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MSE Scholar Contributes to Books Exploring Teachers' Emotions

Bob Bullough

Teachers are more effective when they are engaged emotionally in the work of teaching, says Robert Bullough, a professor in the McKay School of Education. “What makes teaching a wonderful or disappointing relationship?” he queries. “Teaching is emotional. Imagine the 28 little people bringing to your class all their hopes and dreams--all of their humanity. It is intensely emotional work.”

Bullough is the author of chapters in two books that will soon be released that explore the emotionality of being and becoming a teacher, and the involvement of that emotion in learning.

A chapter titled “Hope, Happiness, Teaching, and Learning” explores the way that current educational policy ignores both hope and happiness. “The way we get teachers to comply is to threaten, punish, or reward them,” Bullough explains. “The better thing to do is to play to those things that make them and the students most fulfilled.”

Teacher education encompasses a variety of skills, subject matter, etc. Bullough adds that there should be more concern with who teachers are as people and how they see the world. Who a teacher is emotionally has much to do with her effectiveness.

“There is a lot of literature about how kids feel about teachers, but not much about how teachers feel about teaching,” Bullough says. “What is it about teaching that makes teachers stay or leave?” If we are serious about encouraging student learning, he explains, we have to pay more attention to the well-being of teachers. “If we want really great teaching, we have to allow teachers to invest in it fully, and the various passions they bring need to find outlets.”

The other chapter recently contributed by Bullough, “Seeking Eudaimonia: The Emotions in Learning to Teach and to Mentor,” alludes to Aristotle’s view of happiness, which he called eudaimonia, commonly translated as “human flourishing.” This chapter explores how to attain the sometimes elusive emotion of happiness. “The result [of happiness] is confidence building and self-confirming,” Bullough explains in the chapter. He affirms that happiness is closely related to the size of the gap between what a person hopes to achieve and what he or she actually does.

Bullough comments on the difficulty of achieving genuine happiness with some models of teaching. He says that when teachers are really engaged and growing in an environment that demands the most of them, emotions are especially alive. “In order for that to exist, teaching models must include contexts that allow and honor those moments, but recognize that they don’t occur constantly,” he explains. Sometimes the demands placed on teachers today preclude that possibility. “It seems like in the industrial world we are more interested in predictable performance rather than exceptional performance,” he points out.

“At some point, if we are serious about producing really great schools we will have to be more concerned about teacher emotion,” claimed Bullough. These two chapters will be included in the first published books to address the full range of teachers' emotional lives. “My hope is that these chapters will be a small contribution to recognizing teachers’ goodness and humanity,” he concluded.

6 July 2009