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The Functions of Teacher Emotions: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

by Ken Winograd - 2003

This is a self-study of an elementary teacher's emotions during the year he took a sabbatical from a position as an education professor. He worked as an elementary classroom teacher, and he kept a journal of his daily experience as a teacher of a nongraded primary class. With the journal as a data source, the study examined the feeling "rules" for teachers, the functional and dysfunctional dimensions of teacher emotions, and the strategies teachers use to engage in emotional labor. The findings show both functional and dysfunctional dimensions of the teacher's emotional experience. The article suggests that the self-accusatory stance of teachers diverts teachers' attention from structural problems in their working conditions and, instead, focuses attention on the inadequacies of teachers as individuals. Furthermore, the paper suggests that it is from the collective naming and examination of emotions that teachers may be able to learn to accept and understand the darker emotions of teaching, to understand the relationship between emotions and social structure, as well as learn to use emotions such as anger and disgust as catalysts for social activism and change.

During the 1998–1999 school year, I taught elementary school. My class was a nongraded primary class, a group of students who in conventional terms would be classified as first, second and third graders. I am a professor in a school of education, and this was my sabbatical year (or, as I came to realize, my antisabbatical year).

An interesting dimension of my return as an elementary teacher related to emotions and my emotional response to my work with students, colleagues, and parents. Not surprisingly, I found that teaching was a profoundly, all-encompassing emotional endeavor. Just as in emotional life outside school, I emoted it all as a teacher guilt, joy, embarrassment, sadness, anxiety, depression, satisfaction, and anger. Because I kept a daily journal throughout the year, I was certainly more aware of emotional responses to my work than I would have been if I had not done this self-study.

The topic of emotional labor has been an important topic in sociology for some time (e.g., Hochschild, 1983), and recently it has received more attention in the educational literature (Connell, 1985; Hargreaves, 1994,

1998; Kelchtermans, 1996; Nias, 1989, 1996). This paper explores the emotional dimensions of teaching from feminist and sociological perspectives. The present study suggests that teachers engage in both functional and dysfunctional uses of emotion in their work in schools. The functional uses of emotion tend to alert teachers to problems, so they can effectively take action to address those problems. The dysfunctional uses of emotion reflect situations in which teachers’ emotions (especially dark emotions like anger and disgust) do not lead to positive action but, instead, lead to the blaming of either self, students, parents, or the system. My interpretation of the data reflects a feminist perspective that considers the public school to be a gendered institution (Boler, 1999).

Because most elementary teachers are women, cultural expectations of women tend to become normalized in elementary school culture, and these expectations carry over to the men who work there. The rules for emotion inhibit the free expression of emotion, particularly anger expressions that might be aimed at hierarchical/patriarchal structural arrangements or at larger economic and political structures. In this case, emotions are what Boler (1999) calls sites of social control, in which the culture of elementary teaching tends to suppress the free expression of anger, which, in turn, inhibits teachers’ potential to critique their working conditions and then work to affect social change.

In my recent teaching experience, I found myself suppressing much emotion, reflecting the feeling rules of the elementary school by engaging in emotional labor (Hochschild, 1983). For much of the time, I worked at suppressing or changing my emotional response to teaching problems. I also experienced feelings of inadequacy for experiencing other emotions, such as embarrassment, shame, and guilt. I suggest that the self-accusatory stance of teachers diverts teachers’ attention from structural problems in their working conditions and, instead, focuses attention on the inadequacies of teachers as individuals. Furthermore, I argue that it is from the collective naming and examination of emotions that teachers may be able to learn to accept and understand the darker emotions of teaching, to understand the relationship between emotions and social structure, as well as learn to use some of these emotions as catalysts for social activism and change.



Kemper (1978) defines emotion as ‘‘a relatively short-term evaluative response essentially positive or negative involving distinct somatic (and often cognitive) components’’ (p. 47). Somatic refers to bodily changes that result from emotions, such as increased blood pressure, breathing, and pulse; bodily flush; and perspiration. The cognitive component of emotion refers to one’s actual verbal reflection that identifies the emotion, such as when one thinks or says, ‘‘I am happy…’’

There are two fundamental ways of looking at the origin of emotions. A traditional view, reflected in the work of Darwin and Freud, conceptualizes emotions as rooted in or driven by our biology (i.e., instinct) or psychology. From this perspective, emotions basically exist in our biology or psyche independent of social situations. Social or environmental factors set off biological reactions that lead to an emotional response.

A second perspective on emotions considers the interaction of the person and the environment. The emotional response, then, reflects the individual’s personality, motivations, as well as the social structure and culture

(Lazarus, 1991, 2001). Lazarus’s (1991, 2001) view of emotions attributes agency to individuals who are constantly making appraisals based on their goals for the activity, including decisions on how to cope with and behave emotionally in different situations. Although social structure, culture and roles play a part in Lazarus’s theory, these factors are more prominent in other theories in social psychology and sociology on emotions (e.g., Goffman, 1959; Hochschild, 1983; Kemper, 1978). From this perspective, social factors have a significant effect on how people develop, manage, and show emotions. Gerth and Mills (1953) maintain that institutions and emotions are inextricably linked. In large part, the emotions that people use reflect the needs of institutions and the roles that people serve in those institutions. Although social interactionists recognize the biological and psychological origins of emotion, they give weight to the social: ‘‘social factors enter not simply before and after but interactively during the expression of emotion’’ (Hochschild, 1983, p. 211).

From a social-interactionist perspective, expressions of emotion serve to defend social norms and beliefs. Armon-Jones (1986) believes that emotions have a sociofunctional purpose. Emotions are ‘‘functional in that they are constituted and prescribed in such a way as to sustain and endorse systems of belief and value’’ (Armon-Jones, 1986, p. 57). Reflecting the idea that emotion and personality reflect social structure and role, Sarbin (1986) maintains that emotions and how we respond emotionally are ‘‘tied to values, to conditions that involve one’s identity’’ (p. 91).


Feminist perspectives, like social interactionism, view emotions as a social construction, and one’s experience and display of emotions reflects the totality of a person’s experience, which includes organizational culture, gender, race, class, education, and personality. Although not ignoring or discounting the possibility that women and men have emotions that are biologically based on their sex, feminists focus instead on questions of how the experience and display of emotion may be a site of social control or a site of political transformation and how emotions may serve to maintain the status quo of dominant patriarchal, hierarchical, capitalist systems or how emotions may be used to disrupt these systems. Harrison (1985), for example, argues that the emotion, anger, can be a vehicle for social change:

All serious human moral activity, especially activity for social change, takes its bearings from the rising power of human anger. Anger can be a signal that change is called for, that transformation in relationships is required. (p. 15)

Jaggar (1989) termed outlaw emotions to be unconventionally unacceptable emotions. Like Boler (1999) and Campbell (1985), she found a strong relationship between emotions and power:

(Outlaw emotions) may provide the first indications that something is wrong with the way alleged facts have been construed, with accepted understandings of how things are … Only when we reflect on our initial puzzling, irritability, revulsion, anger, or fear may we bring to consciousness our ‘‘gut level’’ awareness that we are in a situation of coercion, cruelty, injustice or danger. (p. 161)

Jaggar maintains that outlaw emotions can lead to change only when feminists (women and men) share their experience, by naming their experience as particularly cruel, unjust, and so on and then by forming alternative subcultures within the dominant (male) stream. When outlaw emotions are the expression of a collective, then these emotions may be ‘‘politically and epistemologically subversive’’ (p. 160). Barrows (1996) defined outrage as anger that ‘‘takes a leap into the arena of injustice’’ (p.53). She also argues that anger, fully realized, can lead to action, resistance, and social change.

Campbell (1994) noted that women have been associated with feelings and this has been the ‘‘long-standing historical ground on which to dismiss women’’ (p. 49). Although women’s sentimentality is seen as virtuous in the private sphere, the expression of emotion in the public sphere, like in the workplace, is seen as a defect in character and as a reason to dismiss women and not take them seriously. According to Campbell (1994), the dilemma for women is that if they do not show emotion, they are viewed as cold; however, when they do display emotions, women may be dismissed as out of control. Women’s free expression of emotion (such as anger and impatience) in the public sphere, then, is considered inappropriate by the male stream.

Organizations tend to reflect hierarchical and bureaucratic systems that value rationality and dispassionate discourse and, in effect, marginalize the free expression of emotion (Ferguson, 1984). Open displays of emotions in modern organizations, in general, emphasize rationality over emotionality. ‘‘The prevailing view of emotions in organization… is rooted in a ‘myth of rationality’’’ (Putnam & Mumby, 1993, p. 36), in which rationality is good and emotionality is bad. ‘‘Bureaucracy is intertwined with the system of dualisms that privileges rationality and marginalizes emotional experience’’ (p. 41).

Certainly, schools are organizations and reflect organizational culture regarding its rules for the expression of emotion. Schools as a gendered culture, dominated by women, also inform the rules here for emotions. The rules for the expression of emotion for female elementary teachers historically reflect expectations that women show emotional restraint and self-control (Boler, 1999; Grumet, 1988; Weiler, 1998). The ideal of womanhood in the 19th century exemplified the notion of woman as self- sacrificing, restrained, morally upright, and uncomplaining. Female teachers were supposed to express the image of the ideal woman (nurturing, restrained, patient) in their work with children. At the same time, they were expected to conform to the expectations of the emerging school bureaucracy with its demands for rationality and the control of students and teachers (Boler, 1999). The ideal woman was well suited for classroom teaching and the needs of society to domesticate and socialize the impulses of the new immigrant populations, particularly in the cities, as well as the need of the system to control teachers. For teachers in this situation, there are two contradictions. The first is what Rousmaniere (1994) calls ‘‘the idealized image of the gentle, nurturing teacher, and the realities of the cold and confusing working conditions of city schools’’ (p. 49). Teachers needed to be both nurturing and caring but, at the same time, strict and in charge of oftentimes large and unruly classes of children. The second contradiction is that though they needed to dominate the will of her 20 to 30 students, female teachers also needed to be acquiescent to principals and supervisors, at least to their faces (Grumet, 1988).

The cult of maternal nurturance prohibited those who stayed behind the desk from confessing their rage, frustration, and disappointment to each other. The moralistic and impossible demand that women, without expressing anger or aggression, control children who were resisting a tightly repressive and tedious regime encouraged teachers to confuse the logical consequences of these harsh conditions for the failure of their own discipline, intelligence, and inspiration. (p. 52)

Conway (1987) noted the economic and patriarchal reasons that women were recruited for teaching beginning in the late 19th century. With large numbers of students due to compulsory education, public education became expensive and women were a cheap form of labor. The relation between the needs of teaching and some idealized notions of women also were raised, since women typically are considered more nurturing and caring than men. However, ‘‘some of the arguments used for opening up teaching to women were at the expense of reproducing ideological elements that had been part of the root causes of patriarchal control in the first place’’ (Apple, 1986, p. 63; also see Boler, 1999). Women tend to be viewed as more self-restrained, patient, nonaggressive, caring, nurturing and passive, and these traits tend to be considered as virtuous in a teacher. However, these discourses led to the control of women’s emotions and enhance their status as subordinate in patriarchal culture.

Women’s ‘‘natural’’ skills in teaching moral virtues reflect on the increasing modes of pastoral care. Women are conscripted as the agents of this power: required to enforce patriarchal values and laws, to instill virtues which are gendered. Not only do women assist in strategies of individualization, urging children to self-control, they also participate in their own subjugation by reinforcing the control of emotions and gendered rules of emotions. (Boler, 1999, p. 40)

It is important to note, particularly since I am a man, that male elementary teachers are privileged by their gender position to express outlaw emotions more freely than women (Williams, 1993). However, given the dominance of elementary school faculty by women and the historical position of women in society and organizations, the culture of elementary schools and the rules for emotional expression tend to apply to both male and female teachers. As a male teacher, I felt subject to the many of the same rules for my emotion display as my colleagues, most of whom were women. Later in the paper, I suggest that the suppression of emotion leads to the subversion of professional communities for teachers (Harrison, 1985). This results in the maintenance of a politically conservative position by teachers as it relates to the control of curriculum and school budgets.


There are certain feeling rules, historically determined and locally redefined, that influence how teachers experience emotion as well as display emotion. When teachers do not display or feel emotions that they are supposed to have, they do what is known as emotional labor or emotion work. Hochschild (1983) developed the idea of emotional labor, which is the work of inhibiting, generating or displaying an emotion to elicit an emotional response in someone else. Hochschild (1983) proposed three criteria for work that requires emotional labor. First, it requires face-to-face contact with the public; second, it requires that the worker produce an emotional state in another person; and third, there is a degree of external control over the emotional labor of the employee.

Teaching obviously fulfills the first two criteria. The third criterion for teachers, external control, comes in the form of cultural expectations. The external control for teachers is usually subtle and indirect. The profession does have generalized notions about how teachers, good teachers, emote. For teachers, however, the rules about emotional behavior are reflected in particular schools as well as the general culture of teaching. For example, teachers are supposed to enjoy children, enjoy their work, maintain a patient and kind front, become angry with children infrequently and so on. These rules are not necessarily taught formally to teachers, but they are collaboratively constructed in the everyday work of teachers, students, principals, parents, and teacher educators.

Hochschild (1983) goes on to distinguish two types of emotional display, surface acting and deep acting. In deep acting, the person gets into the role, almost like method actors, and there is no disconnect between their outward appearance and generally how they feel. When doing deep acting, emotions don’t just happen. Rather, the actor has actively manipulated his mind. For example, a teacher who is grumpy just before school may purposefully remember wonderful past images of her students, her reasons for going into teaching, and her love of her students. Through this purposeful ‘‘exhorting (of) feeling’’ or making use of his imagination, the teacher is able to both appear and feel happy when the students come through the door. This is deep acting. Hochschild identified two strategies for doing deep acting: by using a trained imagination (e.g., method acting) and by exhorting one’s self to reframe an emotion. (similar to what Lazarus, 2001, terms emotion-focused coping). Ashforth and Humphrey (1993) point out a third way: when the person feels the ‘‘genuine experience and expression of the expected emotion’’ (p. 94). In this last case, the teacher has internalized the emotion rules of a particular culture and situation, and they actually feel what the situation dictates.

However, if the teacher is unable to draw on imagery or experience to exhort feeling that is appropriate to the situation, then she may simply look the part without the accompanying feeling. The surface effects associated with emotions, such as smiling, frowning, sighing, and laughing, are a put-on and do not reflect how the individual is really feeling. Hochschild warns of the dangers of surface acting: It can lead to an alienation of our working lives and our more natural selves. We become alienated from the part of our self that does the work.


I view emotional labor as an act of impression management because the person tries to form behavior ‘‘towards others in order to foster both certain social perceptions of himself or herself and a certain interpersonal climate’’ (Ashforth & Humphrey, 1993, p. 90; also Goffman, 1959). Instead of being simply an alienating experience, emotional labor can be a satisfying or even liberating experience because it can lead the worker to enhance his involvement in activity that is fundamentally meaningful and satisfying. For example, Yanay and Shahan (1998) found that the emotional labor in a therapeutic setting led to increased empathy and caring by the therapist. In a study of food market clerks, Tolich (1993) distinguished emotional labor regulated by another person, such as an employer or supervisor, from emotional labor that is regulated by the worker. Tolich maintained that emotional labor led to deeper feelings of satisfaction regarding work when the emotion work was controlled by the employee. Rafaeli and Sutton (1987) similarly distinguished faking in good faith and faking in bad faith. When doing emotional labor in bad faith, the worker does not entirely agree that the emotion ought to be part of the job, and he or she has not internalized the feeling rules for that role. When doing emotional in good faith, the worker agrees that the emotion ought to be part of the job, and he or she has internalized those feelings rules.

It appears that the effects of emotional labor are significantly mediated by the individual’s personal or social identity: The more the norms or values inherent in the work role have been internalized by the worker, the more likely emotional labor will lead to a sense of personal well-being

(Ashforth & Humphrey, 1993). Emotional labor becomes dysfunctional in at least two ways: when the expectation of a particular emotion display cannot happen because of a structural constraint (due to physical or resource limitations) and the worker simply does not feel the emotions that the situation requires be displayed. Dysfunctional emotional labor can lead to work-related maladjustment, such as depression, poor self-concept, anxiety, despair, and alienation.



Woodbridge Elementary School (a pseudonym) is a public school located in a low-income section of town; 90% of the school’s students received free or reduced lunches. About 85% of the students at the time of this study were Euro-American, and most of the others were Latino and Asian American.

The culture of the school reflected a child-centered approach, typical of the English infant schools of the 1960s. The school, behind the leadership of the principal and a group of activist teachers, began to take a constructivist, child-centered approach in the early 1990s. Textbooks were abandoned, and teachers constructed curricula using collections of constructivist teaching materials (e.g., Burns, 1992). Classes were combined with mixed-age groups of children in what is called nongraded primary. Teaching and curriculum reflected constructivist pedagogy, although the intermediate (fourth and fifth grades) teachers also used more text-based approaches. At Woodbridge, classroom management practices tended to avoid extrinsic reward systems and, instead, relied on the notion of building community, appeals to group pressure, and making good choices (e.g., a typical adult response to misbehavior was, ‘‘What should you be doing now?’’ or, when one student hurt another, the victim was directed to tell the perpetrator about his or her feelings).

I job shared with Dorothy, a veteran teacher of about 20 years. Dorothy taught the morning (reading and writing); at 11:15 a.m., I arrived at the school, debriefed with her for about 10 min about the morning, and then the students entered the room after lunch recess at 12:15 p.m. Between then and 2:35 p.m., I taught mathematics, social studies, science, and some language arts.

I taught 25 students in a classroom typical in size and shape: a rectangular room that is 25 feet by 30 feet. Of my 25 students, about half showed signs of exceptionality. These exceptionalities included attention deficit disorder, reactive attachment disorder, chronic depression, and conduct disorder. Two of my students were fetal alcohol babies whose behavior was often volatile, immature, or irrational.


In this self-study, I modified Clandinin and Connelly’s (2000) model for narrative inquiry, which ‘‘begins with the researcher’s autobiographically- oriented narrative associated with the research puzzle’’ (p. 41). As such, the purpose of this inquiry is not the creation of any new claims to knowledge but, rather, a representation of my experience so others may ‘‘imagine their own uses and applications’’ (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000, p. 42). In the present inquiry, I present my story using analytic categories. Using some elements of autoethnography, my goal was

to encourage compassion and promote dialogue… The stories we write put us into conversations with ourselves as well as with our readers. In conversation with ourselves, we expose our vulnerabilities, conflicts, choices, and values. We take measure of our uncertainties, our mixed emotions, and the multiple layers of our experience… Often our accounts are unflattering and imperfect, but human and believable… In conversation with our readers, we use storytelling as a method for inviting them to put themselves in our place. (Ellis & Bochner, 2000, p. 748)

Because self-studies present special validity problems (Feldman, 2003), the study’s claims were supported in several ways: clear description of data collection and analysis, member checks with other beginning teachers, prolonged engagement in the field, clear delineation of the study’s limitations, and use of other research and theory to inform the work. Nevertheless, following Clandinin, Connelly, Ellis and Bochner, the believability of this study, in the end, will be the readers’ responsibility to imagine themselves in my shoes.

My original sabbatical research was to investigate students’ learning of mathematics as they wrote mathematics stories. However, soon after the year started, the struggle for survival and the concomitant search for my identity as a teacher became the research focus. My role in the field was what Adler and Adler (1994) would call a complete membership role, one in which researchers are ‘‘already members or those who become converted to genuine membership during the course of their research’’ (p. 380). Each evening before bed I wrote impressionistically in a journal about my day. In the journal, I generated description and interpretation of the experience. I also wrote teaching plans. For this self-study, I initiated data analysis by reading each journal entry and coding each entry in which I explicitly made a (cognitive) reference to an emotion (e.g., I am angry or I feel good). My research questions emerged during the initial analysis, as I noticed the enormity and range of my emotional response to teaching and, then, my reading of the research literature on emotions and feminist theory. I was intrigued with how I managed to negotiate the emotional landscapes of my work; this led me to questions related to emotion rules, the functions and dysfunctions of emotions, and strategies for emotion management. These questions guided the analysis and categorization of the data. For example, following Armon-Jones’s (1986) idea that emotions can effectively alert us to problems, I searched the data for incidents when an emotional expression was followed by an action plan to address the problem that precipitated the emotion. Following Hochschild’s (1983) work on feeling rules, I searched the data for self-talk that suggested how I ought to emote, particularly if I wanted to be successful or effective. I also used emotional labor as a heuristic with which to search journal entries that reflected conscious behavior aimed at changing my emotional state (deep or surface) in accordance with the feeling rules in the school. The specific research questions follow:

1. What are the feeling rules that govern teachers’ emotions?

2. What is the nature of teachers’ emotional labor as they work to accommodate their emotions to

3. the feeling rules of a school?

4. How is it that teachers’ emotions can be functional, or useful, in their everyday work?

5. How is it that teachers’ emotions can be dysfunctional in their everyday work?

The emotion categories presented in the next section are not comprehensive or exhaustive representations of my emotional experience. There are other categories of emotion that I do not display in this report, such as joy and satisfaction. I certainly experienced much joy in my teaching, but I tended to write more about the dark emotions in my journal. By focusing on the dark emotions, I employ a type of purposeful sampling that Patton (1982) calls intensity sampling, an approach that focuses on cases that are especially rich in information. Furthermore, the study is bounded as a self-study of the emotions of a middle-aged, Euro-American male who, although in the field of teaching for 20 years, was once again a novice teacher who had not done everyday elementary classroom teaching since 1985. Finally, it is worth acknowledging that the representation of emotions, in my journal and here in this study, are undeniably partial because the written reflections in the journal only describe a small portion of my emotional life, and my selection of particular emotional experience to write about (in the journal) was done in a natural and unsystematic manner. It was not until I completed the sabbatical year and the journal that I decided to study this particular topic.


My emotional life as a teacher can be characterized as functional or dysfunctional. It was functional when my emotions alerted me to teaching problems. I was also fairly skilled at using strategies to modify my emotional display or experience as feeling rules of the situation suggested. My emotions were dysfunctional when I appeared to psychologize my emotions, by experiencing them as individual phenomenon and not as an expression of the sociopolitical context. The emotions described in this paper often were expressions of self-flagellation, blaming of students and families, or resignation regarding the nature of teachers’ work.

This section examines four dimensions of teacher emotions, and the display of data describes four central observations.

1. There are rules that govern teachers’ emotional behavior in schools.

2. Teachers do emotion work, or emotional labor, in response to these emotion rules.

3. Teachers experience emotions that have functional uses; that is, the emotions alert teachers to problems in their work and then action to address those problems.

4. Teachers experience emotions that have dysfunctional uses; that is, the emotions lead to self-accusatory behavior by the teachers, or they lead to the blaming of others, such as students, parents, or administrators.


Five feeling rules are reflected in the analysis of data. These rules are the following:

1. Teachers have affection and even love for their students.

2. Teachers have enthusiasm or even passion for subject matter, and teachers show enthusiasm for students.

3. Teachers avoid overt displays of extreme emotions, especially anger and other dark emotions. They stay calm and tend to avoid displays of joy or sadness.

4. Teachers love their work.

5. Teachers have a sense of humor and laugh at their own mistakes as well as the peccadilloes of students.

Rule One: Teachers Have Affection and Even Love for Their Students

In my journal, I point to at least two justifications for this rule. The first is instrumental: if the students like the teacher and vice versa, both teachers and students will work harder.

Certainly, teachers who like or even love their students will respond to student deviance with a greater caring for the long-term well being of the student. Perhaps this personal affection will give the teacher the psychic will to engage the student in the lengthy work of working through problems and the sources of the misbehavior. (Feb. 5, 1999)

A second reason for the affection between teacher and students is that it satisfies what I believe is a natural need to be around people who like each other. I, like most teachers, chose teaching because I like being around young people and, in some way, they nurture my sense of self.

One dimension of my work that sustains me is my relationship with the students. We genuinely like each other. I really enjoy talking to them and being with them. Some kids clap when I enter the room. I get many hugs. I just read an article in Journal of Teacher Education that examined kids’ perceptions of the ‘‘good teacher.’’ The data pointed to the interpersonal dimension of the teacher-student relationship. Kids said that good teachers care for kids, have a sense of humor, treat kids fairly, don’t lose their temper, etc. In spite of my struggle to implement an academic curriculum for these kids, and in spite of my struggle to help these kids control their social behavior, I recognize the imperative of a caring and easy-going persona for me as teacher. (Dec. 16, 1998)

Rule Two: Teachers Have Enthusiasm or Even Passion for the Subject Matter and Students

Early in the year, I worried because I was not feeling or showing feeling toward students that I felt I was supposed to. I began developing a theory of teacher dispositions, which recognized the importance of teacher enthusiasm for both subject matter and students.

As I wake up each morning and feel an emotional response to getting out of bed, and as I feel the butterflies at 12:15 as the kids are about to rush in, I wonder about how I should feel. I suppose I should, instead, be excited and happy to see the kids. I worry a bit now since I don’t have a whole lot of positive feelings at 12:15.

I think that a so-called good teacher has a particular disposition about the task of teaching and the work with youngsters. There might be a dispositional component with the following criteria:

* wholeheartedly enjoy working with young people,

* desire to effect the intellectual and social development of young people,

* and look forward to most days in the classroom, as an opportunity to help young people further their development and learning. (Sept. 16, 1998)

Part of my theory of the ‘‘good teacher’’ has to do with teaching with passion. In order to do this, the teacher needs to feel some passion for the subject matter (along with care for students). It is crucial that we teach subjects and topics about which we feel great interest. (Dec. 10, 1998)


Rule Three: Teachers Avoid Overt Displays of Extreme Emotions, Especially Anger and Other Dark Emotions

Teachers almost always stay calm, and their use of darker emotions (like anger) is occasional and tactical. In the next excerpt, I give a student teacher direction on how to emote when disciplining students:

I said, ‘‘Just give them a choice. To comply, or leave the group. Be very matter of fact about it. Don’t get explicitly emotional. Calmly, give them the choice. Say ‘thank you’ and walk away. This strategy tends to work for me. It is simple and effective.’’ (Dec. 7, 1999)

Repeatedly in my journal, I write about the importance of staying calm and maintaining emotional distance, particularly when facing student insubordination. With certain students, the calm demeanor sometimes does not work, so when I resort to more histrionic displays of emotion, particularly anger, I am uneasy.

I lost my cool for about five minutes, and for this I feel guilty. I don’t want to treat students in this way. I have other strategies for dealing with chaos, but for some reason I let my anger take over … I know that some teachers might applaud the occasional use of explicit anger to control students. I don’t agree. I want my students to behave in a civil manner because they care about having a respectful community and because they care about themselves as self-respecting people. (March 3, 1999)

When I tell Nathan to leave the room with an aggressive voice, he goes. However, recently, if I use a calm and affect less voice, he doesn’t listen to me. I hate using the aggressive voice, but it works. (May 19, 1999)

Still, it is common for teachers to use dark emotions, like anger, as a way to resolve interpersonal conflicts with students. In the following situation, my use of anger was not particularly effective.

I was frustrated with my inability to successfully resolve the problem using my preferred strategy (open negotiating style fit my teaching self ), so I responded with dark emotions. I used anger to intimidate the girl, but this didn’t work. She simply withdrew and refused to talk. Her response to my emotional outburst was a sane one, and one that I use in my everyday life. (If someone won’t talk to me calmly, I often refuse to engage them in further discussion.) (Nov. 6, 1998)

 Another justification for displays of anger is to establish control of the classroom, which is another way of resolving interpersonal problems with students:

I was tired and wasn’t responding decisively to the chatter, so Barbara called out in a no-nonsense manner, ‘‘All right, everybody. That’s enough talking!’’ I then proceeded to threaten individual kids with a loss of recess if they talked when I was talking. I looked and talked like I was really angry (I wasn’t), and they really responded. It was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. Barbara said that’s how many of the kids are treated at home, so this ad hoc tough guy strategy is a management approach with which students are familiar and responsive. (Nov. 4, 1998)

Rule Four: Teachers Love Their Work

This rule is part of the corporate identity (Nias, 1989) of teachers. We see references to this on bumper stickers and elsewhere in mainstream U.S. culture. Even if teachers do not truly love their work, there seems to be an expectation that they at least like their work or that they fake it. I worried throughout the year when I was not loving this work and others were expecting me to love it.

Part of the corporate self of teaching is that ‘‘teaching is fun.’’ I think this idea derives from the original motivation of many teachers to go into teaching because they ‘‘love working with kids.’’ Implicit in loving what one does is the notion that ‘‘fun’’ will follow. I wonder if a more broader, more complex description of teaching is in order … like, teaching is fun and enjoyable at times and onerous and excruciating at other times, and just tolerable at other times.

Certainly, to maintain a creative and effective role as teacher, it is important that the teacher experience a majority of the time as enjoyable and, yes, fun. So, I suppose a more realistic expectation is that this work is (or can be) ‘‘fun’’ but, at the same time, there is space in our heads that acknowledges that much of our work life may be unambiguously dismal. And the times that we feel pessimistic or dark about our work will vary and will be highly unpredictable (we may have a difficult class one year, or several difficult children that drive us crazy; we may be experiencing serious stress in our personal lives; and the time of day, week or year may signal different pressures on our evenness of mind). (Sept 3, 1998)

 I’m not sure right now if I have the dispositional ‘‘knowledge’’ to be a teacher. When people see me in the school or around town, they often ask me something like, ‘‘Are you just loving it?’’ or ‘‘Don’t you just love being with the kids?’’ Right now, I am not ‘‘loving it,’’ nor do I want to go to work. It’s just too hard right now. (Sept 16, 1998)

Rule Five: Teachers Have a Sense of Humor and Can Laugh at Themselves and the Peccadilloes of Students

I sense that humor is an essential part of the teaching repertoire, particularly in holding students’ attention.

I’m not deluding myself into thinking that all the kids are cognitively attending to me. Often, they are just appearing to attend by the direction of their eye gaze. However, when the room is quiet as I talk and I have the impression of attentiveness, I feel more at ease and able to use humor. The use of humor and, in general, the expression of my personal self (warm, friendly, funny) allows for a bit of role distance which then can effectively promote students’ cognitive engagement. When I am more human, I find that students are more inclined to connect with my interests. The catch-22 is that many students interpret my use of humor as an invitation to become silly and out of control. (Feb. 3, 1999)


I used three strategies to change my actual emotional experience, in response to the expectations, or feeling rules. Reflecting what Hochschild (1983) calls deep acting, these three strategies included the following: physical manipulation of my body; self-exhortation; and cognitive heuristics, or reframing. These strategies tended to result in changing my actual felt emotion, so I was able to feel what I was supposed to feel, according to the emotion rules for teaching.

I also engaged in what Hochschild calls surface acting, which is when I only show, or display, a particular emotion without actually feeling that emotion. Two kinds of surface acting strategies are faking it and rationalizations.

The first strategy I employed to change my emotional state (i.e., deep acting) was physical manipulation. I did this in two ways: by increasing my actual physical movements (smiling, laughing, moving around, animation) and by initiating affectionate physical encounters with the students (e.g., hugs).


I am continuously walking around the room, monitoring students, cajoling, encouraging, redirecting, threatening, raising my voice, lowering my voice, gesticulating with arms and legs and head, etc. etc. I need to be able to project my voice, so everyone can hear me. And my voice needs to be animated and provocative, so the kids will be more inclined to tune in to my messages. (Nov. 4, 1998)

As difficult a time as I am having with management, developing curriculum, and teaching, it is crucial that I’m upbeat and happy with the students, at least on my surface. When I let them in the room after lunch break, and I feel a bit of a knot in my stomach, I greet each individual student with a handshake or hug. When things go awry, I almost force myself to laugh. When students really bug me, I will occasionally hug them. (Sept. 24, 1998)

Another reason that I am beginning to look forward to school is the warm response of the children. Our students are important ‘‘reference groups’’ for teachers (Nias, 1989). By far, we see them more than our colleagues or principal, they do indeed create our reality as much as we create their reality. The warm affective response of the kids supports my self as a warm, caring person. The hugs, joking, high-fiving, and laughter validates me, it affirms me as someone who is important and consequential in their school lives. (Oct. 7, 1998)

A second strategy was self-exhortation; that is, through self-talk, I cajoled and admonished myself to feel in a way that was consistent with the feeling rules for teachers in my school.

As lousy as I feel, it is crucial that I be ‘‘up’’ with the students. I need to laugh, smile, and stay grounded when teaching. The work to maintain a positive outward persona is, itself, stressful, since my authentic feelings are anxiety, depression, and sometimes anger. (Sept. 22, 1998)

However, I am less concerned about my future integrity as a teacher educator than I am about my present mental health. I feel myself falling into an anxious depression which is difficult to ignore. I am at the outset of a five-day weekend (without students), and I have spent too much time ruminating about my teaching problems. I realize that this is unproductive thinking and I need to simply stop myself from thinking these kinds of thoughts. (Nov. 24, 1998)

Cognitive heuristics are strategies that I construct to help me reframe my emotional state. By far, this was the most common strategy I employed. Here is a poem I wrote that summarized a group of these strategies. Typically, I would use these to reframe an angry, sad, depressed or embarrassed state of mind.

there’s a million cliches for getting perspective:

1. remind myself of

that bird on the shoulder whispering tomorrow you die.

2. don’t sweat the small stuff …

and its all small stuff.

3. take deep breaths

and smile and

remind myself that the gig

is just for one year

and half time at that!

4. don’t worry be happy.

5. que serais, serais,

whatever will be will be.

6. everything is perfect.

7. remember my mother

who at 80 is due for bypass surgery

along with a nodule in her breast.

8. nothing matters

say the existentialists.

9. i can only do my best and that’s all.

10. it’s alright.

11. let it be.

12. let it go. (Nov. 8, 1998)

Another cognitive strategy I used was to simply remind myself that the students were, indeed, just children and that I should avoid the trap of imagining them to be something they were not.

Dorothy, and I would cross paths as she prepared to leave the building around 11:30 am and I entered the class to take over for the afternoon. Her last words to me, almost every day, were, ‘‘Love those kids!’’ After a few weeks of this, I theorized that her meaning of these words was that I should remember that the students are, ultimately, still children and that I should accept them as such. As children, they inevitably were going to behave irascible, antsy, emotional, bored, talky, etc. I often used Dorothy’s reminder to help me reframe my emotions, so I would be calmer and more accepting of the children’s peccadilloes. (Dec. 7, 1998)

I often used my relationship with my own children to guide how I should feel when working with the students.

I got to school yesterday and saw Bonnie, one of my students, sitting in the office. I asked her why, and she said, ‘‘I have lice.’’ Her parents were unavailable to pick her up, so she had to sit in the office all day. In the rush of the afternoon, I forgot about her. I didn’t go back once to visit her and see how she was doing. I realized this oversight after I had gotten home. I tried to call Bonnie at home, but all I got was her father’s voice mail. I felt guilty that I’d forgotten her.

I sure would want my daughter’s teacher to behave more compassionately to her if she had to sit in the office all day, with head lice. As a criterion for how I ought to interact with my students, I think about how I want my daughter’s teachers to interact with her. The Golden Rule … (Sept. 26, 1998)

I would think of others less fortunate then me, and this would help me reframe, like I did when I thought of my mother in the poem.

I felt pretty much out of control for most of the afternoon. Whenever I felt myself become hot with stress, I focus my mind on a friend who was just diagnosed with cancer. My problems with classroom management pale in comparison with my friend’s problems. (Jan. 19, 1999)

Finally, I would do deep acting by engaging in sarcasm and humor. The comment in the next excerpt became almost a mantra in my interactions with Barbara, when we had to cope with student resistance.

When things go totally awry, I might look at Barbara, laugh and say, ‘‘I love this class!’’ We would smile at each other and I would be able to let the tension fall away. (Sept. 24, 1998)

There are two strategies I employed that can be described as surface acting (Hochschild, 1983). I manipulated my outer appearance, so I appeared as if I was emoting in a certain way. The first (and most common) strategy was faking it. I simply put on a face that hid how I was really feeling.

Nathan received an in-school suspension today. He threatened another child before school. This is part of the school district’s new zero-tolerance policy on violence or the threat of violence. I visited him to leave some math work. He didn’t express sadness at being left out of the class for the day. When I told him that I’d missed him, he said, ‘‘Well, I didn’t miss you.’’ He may have sensed that I was lying. (Oct. 6, 1998)

In the next excerpt, I engaged in a very common behavior for teachers: faking anger when I was not angry.

I looked and talked like I was really angry (I wasn’t), and they really responded. It was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. Barbara said that’s how many of the kids are treated at home, so this ad hoc tough guy strategy is a management approach with which students are familiar with and responsive. (Nov. 4, 1998)

Rationalizations are attempts to reframe a bad experience by finding some positive outcome in that particular experience. I often reframed mistakes, and the accompanying embarrassment, for example, by calling it a learning experience.

When I make a major miscalculation, I’ve begun to remind myself, ‘‘What can I learn from this.’’ (Sept. 24, 1998)

In another incident, a parent wanted her child out of my class, and this was public knowledge throughout the school. I was embarrassed. In my journal entry describing this, I engaged in rationalization to protect my self from attack.

Crystal is lucky to have a parent who is aware of what’s happening in her school life and has the ability and confidence to voice her concerns to her teacher. I find the mother’s concerns to be legitimate, and I will act on these concerns. I worry about the rest of my students whose parents don’t have the wherewithal to advocate for their children. For these children, I need to be their advocate. I need to critique my curriculum and continually ask myself, ‘‘Am I challenging these kids? Am I meeting their needs? Would I be happy with their school experience if I were their parent?’’ (Oct. 15, 1998)


Throughout the journal, references are made to a panoply of emotions. On the dark side, I experienced emotions such as sadness, anger, embarrassment, and disgust. Particularly when I described a dark emotion, I often followed each journal excerpt with a plan to address or resolve the situation. In these cases, my emotions were functional in the sense that they alerted me to the problem and the need to take some action to ameliorate it. In the examples that follow, the action plan is in italics.

The end-of-day procedure was chaotic. With ten minutes left in the day, I blanked out on what else to do. I brought the students to the rug for some sharing, about the day. I forgot to review my expectations for circle behavior. I struggled with many students to stay quiet when someone (including me!) was talking. My language was ineffective: ‘‘I am looking for quiet listeners. I need your eyes. How are we supposed to behave when we are in circle.’’ With a minute before the bell, I tried to give my farewell meditation, ‘‘May we learn to find calm and peace in our lives, at school and at home … etc.’’ No one heard me, since there were too many other voices. I tried to have everyone sing a song. A lot of the kids used silly voices. Finally, the bell rang and I persisted with the end of day cheer. This led to group screaming. I was embarrassed when a parent stuck his head in the door, and he gave me a sympathetic look.

Tomorrow, I need to establish expectations and enforce them. I read a great chapter on time-out, one strategy for enforcing rules, in humanistic approach to classroom management by Ruth Charney (1993). I will try it tomorrow. (Sept. 16, 1998)

I am less concerned about my future integrity as a teacher educator than I am about my present mental health. I feel myself falling into an anxious depression which is difficult to ignore. I am at the outset of a five-day weekend (without students), and I have spent too much time ruminating about my teaching problems. I realize that this is unproductive thinking and I need to simply stop myself from thinking these kinds of thoughts.

I realized today that I need to do three things. First, develop curriculum that I am excited about. Second, make sure the curriculum is well structured and hands-on. Third, implement a system of outcomes (positive and negative) for student behavior. (Nov. 24, 1998)


I am getting anxious about the collection of student assessment data. Student-led conferences are in five weeks, and I don’t have any samples of student work in science and social studies. We’ve done a lot of work, especially in science, but I have overlooked the collection of student work.

Luckily in math, I’ve saved everything, so I can go back and pull out samples of problem-solving sheets the kids have done since September. For the next five weeks, I will be concentrating on having the kids generate paper copy of everything they do. If I show a movie, I will have them respond in writing or in picture. In math, I’m going to focus on problem solving, especially problems that are evaluated using the state guidelines. (Feb. 9, 1999)


Throughout the journal, there are entries describing dark emotions that did not lead to action. Instead, these emotions led to self-recrimination or complaining about others. These emotions often led to continued dark emotions, like when anger led to fear, or when anxiety led to depression and despair. Occasionally, I engaged in angry polemic aimed at the larger political system. These angry diatribes, however, are not accompanied by any kind of action to address the source of the emotional outburst.

I speculated that much of my emotional experience that led to inaction and self-flagellation tended to reflect two cultural norms of schools, at least my school: teacher isolationism (Lortie, 1975) and political passivity. By teacher isolationism, I mean the tendency for teachers to work primarily with children, in isolation of other adults, and the tendency for teachers to avoid explicit discussion and examination, collectively, of the emotional experience of teaching. By political passivity, I mean teachers’ tendency to avoid explicit and organized expression of anger and subsequent action directed towards structures or individuals who are in positions of influence, such as administrators, legislators, or policy makers.

Emotion Expression Dead Ends That Reflect the Isolation of Teachers

Much of my emotional response to working with students had dysfunctional outcomes, which reflected norms that encouraged privacy and isolation among teachers. For example, on many occasions, I felt embarrassment that I was not able to meet the needs of all students. Early in the year, a meeting was called to address a parent’s concern that I was not meeting her child’s needs, with the recommendation that one of my colleagues take this student.

I feel badly, even embarrassed, that I was not able to meet the needs of the student and parent, and that I have to depend on the good will and expertise of a colleague in order to bail me out. (Oct. 29, 1998)

In this situation, my ‘‘failure’’ as a teacher was so visible, so public, which led me to feelings of great embarrassment. The dysfunctional outcome of this emotion is that I just felt badly and there was not any effective action that emerged from the feeling, or there was not any opportunity for me to reconcile my feelings of inadequacy (that I did need the help of colleagues) in a school culture whose rhetoric called for teachers caring and, indeed, helping each other.

At other times, I felt a sense of despair that I was not able to meet the needs of all my students.

I work with these kids every day and I feel frustrated that I can’t meet their needs. I am not comfortable in acknowledging this. Most teachers I know embrace the myth that their job is to meet the needs of all students. The problem with this expectation is that, for the most part, it is unreasonable.

I am stricken by the increasing self-doubt about my ability to meet the needs of all my students. This goal is part of the corporate self for teachers: meeting everyone’s needs. Even in the best of circumstances (e.g., a class of conformist students), it is virtually impossible to truly meet individual students’ needs. I am not sure how I am coping with this threat to my teaching self. (Nov. 12, 1998)

I felt more embarrassment when a colleague wanted to observe me, since he actually thought he could learn from me! I never shared with him my real feelings: that I was not a competent teacher.

When he asked if he could observe me, I felt my face flush and I became embarrassed. My voice said, ‘‘Yeah, sure, any time.’’ But I suppose my non-verbal signal was obvious, so he backed off saying, ‘‘Great … uh … I can’t observe today, but I’ll come back soon.’’ And he was out the door.

I was embarrassed to have him observe me because I don’t feel good about my math program. I have a fuzzy image of what it should look like, but I am light years away from this image. I was also embarrassed at being embarrassed. I will talk to him and explain why my response to him was so unenthusiastic. (Nov. 5, 1998)

One of the greatest fears of teachers is losing control of the class. I certainly had this fear, but I usually kept it to myself. The fear manifested itself both in my conscious and unconscious mind.

I had two nightmares last night. In my sleep. First, I was walking around town, looking for a teacher in my school. Suddenly, a tornado appeared out of nowhere and began chasing me. Eventually, I found shelter in an ice cream parlor. I looked out the window at the devastation and noticed some kids trying to stay afloat in a pond nearby. I ran out to rescue them.

Later in the pre-dawn, I then dreamed that my kids were out of control. Joey assaulted Nathan, so I had to send him home. I lost my temper with Stevie, and I hit him. He thought I was just playing, so he started wrestling with me. In the entire dream, we were wrestling. Meanwhile, the remainder of the class was out of control, hanging from the rafters, having a good old time. (Feb. 19, 1999)

Often, I felt anxiety about my ability or inabilities as a teacher, and I would simply keep it to myself. This unexpressed anxiety would then have a deleterious effect on my motivation to teach as well as my relationship with my own children.

I became real anxious over this problem. Even as I struggled with curriculum and management, I have always had the sense that the students and I liked each other. Now I struggle with interpersonal conflict with a student (and a parent who tends to give her child negative signals about me). My immediate response to this is anxiety. Yesterday after school, I couldn’t enjoy my own children, because my two-hour power struggle with Crystal had rattled my peace of mind. This kind of problem really diminishes my motivation: to teach, to work hard. I counted the number of student contact days between now and winter break (32). Like, with the passing of each day, I put an ‘‘X’’ on that calendar date in my mind. I am worried that I am counting days, already. This isn’t a good sign.

It seems like the emotional health of the teacher is so fragile. (Oct. 27,


I did not feel safe to talk about my experience, at least not openly outside my intimate circle of wife and several friends. However, early in the year, I blew my cover by talking too openly about my teaching experience, at a Thanksgiving dinner attended by a bunch of local teachers.

I was embarrassed at the apparent rumor around town that I was failing as a teacher. I failed at ‘‘impression management’’ (Goffman, 1959) when I let my guard down and spoke honestly about the experience. I was still holding on to some vestiges that I was a ‘‘good teacher,’’ and much of this self-image was connected to my standing in the community as the teacher educator, the accomplished and expert practitioner who supposedly knew what he is doing. Widespread knowledge of my struggle among the general community would pose a real threat to my self, and it is a threat that I want to minimize. (Nov. 30, 1998)

Clearly I would become embarrassed when colleagues and parents observed me to be incompetent- for example, when parents observed my students being out of control, when my student teacher watched me struggle with resistant students, or when outsiders came to the class to see some demonstration teaching. My modus operandi when faced with embarrassment was not to address it openly and explicitly with colleagues and others; rather, my game was cover up, which is a normal human response here.

Student-led conferencing reflects a more constructivist approach, in which the students are led to theorize on their learning and its products. Naturally, given my concern with order and classroom management, it is no great wonder that I haven’t fully prepared the students for this gig. I was embarrassed at how poorly my kids were ready for this. I am doing some impression management (Goffman, 1959) here by planning a huge number of topics, so there really isn’t time for in-depth discussion of a single topic. My thinking: overwhelm the parents with a lot of ‘‘stuff ’’ and maybe they won’t think too much about the details. (March 8, 1999)

I was also embarrassed that my students had behaved as they did. I hid my guilt and embarrassment through some deft impression management (Goffman, 1959), by giving the intern suggestions to help her deal with this, ‘‘her’’ problem. In reality, she and I were in the same boat. (Oct. 29, 1998)

Emotional Dead-Ends That Reflect Political Passivity

I often observed that my colleagues and I avoided open displays of anger when faced with difficult or irrational institutional structures or expectations. What I find interesting is the relative absence of any outward displays of anger, except the occasional angry expression of teachers toward children or children towards other children. Adapting an idea from Eisner (1985), the null emotion is the amazingly absent teacher emotion of anger. Certainly, there was much complaining or grumbling about the political state of affairs, but the norm here was that people inhibited angry display, or, when there were occasional anger expressions, they did not take political action.

Periodically, in the journal, there are situations in which I allude to anger, or I suggest that I am entertaining the idea of anger, but never do I really show it. For example, the superintendent came to the school and talked about the state of affairs in the district. In my journal, I write about becoming ‘‘quietly angry’’ (Nov. 6–7, 1998) when he explained why our high-poverty school shouldn’t receive more support than the high-income schools. There was an incident, early in the year, when the special education personnel were being overrun with discipline problems, and at a staff meeting there was agreement that the school needed more resources to address this problem. One teacher (a man) argued that we needed to go to the newspaper and blow the whistle on the school district, thereby embarrassing them into taking some action. However, the ‘‘other teachers worried that the strategy of confrontation would scare some of the remaining middle class and stable families away from Woodbridge’’ (Oct. 6, 1998). People were concerned that any open display of anger would have negative political consequences for the school.

Later in the year, I (and other teachers) got the impression that the superintendent was avoiding a meeting with us teachers.

The superintendent was scheduled to visit the staff at our regular meeting last week, but he couldn’t come due to a conflicting appointment. The staff was disappointed. We are the only school he has yet to visit. He has rescheduled to visit us in January. I flew off the handle. I had been reading about the organizational and structural impediments to good teaching, like large class sizes, large numbers of special needs students, planning time, lack of resources, etc. It has always perplexed me, since I came to Woodbridge, how uniform class size formulas are used when schools have different populations and vastly different needs (e.g., the schools show great variations in student-family income, special needs, second language learners, etc.). (Dec. 6, 1998)

In retrospect, I realized that my ‘‘flying off the handle’’ was merely a cognitive event. I did not visit with my union representative, organize teachers, write a letter to the editor, or take some kind of social action to address resource inequities. I shared my anger about the inequities in the system with my colleagues, and for most of the year I blamed dysfunctional families or insensitive administrators. By late March I stopped blaming families for the sorrowful state of their children and began pointing my finger at the system. Still, none of this anger moved me to take action.

I now sense that ‘‘the’’ essential factor is not the families and the home life of the kids. By not pointing out the inequities built into the larger socio-economic system, we implicitly endorse the system to be fair and not responsible for poverty. Certainly, many of my families are dysfunctional, and this home experience results in huge challenges for its children. By defining the essential problem to be one of dysfunctional families attention is diverted from an examination of an economic system that, itself, may be the problem. (Mar. 29–30, 1999)

I did much ranting and raving in the journal, variously directed at the principal, superintendent, district administrators, the state department of education, the state legislature, and, in general, the entirety of the patriarchal/capitalistic/market-driven economy. However, while my journal language had angry tones, never did this angry writing ever lead to any kind of political action by me.


One obvious conclusion a reader could bring to this paper is that teaching is profoundly emotional work. Of course, anyone who has taught or lives with a teacher knows this. Professional and literary writing provide rich descriptions of the emotional life of teachers, representations that show both the joyous and dark sides of teaching (Blanchard & Ursula, 1996; Hargreaves, 1998; Kelchtermans, 1996; Kidder, 1989; Kozol, 1968). I realize that I am analyzing myself, and in my account here there is the subjectivity that goes on in any autobiography. At the risk of sounding delusional, I do believe that my emotional life was largely functional. For example, I used my emotions as a cue in my planning of subsequent teaching (Armon-Jones, 1986). My strategies for doing emotional labor, particularly my deep acting strategies, appear sensible and normal. I shared this article with other teachers, including preservice teachers. The heuristics I used to manage my emotions made sense to these teachers, and they reflect similar strategies of workers in other service professions (Ashforth & Humphrey, 1993; Hochschild, 1983). Ashforth and Humphrey (1993) also consider situations in which the teacher actually feels what the feeling rules of particular situations call for. I sense that this category of emotional experience was much more present in my experience than is reflected in my journal because there was a tendency for me to write only about those experiences that were troubling or problematic. I know that there were many times when there was genuine symmetry between my felt emotions and the feeling rules of my classroom and school. However, this type of emotional experience was not a focus of this inquiry, and therefore it is a limitation of the study.

Given the intensely relational nature of teacher’s work along with increasingly difficult working conditions, the expectation that teachers are paragons of virtue, self-sacrifice, and modesty (i.e., not ambitious) place extraordinary pressures on teachers to do emotion work, or emotional labor, to maintain the right mask at the right time with the right audience (Hochschild, 1983). But even if I as teacher am astute at navigating the demands of emotion work, the task of emotion work still is enormously exhausting both psychically and physically. However, the culture of schools and teacher education underemphasizes emotional labor as a dimension of teacher work (Nias, 1996). The culture of public schools, reflecting modern masculinist organizational culture, tends to privilege dispassionate, emotionally flat and rationale discourse (Boler, 1999; Putnam & Mumby, 1993).

I found that I was somewhat effective in using my emotions only when it revolved around questions of my particular teaching practice. For the most part, my sense of self as a teacher is in agreement with the feeling rules delineated earlier in the paper. I believe that the ‘‘good teacher’’ has affection for students, has enthusiasm for subject matter, and usually enjoys or even loves the work. The emotion work I did to behave in ways that reflected these rules was not alienating, which is a danger when the there is a disconnect between the rules and the individual’s real feelings (Hochschild, 1983). Rather, the rules reflected a sense of how I believed teachers should behave and emote. Much of my emotional labor was controlled by me, and this tended to lead to a sense of satisfaction with the work (Ashforth & Humphrey, 1993; Tolich, 1983). Even when I did surface acting, I was doing what Rafaeli and Sutton (1987) would call faking it in good faith: I had internalized the spirit of the rules, so it is more likely I would find my emotion work appropriate and even pleasurable.

However, there were many instances when I experienced dark emotions, such as embarrassment and anger, which were simply left unresolved. I was

(like) a beginning teacher with a difficult class, so it is natural that I would question my competence when I had the inevitable problems with classroom management and teaching. Often, I felt embarrassment, anger, fear, and anxiety as it related to my teaching performance and my perception of how my colleagues and parents viewed me as a teacher. My feelings of inadequacy were normal and akin to those of all beginning teachers (Nias, 1989). However, I tended to keep these feelings to myself and engaged in what Lortie (1975) called self-accusatory and self-blaming behavior, a pattern of teacher behavior in school cultures that are marked by teachers working in isolation of each other.

Reflecting an individualistic perspective on teachers’ thinking (Rousmaniere, 1994), school culture makes it easy for a beginning or immature teacher to conclude that failure or struggle is their fault alone and that structural conditions are less influential than the individual’s own failings. This is a common emotional outcome for the preservice teachers with whom I work. For my preservice teachers reading this paper has tended to provoke expressions of relief, that someone in a position of authority as a teacher (me) can feel the same way they feel. Preservice teachers have said that my story demystifed some of the sacred cows of teacher emotions for them (e.g., teachers have to love all their students, they are a failure if they do not meet the needs of all students, good teachers are always happy and having fun). Teachers do reconstruct and adapt the feeling rules of a school culture in a way that allows for the occasional breaking or redefinition of the rules. As I work with my students to critique the myths associated with the ‘‘good teacher,’’ this leads to important discussions of the relationship between teacher emotions and working conditions and social structure. These types of discussions should be occurring in schools among practicing teachers (and their administrators).

When my emotion (e.g., anger and disgust) was directed toward the hierarchy, administrators, or the state legislature, my emotional expressions never developed into anything more than a grumble, which is the most benign form of political resistance (Scott, 1990). This inaction was a dysfunctional outcome of my emotions because what anger I was able to muster led nowhere in terms of improving my working conditions. Reflecting the culture and history of public school, particularly as gendered organizations, the absence of any organized response to my anger or the anger of my colleagues makes sense and is a familiar pattern of behavior (Boler, 1999; Grumet, 1988). Our anger at the hierarchy was always restrained and guarded, reflecting the women/teacher ideal as kind, gentle and nurturing (Rousmaniere, 1994). Even if the female teachers did engage in demonstrably angry behavior in reaction to some injustice, there perhaps is still a fear that those in superordinate positions will dismiss them as incompetent or as incapable of self-control (Campbell, 1994). The problem here is that my colleagues may not be predisposed to vent anger in explicit ways nor are they socialized to use anger to incite organized political action. Barrows (1996) suggests that outrage is the next stage of political/emotional consciousness, when a person uses her anger and actually takes action to address some injustice. The emotion rules for teachers, reflecting historical patterns of patriarchy and bureaucracy, have inhibited teachers from using their emotions as a vehicle for action and social justice. It appears that teachers know full well what they feel. However, according to Harrison (1985), the ‘‘moral question is not ‘What do I feel?’ but rather, ‘What do I do with what I feel?’’’ (p. 14).

The central implication of the present study for teaching practice is the recommendation that teachers and administrators engage in somewhat formal examination of their feelings, or emotions, as they are reflected in working conditions. In these venues, teachers would provide description of their teaching/emotions and then work together to plan action to address those experiences. Sometimes, the simple validation of peers (that a particular emotion is normal or functional) is all that is required, and at other times discussion of emotions may lead to more extensive plans for political action at the building, district, or state level. In the absence of forums for teacher to study, share and use their emotions for social change, it is easy for teacher emotions to become mired in accusatory and blaming self-talk (Lortie, 1975), which is itself a dysfunctional outcome in the emotional life of teachers.

Schools could profitably give voice to teachers’ emotions for the purpose of examining these emotions. There are some teachers and schools that take their anger and use it to organize politically to make schools and society more democratic and equitable (e.g., Bigelow, Christensen, Karp, Miner, & Peterson, 1994; Casey, 1993; Crocco, Munro, & Weiler, 1998). There are exceptions to the private world of teacher emotion, where teachers do openly share felt emotional experience, honestly and explicitly, and emotional (and spiritual) experience is recognized as a dimension of teaching worthy of formal examination and study (e.g., Lantieri, 2001; Palmer, 1998). However, given the history of schools and the place of women in schools and society, it makes sense that that the issues facing women in the larger society as it relates to the suppression of emotions also get played out in elementary schools. The suppression of elementary teachers’ emotions, particularly anger and disgust, is dysfunctional since it inhibits teachers from taking more direct political action in response to oppressive working conditions or learning conditions for students.

To reflect a more collectivist orientation to teacher experience, the culture of teacher education needs to examine the emotional dimensions of teaching. If teacher education provided teachers with opportunities to examine the emotional dimensions of teaching and how they reflect the interaction of self and the exigencies of teaching, including the material, structural and cultural conditions of schools, then teachers would be better able to explore their own emotions, their biographies, and the quality of their own mental health. Given the emotional stress of teaching, the profession would be well served if young teachers have opportunities to reflect on their own psychological readiness to help children who need a lot of emotional support. Teacher education programs, like one developed by warranted.

Teacher education has recognized, for some time, the power of story in the development of teachers (e.g., Clandinin & Connelly, 1995). The idea is for teachers to come together and share their stories for the purpose of helping each other deepen their understandings of teaching experience. Particularly in helping them understand their own vulnerability in a hostile environment, the narrative experience gives teachers opportunities to share their stories and, in effect, affirm each others’ worth and the validity of each others’ experience (cf. Kelchtermans, 1996; Noddings, 1996). Of course, it is crucial that teachers do, indeed, feel free to tell the truth, and that their stories accurately depict dimensions of their work that are pleasurable as well unpleasant. Newkirk (1992) said, ‘‘I confess that I have become increasingly estranged from much of what I now read. There is an emotional turbulence and a frequency of failure in my own teaching that I don’t see reflected in many accounts, including ones that I have written or edited myself ’’ (p. 23). As teacher education increasingly makes authentic stories available, especially for beginning teachers, they will have models from which to tell their own. In teacher education classes, in teacher lounges, at staff meetings, in NCATE standards, and elsewhere, it is time to recognize the emotional experience of teaching and to let these stories be told, studied, and acted on: stories good, bad, and ugly.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 105 Number 9, 2003, p. 1641-1673
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 11560, Date Accessed: 5/28/2022 10:02:40 AM

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About the Author
  • Ken Winograd
    Oregon State University
    E-mail Author
    KEN WINOGRAD is an associate professor in the School of Education at Oregon State University. His interests include elementary literacy teaching and learning as well as teacher learning and work from sociological perspectives. In another study of his teaching when on sabbatical, Dr. Winograd published ‘‘The Negotiative Dimension of Teaching: Teachers Sharing Power With the Less Powerful’’ in Teaching and Teacher Education (Vol. 18, 2002, pp. 343–362).
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