Feeling and Acting Like a Teacher: Reconceptualizing Teachers’ Emotional Labor
by Christy Galletta Horner, Elizabeth Brown, Swati Mehta & Christina L. Scanlon - 2020
Background/Context: Empirical research indicates that teachers across ages and academic contexts regularly engage in emotional labor, and this emotional labor contributes to their job satisfaction, teaching effectiveness, burnout, and emotional well-being both within and outside the classroom. However, because the initial research on emotional labor was situated in the service industries (e.g., restaurants, call centers, airlines), researchers have suggested that the emotional labor framework as it applies to teaching only provides a partial picture of teachers’ deeper and more complex emotional practice.
Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: This study aims to determine whether and how teachers’ descriptions of their own emotional practice map onto existing emotional labor constructs (emotional display rules, and deep and surface acting) and how the framework may be adapted to better support teachers’ implementation of emotional labor.
Setting: Participants worked in five charter schools within the same school district but in different areas of a mid-Atlantic metropolitan city. This district identifies itself as serving 4,000 students from “underserved communities” across 13 locations.
Population/Participants/Subjects: Full-time K–12 educators (N = 68) who worked across academic subjects (e.g., math, science, language arts) or special subjects (e.g., music, art) participated.
Research Design: The current study is qualitative; we employed adapted grounded theory.
Data Collection and Analysis: We conducted individual face-to-face semistructured interviews with participants; audio recordings were transcribed verbatim. We developed a codebook through a collaborative and iterative process, and we achieved high interrater reliability before using Dedoose to code the full corpus of data.
Findings/Results: There were two key findings: (1) teachers perceived feeling rules in addition to display rules, and (2) teachers described an emotional acting strategy in which they modulated the expressions of their authentic emotions, which we call modulated acting, in addition to surface and deep acting.
Conclusions/Recommendations: Including teachers’ perceptions of feeling rules and use of modulated acting in emotional labor research has the potential to enhance our understanding of how emotional labor relates to outcomes that are important for both teachers and their students. In addition, we urge teacher educators to include emotional labor in their curricula. Though further research is needed to build a strong literature base on ways in which teachers’ emotional labor may connect to their own and their students’ outcomes, the emotional labor constructs already have the potential to be useful for both preservice and practicing teachers.
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