed. A total of 44 out of 50 had children, ranging from 1 to 5 children; the average number of children was 2.3. The participants, who live in the center, north and south of Israel, came from urban and rural areas. Twenty-five work in the elementary system, and 25 work in the secondary system, of which at least 11 work in junior high school.


Because of the need to focus on a homogenous group of subjects in a qualitative inquiry that aims at understanding a certain phenomenon profoundly, the teachers in this study were selected using criterion sampling (i.e., all subjects that meet some criterion; Paton, 2002). The informants (principals and head of department or a schoolteacher) were asked to recommend elementary and secondary teachers with 8 or more years of teaching experience who are considered to be those who do more than is needed formally in school, not to impress others but for the sake of the whole. Informants were provided with adjectives, such as caring, helpful, committed, and dedicated, to indicate the kind of person the research was seeking.

Based on the literature on OCB, it is believed that teachers meeting the above-indicated criteria are more likely to adopt OCBs in their work and therefore could provide us with much knowledge about this kind of behavior in education. Thus, after receiving recommendations from two sources in a certain school, the 23 teachers most highly recommended were contacted by phone, the nature of the study was explained, and a face-to-face meeting was scheduled with teachers who agreed to participate.

It is worth noting that because only teachers initially recommended by their principal were interviewed, some degree of deviation may have occurred. Because of this sampling method, any teachers who engage in many extrarole activities and suit the rest of the criteria specified, but who are not appreciated or recognized by their principal, were excluded. Allen, Barnard, Rush, and Russell (2000) noted that many OCBs are likely to occur out of sight of the supervisor and without his knowledge, and are known to coworkers or clients. This shortcoming was taken into account in the data analysis.


Semistructured interviews were employed in this study primarily because this kind of interview has been described as a means that enables the researcher to enter into the personal perspectives of the interviewee that are meaningful, knowable, and able to be made explicit (Paton, 2002). In this sense, the participating teachers provided the researcher with their own subjective constructions of OCB and its place in the general mosaic and contexts of their lives.

Open-ended questions were used to gain the respondents subjective conceptualizations of OCB and emotion management in teaching. Additionally, the teachers subjective perceptions of the context affecting their OCBs were explored. This approach was selected with the intention of increasing authenticity and to enable the researcher to collect data that more closely represent the personal perspectives of individual participants. It is important to note, however, that the interviewer avoided using the term OCB or any other normatively desired terms (e.g., to assist, to care for) to refrain from indicating social desirability (unless it was first indicated by the interviewee). Table 1 includes a sample of the interview questions.

Table 1. A Sample of Open-Ended Questions


No. Question


1. Assuming I was a school principal, what could I request from my staff?

2. Could you please describe a teacher who goes beyond formal duties?

3. What aspects of the teacher's role do you consider voluntary?

4. What do you do beyond what you are required?

5. What do you expect teachers to feel, even though it isnt their formal duty?

6. How can the principal make teachers do more than required?

7. Why do teachers go beyond what is formally expected of them?

The analysis of the interview data followed the four stages described by Marshall and Rossman (1995): organizing the data; generating categories, themes, and patterns; testing any emergent hypothesis; and searching for alternative explanations. This analysis aims at identifying central themes in the data and searching for recurrent experiences, feelings, and attitudes so as to be able to code, reduce, and connect different categories into central themes. The coding was guided by the principles of comparative analysis (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). This included comparison of any coded element in terms of emergent categories and subcategories (see the appendix for an example of the coding system). Finally, all the interview data were compared, leading to the identification of patterns of OCB and their determinants and consequences.

During the first stage of the study, interviews were transcribed by the interviewer, and responses were divided into one of six categories adapted from the research questions: duties, perceptions of OCB, actual OCB, motives, context, and results. The analysis was completed by a team that included the research coordinator and the author. In January 2004, after the first 20 interviews with teachers had been conducted, an intermediate analysis was conducted by the author. Categories and subcategories were refined, and several of the research questions were altered. Subsequent interviews were then analyzed according to the revised categories.

Toward the final stage of the study, a final series of categories was generated and files were created, concentrating all occurrences of a certain category throughout the 50 interviews. The six original categories evolved into four basic themes: beyond teaching, devoting unremunerated time and energy, emotions of OCB, and assistance to colleagues. In addition to these themes, categories were added for context of OCB (personal and organizational), factors interfering with OCB, and results of OCB. Then, every theme was analyzed comprehensively to identify categories and subcategories in this theme by consistent comparison of the categories, combining categories, and creating new categories that include new subcategories.

To increase trustworthiness in the research, the analysis was strengthened by structured analysis (described above) and by peer review (every research assistant studied the principal researchers analysis), two common indicators that qualitative researchers use to build confidence in their analytic procedures (Marshall & Rossman, 1995). The research assistants and the research coordinator were given the coded interview transcripts. They made comments on the categories and, at a later stage, on the emergent themes. Their comments helped sharpen the emergent categories, made their boundaries clear, and regenerated the major themes. For example, following this kind of review, the subcategories "material assistance" and "creative support" have been merged under the category "compassion toward the disadvantaged pupil."


Interestingly, many teachers in this study subjectively constructed their role as embedded with emotion workthat is, that their emotion management is not determined by their formal role definition, but rather is susceptible to their discretion and personal choice. Thus, their construction of emotions in teaching was incompatible with that of teaching as an "emotional labor," as defined by researchers of emotions in noneducation organizations (e.g., Hochschild, 1983; Wharton, 1993).


In conjunction with researchers of emotions in teaching worldwide (e.g., Nias, 1999; Zembylas, 2004), the teachers typically reported expressing warmth, love, affection for and interest in their students, and feeling empathy toward their world, as if they were her own kids, as a junior high school teacher indicated. Yet, when asked to sharpen the position of these emotion displays within their role structure, the nonmandatory aspect of these displays in their work was emphasized. A female elementary school teacher, 39, who divulged her feelings during the interview meeting, exemplified this attitude in the following dialogue:

Interviewer: What do you expect teachers to feel, even though it isnt their formal duty?

Teacher: I want teachers to feel sympathy, thats all. To feel for students. I dont actually expect a teacher to cry with a student who has left a test crying. But I do expect her to go up the student and say, Never mind. A test isnt the end of the world. Lets see what we can do, Ill give you another test.

Similarly, a female elementary school teacher, 32, emphasized the formally nonobligatory aspects of emotion management in teaching, suggesting that they are part of teachers moral obligations: I expect the teacher to be empathic, sensitive, help the child, support him, warmth, love, everything the child needs, even though a principal cant force her.

It is apparent that the teacher is an advocate of the need to display positive emotions in teaching work, although it is not a mandatory part of the role. Another female elementary school teacher, 34, expressed the discretionary, voluntary aspect of teachers emotions in a slightly different way:

Interviewer: Are there informal things that you do voluntarily, that you are not required to do?

Teacher: I dont know. I feel its part of my role as a teacher, though someone else might tell you that to deal with the emotional side is the counselors job. But I feel like its my job. Every teacher sees what he has or doesnt have to do. But to me personally, it seems that its my duty as a teacher to deal with the emotional aspects [of pupils].

For her, emotion management is part of the teachers moral obligation, yet she is fully aware of the individually uncontrolled element of this work.

A recurring emotion in the respondents interviews is love. A display of love for pupils is interpreted as caring about the pupils, an attention to their needs, an emotion that embodies verbal and nonverbal displays. But most of the respondents attach this profound and strong emotion to emotion work, suggesting, for example, that teachers might love a particular child and not love others. They conclude, then, that teachers are not obliged to love their pupils on the grounds that love is a very personal and internal disposition. A female elementary school teacher, 38, manifested this attitude explicitly and clearly:

Interviewer: What else do you do beyond what you are required?

Teacher: I can give of myself, I can hug and kiss, I can embrace and protect. I can ask a child from class to come out for a fun time with my family without worrying that its my pupil, if a child needs my support from all directions then Ill also take him out to have a good time. Ill also go to his house to play with him, all because I love children.

With the notion of emotion management as a moral rather than formal obligation in teaching, the article turns now to discuss two major topics in the research on emotions in organization: emotional understanding (or intelligence) and compassion toward and caring for others (e.g., clients, colleagues, pupils).


According to Hargreaves (1998), teaching necessarily involves an extensive degree of emotional understanding. This term refers to an intersubjective process requiring that one person enter into the field of experience of another and experience herself the same or similar experiences experienced by another (Denzin, 1984, p.137). In this sense, teachers who are attentive and sensitive to pupils emotional needs and problems are, at least in part, involved in this kind of understanding.

Drawing on the data, there are two levels of emotional understanding that are considered by the teachers in this study not to be part of the teachers formal task obligations: attentiveness and listening versus inquiry and proactive attention.

Attentiveness and Listening

At the first level, the teacher is open, available, and accessible to pupils. Attentiveness is expressed by the teachers voluntary readiness to let the students express their emotions, needs, problems and the like, even at the expense of her break or after school hours, as an elementary school teacher, 44, indicated. Listening is not necessarily a part of the formal role obligationsexcept during 1 hour per week that is fixed in the teachers work schedulebut is up to the teachers discretion, as reflected in the next citations: The Ministry of Education doesnt compel the teacher to answer students phone calls after he finishes work. It isnt compulsory, but I do answer phone calls and encourage them to call me (male high school teacher, 47).

A major part of the teachers emotional understanding revolves around students problems and difficulties. An extreme, uncommon listening interaction that illustrates the voluntary aspect of this kind of emotional understanding is given by a female junior high school teacher, 37:

A student called me at 2 a.m. and said, I need you. I got into my car and went. Thats one example. She had had a fight with her family. So Im happy to help. Well, Im not happy about getting up, but because she needed me, then it wasnt a problem.

This quote brings us to the kinds of problems and difficulties that are addressed to the teachers who voluntarily listen to their pupils. Teachers in the current study were usually attentive to problems related to academic difficulties, to parent-children connections, and to negative emotions expressed by the pupils. The next quote illustrates, it is assumed, the kinds of issues raised in the teacher-pupil interactions: If I feel that I am receptive to students, then students approach independently when they see you can listen to them. They open up and talk about the problems they have at home or in class. It includes listening and helping them find solutions they hadnt thought of (female elementary school teacher, 38).

A few teachers, nonetheless, indicated that listening to pupils is a part of the teachers formal role obligations because of its underlying moral dimension:

I think that the third point that isnt necessarily connected to my being a physics and math teacher is the fact that Im responsible for the students on a personal level. Im supposed to be willing to listen and be a figure they can rely on and consult on every subject concerning school life, and if they feel the need then with their personal life also. Definitely, I should listen and help, or refer them if it is beyond my capability. I think it is part of my role even if I am just a teacher of a specific subject. (male high school teacher, 44)

Inquiry and Proactive Attention

At the second level of emotional understanding, the teacher is engaged in what Kahn (1998) called inquiry and attentionthat is, the teacher proactively asks for information necessary to provide for the pupils emotional, physical, and cognitive needs and shows comprehension with verbal and nonverbal gestures. Teachers, at their own discretion, initiated listening to certain students to know more about their feelings, emotions, and the like, as reflected in the next quote:

I think that if a teacher knows that there are children with problems and he goes up to them every now and again and asks, Hows it going at home? I just saw him in the hall so I asked, How are you doing? and thats it, I dont even know if I wanted to hear an answer or not. Sometimes I take him out of class, if I have a free lesson, then I take a student and say, Come sit with me. I sit down with him and talk about what is going on at home, or about his friends. One of our problems here from the conversations we had with the classes is the fact that teachers dont pay attention to them. There are students who need to be listened to, and they dont find that at school, sadly in large schools its hard to find it. (male junior high school teacher, 52)

For many respondents, to go beyond what is formally expected from teachers is to dedicate and invest much time and energy to diagnose every childs cognitive state and to be sensitive to students difficulties, welfare, and distress, as a female elementary school teacher, 48, stated:

Interviewer: In your school, who is considered a teacher who goes beyond formal role obligations?

Teacher: A teacher who goes beyond is a teacher who takes the children with her everywhere, not physically, but in feeling and mind . . . a teacher who doesnt stop working as soon as the children go home . . . a teacher who analyzes the previous day and thinks, What do I need to do for that child or this child. Maybe they need reinforcement? What do I need to talk about with the child tomorrow? Should I call the parents and consult them, tell them about things that he saw or wants to hear about . . . if they know whats going on, if they connect to it. To call the parents about good things that happened also.

This attitude is contrasted by several teachers in this study who flatly claimed that being sensitive to students changes and needs and actively seeking to discover them are a mandatory part of the teachers work. A male elementary school teacher, 33, explained,

I think formally I must take care of the childs welfare and check his mental state. This includes checking how he arrives in the morning, what mood hes in, is he prepared for class. Does he have his equipment, has he done his homework, the condition of his body and equipment. Check the home he comes from, how the home is arranged for him from the childs point of view. Thats the formal aspect as far as I can see. How the child is prepared, prepared educationally but the mental aspect comes first and after that the scholastic aspect. Thats what you are formally required to do as a teacher.

A teacher who is permanently on the alert to identify a decline in achievements and abrupt changes in student behavior in class, and to grasp, almost magically, when a student has not understood the lesson, is considered to do it voluntarily. Principals are not assumed to have a legitimate right to force teachers to do so.


Salient emotions that were considered as nonprescribed role elements in teaching are compassion and caring for students in distress, leading to many behaviors aimed at giving these emotions a practical meaning. In this sense, if teaching were an emotional labor, principals in many countries could force teachers to express compassion-driven behaviors. However, almost all the teachers in this study contested this view, suggesting that compassion and caring are actually examples of emotion work in their job.

Empathy (i.e., imaginatively putting the teacher in the students place and identifying with his or her experiences) and compassion (i.e., showing emotional presence by displaying warmth, affection and kindness; Kahn, 1998) are recurrently reported in this study with respect to less privileged students. Although compassionate and empathic feelings are associated with concern, pain, and affection (Frost, Dutton, Worline, & Wilson, 2000), teachers reported voluntarily expressing these emotions through action of some sort. A female high school teacher stressed the discretionary, nonobligatory nature of these actions:

There is a student who doesnt have money at home and the school has no money, so its how creative you can be to ensure that he does go on a trip or receives dental care. If you have half a class with parents who are never home or are divorced or they are orphans, what do you do about it? Nobody wrote that you have to do anything about it. Thats what it means to go beyond formal duties.

Teachers reported being involved voluntarily in supporting students from disadvantaged backgrounds physically, emotionally, and materially. One teacher, for example, voluntarily organized a large birthday party for a child with a fatal illness because she knew it was probably his last birthday. The next citations illustrate the perceived voluntary aspect of teachers compassion towards pupils in distress:

Interviewer: So far youve described teachers formal duties. Can you describe teachers who go beyond for their class?

Teacher: When a child is hospitalized then I teach him at the hospital. I dont let the hospital do the teaching. I personally go to the hospital and work with the child. I go to visit and supply an emotional need and I give him attention. (female elementary school teacher, 38)

Having said that, she added,

Responding to the childs needs isnt just going in to teach and then closing the classroom door. Its not a supermarket with opening hours where you go home at the end of the day and dont know anybody. You need to get to know the children well. Caring means that if a child is hospitalized, Im returning to that example, Im obliged to visit him once. If the child is hospitalized for a long time its up to me to decide how often Ill visit. Because I care, I go and give him his homework. I show support, that Im with him if its an operation or an injury or whatever. Caring means that you dont measure the time and nobody pays for visiting the hospital. I can tell the parents, this is what I taught, and you teach it to him. But if I care, then Ill sit with him for additional hours and Ill teach him in the hospital. When he comes home, Ill also visit at home.

The teachers clearly contended that they cannot be compelled to provide emotional (and physical) support to hospitalized pupils as part of their formal role obligations, even though this situation does exist in many schools.

It is unlikely that most people would connect teaching and charity campaigns or volunteer organizations. But it is evident that some teachers in this study either initiated or participated in compassion-based activities aimed at helping less privileged pupils financially or materially. In many cases, it is simply providing the less privileged pupils with food, either in the class or as part of an organized attempt to feed this group of children. In one case, a child with no mother was given sweets and snacks by the teacher, whose compassion allowed her to stand by him. In a more difficult case, an elementary teacher voluntarily provided a child with a sandwich, lest she go hungry during the school day. Her colleague told her story:

For a whole year she used to bring the child a sandwich. It was obvious to her that she made one for him when she made one for herself. There are teachers who bring clothes from home secretly to give to a certain child. There is another teacher who I know gave a large holiday gift with money in it to a family (female elementary school teacher, 47).

There is no doubt that these sorts of activities that are motivated by strong compassionate and empathic feelings toward poor children are a kind of emotion work in school, for schools are not socially constructed to provide charity or organize financial assistance to less privileged groups. This notion is also shared by the teachers in this study who believe that volunteering to assist a pupil with financial problems is an excellent example of teachers activities that are beyond those formally requested [in teaching], as an elementary school teacher, 41, stated.


Generally speaking, teachers emotion management was related to a sense of educational calling, other-oriented personality, pupils socioeconomic status and, above all, the emotional leadership of the school principal. Yet, the determinants brought up here should be taken as the participants subjective constructions of the contexts affecting their engagement in emotion work.

Consistent with Hargreaves (1998), who maintained that emotions of teaching and their form are shaped by the moral purposes of those who teach, some teachers constructed a link between their emotion management at work and a sense of educational calling. It is evident in a teachers voice:

Interviewer: You told me about a lot of things that you do beyond [what is required]. Whats your motive? What leads you to it?

Teacher: First of all I really love my work. I really see teaching as a calling, I dont see it just as a source of income, because its hard to make a living from it. I think that in our time, when children are so confused, I think we have a very important role helping children to live in this confusing world. Im not ashamed to say that I still believe in the idea that being a teacher is a mission, it has to be undertaken from the heart or you might as well go home (female elementary school teacher, 48).

A prominent contextual determinant of teachers emotion management is the pupils socioeconomic status. Congruent with findings worldwide (Ben-Peretz, Mendelson, & Kron, 2003; Hargreaves, 1998; Lortie, 1975), teachers of disadvantaged students tended to see their practice in terms of caring, emotions, and compassion. A description of this feeling is given by a female high school teacher, 54:

Teacher: I have remained at a school in Jaffa all these years because it has become my second home and I feel that the children there need my help and that keeps me there. The children of Jaffa need me. I really love the children there, it may be very hard, but I really love them.

Interviewer: What do you love about them?

Teacher: They know how to return warmth, and they definitely appreciate and know how to return love. I think other schools need my love less. They need it less. Everybody needs love, who doesnt? But less, they need it more in Jaffa.

She and other teachers in this study believe that their students from disadvantaged families need much emotional support and sympathy from their teachers. Consistent with past research that found a connection between supportive and caring leadership and employee OCB (Schnake, 1991; Wong, Ngo, & Wong, 2003), and with the literature on emotions in organizations (Ashkanasy et al., 2002; Kahn, 1998), teachers felt that positive displays of emotion, attentiveness to teachers needs, and individual consideration by principals help replenish teachers supplies of emotion displays and caregiving. Attentiveness to and interest in a teachers life and work seem to generate an emotional bond between principals and teachers, which in turn encourages teachers to display positive emotions toward their own pupils:

Interviewer: How can the principal make teachers do more than required?

Teacher: When you feel he cares, everything I do for the students he cares about, he cares about my home situation and my work situation. He cares about how I feel in school and what happens with the parents. He feels everything I am feeling, as if we were one person and that encourages me to continue (female elementary school teacher, 44).

The subjectively held connections between contextual and personal elements and teacher emotion management draw support from previous research, as indicated above. Even so, however, the shortcoming of qualitative inquiry with respect to the influence of variables on a certain phenomenon was taken into account.


The current study aimed at exposing the position of emotions within the varied tasks in teaching. In total, 34 teachers in this study consistently shared the assumption that emotional understanding, caring, and emotion displays in teaching are actually discretionary, nonobligatory role elements. Display of emotion in teaching was not perceived as a mandatory task or as part of the teachers role description. A failure to display emotion cannot lead to any formal sanction, and teachers are not necessarily trained to employ them. Displays of emotion, then, are consistent with definitions of OCB (e.g., Bolino, 1999; Kidwell et al., 1997; Organ, 1988; Podsakoff et al., 2000; Wayne & Green, 1993) in that they cannot be enforced on the basis of the teachers formal role obligations. It is likely, nevertheless, that teachers are influenced, to some extent, by the culture of teaching, and therefore manifest positive attitudes toward a wide variety of emotion displays at their work.

The findings shed light on the perceived place of emotions in the teachers role in terms of the in-role/extrarole dichotomy, suggesting that teachers emotion management is discretionary and voluntary rather than regulated and institutionalized. The teachers in this study did not feel obliged to display emotions of any kind or to adopt an emotional understanding, just as employees in work that uses emotional labors might feel, according to Hochschild (1983). In contrast, the teachers reported having the choice to manage their emotions for their own noncompensated benefit, which coincides with the definition of emotion work suggested by Callahan and McCollum (2002). In some sense, the teachers perceptions of the place of emotion in their role resemble the term emotional regulation. This term refers to a process by which individuals influence which emotions they have, when they have them, and how they express them (Gross, 1998). After all, it is widely held that compassion and caring draw on ones emotional energy resources, as Frost (1999) maintained.

What is the meaning of this evidence for our understanding of teachers perceived role definition? What can we learn from the findings of this study? What are the implications for teacher education?

Before turning to respond to these questions, it is important to note that teachers main task worldwide was argued to be related to pedagogy; American commentators (e.g., Shulman, 1987), as well as the formal definition of the teachers role held by the Israeli Ministry of Education (1994), referred to knowledge transmission and related pedagogical tasks as distinctive and critical to teaching. Add to this the incorporation of many American reforms into the Israeli educational system, and the conclusions set up below are likely to be applicable to other educational systems. The subjective perspectives of the Israeli teachers shed light on an alternative way to look at the role of emotions in the teaching profession.

By emphasizing the discretionary, nonobligatory aspect of emotion management in the teachers role (e.g., positive emotion displays, emotional understanding, and compassion), the teachers implicitly pointed to the inability of principals or policy makers to force teachers to be involved in a certain sort of emotional practice. In the view of teachers in the present study, their principals and superintendents have no legitimate formal authority to compel them to, for instance, display positive emotions toward pupils, to care about students social lives, or to provide compassion-based support for a pupil in distress. To put it simply, principals seem not to have the formal authority to tell teachers what emotional state they must manifest in a particular situation or interaction in the school or classroom.

The management of emotions in school, therefore, should be based on persuasion, internalization, understanding, and moral valuesthat is, through an informal leadership mechanism of principals and superintendents. After all, a teacher could close the classroom door, transmit the knowledge fixed by the curriculum in a very technical way, and still be considered to be meeting his or her role obligations.

Although the present study provided no evidence to suggest that teachers have refused to be involved in caring and showing emotional understanding of any kind if they are asked to by their school management, placing this role aspect in the category of OCB means, first and foremost, that there probably are teachers who are not involved in this aspect. Additionally, by referring to emotion management as a part of OCB, the teachers adopted a minimal definition of teaching, consisting of knowledge transmission, classroom management, and evaluation. Interestingly, despite many reforms in the Western world during the 1990s and onward that aimed at extending the teachers role, emotions are not conceived of as being part of the formal teachers role obligations. Perhaps this might result from the emphasis being put, in many reforms, on academic achievements in the construction of teaching as a technical profession rather than a moral, emotional-based one, as Nias (1999) remarked.

Despite the limited scope of this study, several practical implications for teaching education merit highlighting. First, teacher education programs might profitably include several courses whose focus is on the emotional aspects of teaching. Teacher educators in these courses could attempt to make the preservice teachers internalize the significant role of emotions in the teachers role, pupils achievements, and classroom management. It seems important to explain the potential contribution of caregiving to establishing a positive atmosphere in class, which in turn promotes students academic achievements and overall satisfaction in school.

Second, and arising from the first implication, is the need to acquaint prospective teachers with techniques of listening, attentiveness, and emotional understanding. Courses originating in psychology could be harnessed to promote preservice teachers abilities with respect to emotion displays, emotional regulation, and the like. Ethical considerations should be emphasized to avoid any damage to students due to teachers emotion management in school.

Third, in a multicultural society in which many pupils come from social groups differing from those of their teachers, compassion, empathy toward, and understanding of the experiences and emotions of children from minorities is of great significance for a successful learning process in school. Prospective teachers sense of educational calling could be developed through workshops in which concepts such as education, society, the child, and the like are discussed to help the participants mold their sense of professional calling to accommodate the basic educational goals in their society.

Finally, in preparatory programs for principals and in-service training for administrators, it seems desirable to address the key role of emotional leadership in teachers emotion management. Principals and prospective principals need to realize the considerable influence of their own emotional understanding and emotion display on teachers abilities to develop this role behavior in their class.

Subsequent research on teachers perceptions of the place of emotions in their role is needed to explore teachers constructions of emotions in teaching from a comparative standpoint. Additionally, quantitative, large-scale studies directed at examining the frequency and distribution of teachers attitudes toward the position of a variety of emotion displays in their work are needed to establish programs to deal with this issue in education. We have to verify that Hargreavess (1998) conclusion, that teaching cannot be reduced to technical competence (p. 850), is also shared by many teachers in our educational systems.

The research was supported by a grant from the German-Israeli Foundation for Scientific Research and Development (GIF).



Refined coding system (selected examples from one theme)



Emotions of OCB



Attentiveness to pupils' needs


Openness to needs in general


Responsiveness to personal problems


Understanding the world of the child



Attention to the student


Listening to negative voices


Listening to positive voices



Positive expressions toward pupils


Being warm and empathic toward pupils


Expressing love toward pupils



Empathy for the disadvantaged child


Emotional support for poor children


Being considerate in the poor child's life


Material assistance


Creative support


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 109 Number 6, 2007, p. 1374-1400
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 13099, Date Accessed: 1/20/2022 12:58:57 AM

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About the Author
  • Izhar Oplatka
    Ben-Gurion University
    E-mail Author
    IZHAR OPLATKA is a senior lecturer in the Department of Education, Division of Educational Administration, Ben-Gurion University, Israel. His current research interests include the lives and careers of teachers and principals, gender in educational administration, and educational marketing.
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