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BY 4.0 license Open Access Published by De Gruyter Mouton January 22, 2019

Waning and Waxing of Love: Unpacking Layers of Teacher Emotion

  • Wendy Li

    Wenjing (Wendy) LI is a Ph.D. candidate of Second Language Studies Program at Michigan State University. She joined the program in fall 2015. Before coming to the United States, she taught English as a foreign language in different educational institutions in China for more than two years. Her research interests include language socialization, language teacher identity, emotions, and language pedagogy. She holds an M.A. in TESOL from Lancaster University, UK.

    and Hima Rawal

    Hima RAWAL holds an MA in TESOL from Michigan State University and Master of Education (M.Ed.) in English Education from Tribhuvan University, Nepal. Currently, she is a Ph.D. student in the Second Language Studies Program at Michigan State University. Her research interests include language teacher professional development, teacher identity/ideologies, teacher/learner beliefs and emotions, study abroad, translanguaging in multilingual classrooms, linguistic landscape and South Asian languages in diaspora settings.


In this study, we investigated how an English-as-medium-of-instruction mathematics teacher in China and an English teacher in Nepal fell into and out of love with the teaching profession. A theoretical framework of love, which drew from the theorization of love in Barcelos and Coelho (2016) and Lanas and Zembylas (2015), was adopted to provide guidance for our understanding of the construct and our interpretation of the data. In this framework, love is conceptualized as being communicated through teachers’ attending to individual students, and building a mutually supportive learning environment. In addition, love is also seen as socially and historically constructed. Our data include interviews, teaching materials, and other curricular artifacts. Our findings revealed that teachers’ love toward the profession sustains their investment in teaching, and their love of their students helps them accept the students on the latter’s own terms. In addition, a loving relationship between teachers and students was also instantiated in the mutual understanding and support between both parties during classroom interactions. Finally, we also demonstrate how our two focal teachers’ love of the profession was either enhanced or worn out due to work-related sociopolitical factors.

1 Introduction

While emphases have been placed on the “rational” aspects (e.g., teacher knowledge, skills, competences, etc.) of language teacher education research, increasing attention has also been paid to language teacher emotions and its role in affecting classroom instruction and teachers’ well-being (e.g., Benesch, 2017). As Schutz and Lanehart (2002) pointed out, “emotions are intimately involved in virtually every aspect of the teaching and learning process and therefore, an understanding of the nature of emotions within the school context is essential” (p. 67). Particularly in a neoliberal era, the teaching profession has been exposed to an ever expanding commodified educational reality where teachers are under great pressure to teach to high-stake standardized tests and scripted curricula (De Costa & Norton, 2017; Lissovoy, 2013). Collectively, increased teacher accountability, a heavier workload, and less recognition are thought to contribute to teacher burnout, stress and teacher attrition (De Costa, Rawal, & Li, 2018; Grenville-Cleave & Boniwell, 2012; Hong, 2010; Mercer, Oberdorfer, & Saleem, 2016); as observed by Wieczorek (2016), language teachers are not immune to such phenomena. As a consequence, a large body of research in second language acquisition (SLA) has focused on negative emotions that language teachers have experienced, and much work has investigated the effects of emotions on teachers’ practices and their personal well-being (Acheson, Taylor, & Luna, 2016; Benesch, 2012, 2017; De Costa et al., 2018; King, 2016; Klusmann, Richter, & Lüdtke, 2016; Song, 2016). In recognition of the significance of this line of research, some researchers have also reminded us of the role language teachers’ positive emotional experiences play in their teaching practices and teacher lives (e.g., Barcelos & Coelho, 2016; Mercer, 2016). Mercer et al. (2016), for example, argued that teachers’ positive emotions about the profession and their students could positively affect teachers’ pedagogy and help them better navigate their challenging realities. According to them, such positive experiences benefit teachers in developing a broader personal and professional repertoire which they can draw on to prepare for future challenges. Inspired by the burgeoning scholarship of positive psychology, spearheaded by Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi (2000) and the mounting interest in positive emotions in the education field (e.g., Day & Gu, 2014; Klassen et al., 2012; Nilsson, Ejlertsson, Andersson, & Blomqvist, 2015), increasingly more studies in SLA have explored language teachers’ positive emotional experiences (Gao & Xu, 2014; Hiver, 2016; Miller & Gkonou, 2018; Wolff & De Costa, 2017). These empirical studies illustrated how teachers’ positive emotional experiences (e.g., care, love, commitment, etc.) help cultivate teachers’ resilience in withstanding tough situations, teachers’ reciprocal relationships with students, and teachers’ commitment to the profession. Building on this trend, our study aims to contribute to the research on language teachers’ positive emotions by focusing on one essential positive emotion, that is, “love” in teaching.

2 Love

Of the studies on positive emotions, love and care are mostly discussed in the literature on teacher emotions (Sutton & Wheatley, 2003). Identified as an essential positive emotion, love has been documented in much of the positive psychology literature on teachers (e.g., Elbaz, 1992; Godar, 1990; Hargreaves, 1998). However, the topic of love has been little studied in applied linguistics (for notable exceptions, see Barcelos & Coelho, 2016; Pavelescu & Petric, 2018). The scarcity of research on this topic can be attributed to (1) the difficulty of defining love; (2) its normative discourse in the personal and private sphere (Smith, 2011); and (3) its seemingly opposite position to more “rational” scientific research (Barcelos & Ceolho, 2016; Lanas & Zembylas, 2015). However, love, as a form of positive emotion, exerts positive effects on students’ and teachers’ learning and teaching experiences (Giata, 2012; Lanas & Zembylas, 2015). In their 2015 article, Lanas and Zembylas called for a deepened understanding of the role of love in education and how teaching in a loving way can foster the education of loving citizens, an idea that is much in line with Noddings’ (1995) call for educating “caring, competent, loving, and lovable people” (p. 676) as a primary goal of education. In this study, we start with an operationalization of love, drawing rich insights from Barcelos and Coelho’s (2016) framework of love and Lanas and Zembylas’ (2015) six components of love. Next, we present previous studies on other love-related constructs (e.g., care, commitment, etc.) to showcase what has been explored and what remains unknown about love. In the methodology section, we describe our two focal participants and how we collected and analyzed the data. Finally, we summarize the findings and explore the implications of this study.

2.1 Defining LOVE as framework

Notwithstanding the messiness of defining love in the teaching profession, it is necessary to bring this valuable construct into the scholarship of teacher emotions in order to encourage more engagement in practicing love in the teaching profession. According to Vincent (2016), love has traditionally been defined as personal or private-related feelings that are normally exhibited within private domains. However, a broader understanding of love which entails responsibility, care, ethics, freedom and dialogue (Barcelos & Coelho, 2016) is needed in education, as it (1) helps counteract the overemphasis on the market-driven and measurement-oriented status of education (Lanas & Zembylas, 2015); and (2) encourages teachers to challenge the ideologies that focus on problems with our students (i.e., a deficit perspective) and attend to the resources and strengths of the students (i.e., an asset-based perspective). Given the scarce theoretical discussion on love in applied linguistics, this study draws heavily on (1) Barcelos and Coelho’s (2016) work, which brings together different understandings of love in education and social science and develops a definition of love in the context of language teaching and learning; and (2) Lanas and Zembylas’s (2015) understanding of love, which takes into consideration the political nature of love.

Barcelos and Coelho (2016) invoke the rich insights from several other scholars’ work (e.g., Day, 2004; Fredrickson, 2013a; Liston, 2000) to shape their understanding of love in language learning and teaching. For the purpose of our study, we focus on two facets of love discussed in their work, namely, love as a passion for teaching and love as positivity resonance.

First, Barcelos and Coelho’s (2016) discussion of passion relies heavily on Christopher Day’s (2004) work, which examined how passion for teaching constitutes a significant part of the love framework. Day argued that passion is closely related to teachers’ professional resilience and commitment. In addition, passionate teachers show genuine care and compassion for students and aim to help their students succeed, a goal which often leads to a personal investment in improving their own teaching efficacy (Day, 2004). He further pointed out that passion is also instantiated in teachers’ relationship with the students, that is, teachers who care about their students are better able to see students on their own terms, listen to their stories, and strive to realize their full potential. Importantly, this love-embedded openness and acceptance resonates with Lanas and Zembylas’s (2015) understanding of love as praxis, in that love entails the knowledge of others and a willingness to reach out and connect (Vincent, 2016). While cultivating a student-teacher relationship like this requires much effort, and often sacrifice, on the teachers’ end, as Barcelos and Coelho (2016) observed, a caring, loving and compassionate relationship would then fuel teachers’ passion for the profession (Day, 2004; Mercer et al., 2016).

Another facet of love, discussed in Barcelos and Coelho (2016), is aligned with what Fredrickson proposed in his broaden-and-built framework (2013b), love as positivity resonance. Here, love is viewed as a vital positive emotion that occurs in interpersonal connection, and one that also broadens people’s “thought-action repertoires” and builds “enduring resources, especially social bonds and community” (p. 6). To distinguish love from other featured positive emotions, such as joy, interest, and contentment, Fredrickson (2013b) highlighted love as positivity resonance, meaning that within moments of interpersonal relationships, people experience shared positive emotions and synchronized behaviors, and motivate mutual care. Applying Fredrickson’s notion of love as positivity resonance to the classroom context, Barcelos and Coelho (2016) pointed out that teachers and students generally co-construct a conducive learning atmosphere in the classroom by accommodating and changing each other’s emotional states. For example, teachers and students might do activities together, share jokes, and engage in small talks. According to Fredrickson (2013a), these micro-moments of love can enhance mutual care and empathy between teachers and students. Thus, by engaging in building the positivity resonance over time, both parties develop rapport and a close social bond with each other. This phenomenon, we argue, in turn feeds into teachers’ passion and love toward students and teaching in general. Building on the different definitions of love in education and social science, Barcelos and Coelho (2016) then put forward their thoughts on love, articulating that love is an essential aspect in teaching and learning. According to them, teachers practice love by accepting students as they are, listening to them, and building a caring and safe environment where they can share their stories, learn from each other and trust each other. In essence, love involves attending to each learner and seeing the potential of every student.

Relatedly, Chabot (2008) reminded us that we often fail to recognize that love is also socially and historically constructed and that love emerges and grows in specific social dispositions and interactions. In that sense, as observed by Lanas and Zembylas (2015), love also bears a political dimension as it is affected by social, historical and cultural contexts, and what constitutes “loving acts” is often contingent upon the social and political contexts in which teachers and students are embedded. In addition, Lanas and Zembylas (2015) describe five further components of love: (1) love as an emotion that occurs by “doing” it rather than simply existing (p. 36), which also means that (2) love is a choice that entails how one responds to other emotional responses, such as fear, shame, hatred, etc. The choice of love demands courage and commitment (Chabot, 2008). As a consequence, because (3) love is also a response, as noted by Lanas and Zembylas (2015), one can choose how to respond to others and to the world. Thus, choosing love and responding to others in love also reveals (4) the relational nature of love. Furthermore, Lanas and Zembylas (2015) posited that (5) love is praxis, which means love presents itself through various acts such as giving and showing care and respect to others (Chabot, 2008).

In tandem with the above-mentioned developments in research on love, we present our own conceptualization of love. Specifically, we posit that love is a significant teacher emotion and it has three facets — teachers’ passion, openness and acceptance of students; and positivity resonance. These facets interact with each other, as shown in Figure 1. In particular, teachers’ passion toward the profession often results in and stems from their willingness to be open with their students. Such knowledge of students makes it essential for teachers to attend to individual students with love and to see their potential. A caring and loving relationship like this benefits both parties in building social bonds and practicing positive emotions in the classroom. Over time, these micro-moments of love in the classroom would enhance teachers’ commitment to the profession. However, this reciprocal relationship is regulated and mediated by teachers’ relationship with the institutions and also by broader social actors such as institution-imposed syllabi and the ideologies that circulate within the teaching profession. In that respect, Lanas and Zembylas’ (2015) multidimensional framework of love is helpful in that they conceive of love as being political as well as socially and historically constructed. As observed by Lanas (2017), adding a sociopolitical-historical understanding of love illuminates how power relations and social ideologies reside in and influence embodied practices of love.

Figure 1 
            A multidimensional framework for teacher love
Figure 1

A multidimensional framework for teacher love

In sum, we understand love as having the following key facets:

  1. Passion toward the teaching profession that constitutes a significant part of love as it involves commitment to the profession, care for students and the pursuit of teaching efficacy;

  2. The ability to see the students in their full potential and the desire to help them realize their potential by listening and attending to their needs;

  3. Mutual understanding, support and care constructed through building the positivity resonance in the classroom; and

  4. A socio-politically and historically mediated dimension.

2.2 Previous studies on love-related constructs

Having put forward our definition of “love” as will be applied to guide our study, in this section we briefly review several constructs that are related to love in order to show how love as a key and underexplored construct in applied linguistics is situated to adjacent constructs in light of the broader positive psychology turn in SLA (MacIntyre, Gregersen, & Mercer, 2016) and foreign language learning and teaching (Gabrys-Barker & Galajda, 2016). Despite the scarcity of empirical studies on the construct of love, there have been investigations on its related constructs, such as, care, compassion, commitment, enthusiasm (e.g., Cross & Hong, 2012; Day & Gu, 2014; Keller, Neumann, & Fischer, 2013; O’Connor, 2008), which have been identified as key components of loving interactions and loving relationships (Arman & Rehnsfeldt, 2006). Some of these are explored in the studies below. We pay special attention to how these positive emotions interact with specific social contexts, and how they mediate teachers’ practices, which informed the examination of our data.

Cross and Hong (2012) examined two elementary school teachers’ emotions in a U.S. elementary school with limited resources. Particular attention was paid to their relations with other key participants in their professional lives (students, parents, colleagues and administrators). Their findings indicated that despite the negative emotions that these two teachers experienced, they were able to draw on African-American culture and their individual teaching beliefs to construct positive emotions in order to maintain their passion for teaching. Relatedly in a China-based study, Lee and Yin (2011) examined the emotional experiences of 25 secondary teachers in the context of national curriculum reform. Their results revealed that Chinese teachers have paradoxical emotions toward the reform. In response to these reforms, teachers chose to regulate these negative feelings and maintain positive emotions. In a follow-up study, looking at the same data set, Yin and Lee (2012) found that sociocultural factors (e.g., social norms and ideologies on the profession) played a significant role in mediating and regulating teachers’ emotions. These social norms and circulating ideologies influenced, in turn, teachers’ commitment to the profession, and how they managed negative emotions, expressed positive emotions, and manipulated emotions to facilitate teaching.

Other related empirical studies focused on certain aspect of teachers’ positive emotions. For example, in their investigation of Chinese EFL teachers, Gao and Xu (2014) explored how a group of English language teachers in China’s hinterland regions were committed to their profession, and how their professional commitment changed as their visions of an “ideal self” evolved. Nevertheless, despite the positive emotions (e.g., joy, satisfaction, etc.) reported from their teaching experiences, the teachers’ commitment to teaching was affected by the contextual realities, that is, a lack of opportunities and resources in the rural secondary schools where they were situated that hampered their ability to develop their English competence and thus advance their career. In sum, and relevant to our study, this body of research examined (1) how teachers act with care, commitment and passion, and we equate this with love; and (2) how these constructs were inextricably linked to the social realities in which the teachers were situated. Put simply, teachers’ emotions were mediated by these social realities, such as curriculum reform and resources and constraints afforded by the environment (Zembylas, 2004), a point that we underscored in Figure 1.

In sum, guided by the multi-faceted conceptualization of love and informed by the review of emotion-related research, we investigated two teachers’ (Alice’s and Priya’s) practices of love in their teaching profession in Nepal and China and explored how these practices were conditioned by factors at various levels. The overarching question that guided our study is: How is love manifested and co-constructed in two teachers’ teaching practices and their relationship with students, institutions and broader social contexts?

3 Methodology

3.1 Focal participants and study context

3.1.1 Alice

At the time of this study, Alice was a female high school mathematics teacher in her early 30s. Working in a private international school in a major city in China, she had been teaching A-level mathematics in English for two years. Her students were enrolled in the UK secondary school system and sought to pursue the undergraduate study in the UK universities. At this school, Alice was required to use an “authentic” A-level mathematics textbook imported from the UK and use English as the medium for instruction (EMI). Graduating with a master’s degree in applied mathematics from a teaching university in China, Alice’s fondness of teaching grew when she was tutoring a high school graduate for her A-level mathematics test. This teaching stint offered her an opportunity to explore how mathematics was taught and presented in the UK secondary education system. The stint also triggered her great interest in teaching A-level mathematics instead of the mathematics taught through a Chinese textbook. According to Alice, the complex and abstract mathematical concepts and theories were explained in a straightforward and undemanding way in English. In addition, the rich examples provided in the textbook allowed students to connect mathematics to their daily life experiences and make mathematics more relevant to them at a personal level. Following this development, Alice decided to teach mathematics in EMI schools. She first taught mathematics at a private school for three years. At her first job, Alice was left with a class full of “problematic students” who were from Hong Kong and who were rejected from schools in Hong Kong, which was in close proximity to the city where Alice worked, because of their academic performance and problematic behaviors. After three years with these students, Alice built a strong bond with them and witnessed much progress in their mathematics performance. After this batch of students graduated, Alice accepted a colleague’s invitation to work at her current school.

3.1.2 Priya

Priya was a female teacher in her late 30s. She taught English at a public high school located in the northeast part of Kathmandu, capital of Nepal. She started her career as a lower secondary (i.e., grades 6, 7 & 8) English teacher after she graduated with a diploma in English Education from a public college in the western part of Nepal. She had graduated with a three-year diploma in English literature before earning her Bachelor of Education (B.Ed.). At the time of this study, she had been a permanent teacher for 12 years in a high school in Kathmandu. Before that, she had taught English and social studies for four years at a public high school in a remote part of Nepal in an adjunct position. She passed the teacher service commission exam conducted by the Ministry of Education and was subsequently appointed a permanent English teacher in her present school. At the time of our study, Priya had been teaching English to high school students at the same school for 12 years. Priya saw English as playing a key role in her students’ lives as it is an international lingua franca and, more importantly, because it is a compulsory subject in the school curriculum. She also thought that the main focus of the schools is to prepare students for the national level school exit examination. The percentage of student passes often determined the success rate of the teachers as well as that of the schools. This reality stirred diverse emotions in her, which will be discussed later.

3.2 Data collection and analysis

The main data in this study came from four in-depth interviews with Alice and Priya. We used a semi-structured interview protocol to elicit emotion-related responses from the participants on specific teaching instances or teaching contexts. Among other things, we asked them to describe an unforgettable teaching instance and their relationship with their students inside and outside the classroom. In order to gain a comprehensive and in-depth understanding of the teachers’ emotions, the questions sought to cover various aspects of teachers’ lives, such as their language learning and teaching histories, their perceptions of the teaching professions, their beliefs on learning and teaching, and their positive and negative experiences in their teaching practices. The interviews were conducted in our participants’ respective L1 (Mandarin Chinese and Nepali for Alice and Priya, respectively) and were later translated by us into English for content. In addition to the interview data, we also collected their teaching materials, including their teaching slides and their syllabi to better understand their teaching load and their lesson structure. After familiarizing ourselves with the data, we started to attach codes to the data that described two participants’ emotions and feelings including love. We then grouped these emotional experiences into various categories, such as emotions related to teacher-student relationship, emotions about their teaching practices, and emotional experiences when interacting with the institutions. Next, we compared and contrasted our participants’ data and sought to identify how their practices and decision-making were mediated by their emotions.

Love emerged as the major motive that guided their decision-making: love of their profession, love of teaching, and love of their students. More importantly, their negative emotional experiences were also related to their love for their students and their profession. For example, Priya expressed her frustration at not being able to attend to every one of her students because of the large class size and her tight class schedule. Moving beyond the level of love at the classroom level and the institutional (school) level, we were able to see that the circulating ideologies within society about the teaching profession also affected our focal teachers’ emotional states. Therefore, we identified four major areas where their love manifested: their love for teaching; loving moments with students; genuine care toward students; and the political aspects of love. Guided by the love framework discussed earlier, we summarized four themes based on the data: 1) passion for the teaching profession; 2) realization of students’ potential; 3) constructing positivity resonance; and 4) historically and socially constructed love. In the next section, we present and elaborate on each of these themes.

4 Findings and Discussion

What follows is the findings and discussion of the themes: 1) passion for the teaching profession; 2) realization of students’ potential; 3) constructing positivity resonance; and 4) historically and socially constructed love — along with the relevant excerpts from the interviews with both teachers to support our analysis.

4.1 Passion for the teaching profession

According to Barcelos and Coelho (2016), passion is one of several disguised forms of love. The two participant teachers in this study expressed their passion toward teaching. Alice’s passion, for example, stemmed from her students.

Excerpt 1: Passion connected to students’ success and progress

My passion in teaching comes from my students’ success. For example, my previous students who went to study abroad would visit me every time they came back to China. I am a good teacher in their eyes. If I think students could learn from my teaching and make progress, I would feel I am doing something meaningful. Or in other cases, some of my students used to loath mathematics, and because of my patience and encouragement, they picked it up and grew to love mathematics. I also feel passionate about what I do.

Alice’s passion for teaching is tied to her students’ academic success and her ability to help them achieve academic success. As suggested in Day (2004), passion in the classroom is instantiated in teachers’ desire toward students’ success. The sense of meaningfulness and satisfaction that Alice felt constituted a significant part of her passion when she was able to help her students successfully move into post-secondary education or develop a keen interest in learning mathematics. This passion for helping students with their academic success also shaped her attitude toward teaching and teacher-students relationship. As illustrated in the Excerpt 2, Alice identified herself as a type of teacher who “spoiled” her students in a loving way. According to her, “there are no terrible students at their age.” Such a stance shows that she is cognizant of the peculiarities of her students at the high school level. This characteristic corresponds with what Barcelos and Coelho’s (2016) description of what a loving teacher would do, that is, to see the goodness and potential in each student rather than to look for their faults. In addition, Alice also highlighted that her love for them entailed an ethical responsibility of teaching and educating them. This responsibility, as Hooks (2000) described, is a significant component of love. As a result, Alice’s love and passion for her students encouraged her to cultivate a caring, compassionate, supporting, and empathetic relationship with her students.

Excerpt 2: Balance between loving students and performing ethical obligations

I’m the type of teacher who “spoils” students, even though I am strict with them in class. You know, setting rules and boundaries in class. But I truly love them, because there are no terrible students at their age. As long as they are motivated to learn, I would feel obligated ethically to do what I should do in the classroom. This keeps my passion alive.

Different from Alice, whose passion was fueled by her efficient teaching practices, Priya noted that her passion toward teaching originated from her own teachers whom she had benefited from and had admired greatly:

Excerpt 3: Passion to be like role models

When I started teaching, I loved my profession. I had passion for teaching. I had developed this passion toward teaching by seeing some of the good teachers in my schools and colleges. I wanted to be like them, especially female teachers, because they were more sensitive toward their students. I wanted to be a sensitive teacher like them, and I was so much into this dream.

In this example (Excerpt 3), Priya’s sense of passion was entrenched in her desire to emulate her ideal teachers. Thus, she sought to follow the trajectory of her role models, which illustrates the situated nature of desire (Motha & Lin, 2014). Apart from this initial motivation that helped her choose teaching as a profession, Priya also shared that it was her passion that helped her sustain herself in the teaching profession despite several challenges she encountered over the course of her 16-year teaching career (Excerpt 4).

Excerpt 4: Fire in the heart

At times, I have found it so hard to maintain my passion in teaching. There are times when I get discouraged and too tired, I even ended up questioning if the 16 years of my teaching profession has been worth it or if my plan to continue teaching will make any contribution in the students’ lives. My initial zeal gets shaken at times. However, I find the fire always there in my heart.

The above excerpts from both participants demonstrate that teachers’ love in the form of passion toward their profession is multifaceted and is connected to, but not limited to, several key aspects such as their sensitivity, satisfaction, ethical consideration, initial motivation and professional sustenance. Importantly, both participants’ passion toward teaching and their commitment resonates with what Yin and Lee (2012) mention as emotional commitment for teaching and emotional rule for teaching, which in turn inspires teachers to persevere in their career and to be resilient (Barcelos & Coelho, 2016).

4.2 Realization of students’ potential

As described in the “love” theoretical framework proposed earlier, teachers who are passionate about their profession and who seek to optimize their students’ learning possibilities are more likely to (1) put aside their own agenda and instead have their students’ best interests at heart; and (2) see students’ potential and listen attentively to their individual stories and provide tailored care and help (Barcelos & Coelho, 2016; Liston, 2000). For example, in Excerpt 5, Alice described the mindfulness of students’ fluctuating learning status that shifted dynamically with various situations, instead of passing judgment on students’ unmotivated learning behaviors.

Excerpt 5: Being strategic to keep students motivated

There are many situations where students are not very motivated to learn. Students often feel sleepy in the early afternoons, but that does not mean they are not interested in learning. Teachers are responsible for helping them adjust their state of learning when they are not in the mood for learning. Teachers could start some small conversations that are relaxing and not related to study, for example.

The above excerpt shows Alice’s responsiveness and sense of accountability to take into consideration her students’ emotional states. This desire to invest in making teaching interesting to the students seems to be one of the many ways to manifest love in the profession. In addition, as shown in Excerpt 6, we observe Alice’s attentive love toward her students.

Excerpt 6: Listen to your students and befriend them

When I started my first teaching job in Shenzhen [a city across from Hong Kong], most of my students in class were actually from Hong Kong. Because of their undesirable academic performance, they were “abandoned” by schools in Hong Kong. Most of them did not care about study at all. When I took over that class, because I can speak Cantonese, I spent lots of time outside the class communicating with them, listening to their problems and encouraging them to give mathematics a second chance. Gradually, they opened their heart to me and treated me like a friend. Despite my lack of teaching experience in the first year, they were really understanding. When I had some problems in teaching from time to time, they responded with great patience and respect. I felt that we helped each other and grew together.

This disclosure exemplifies how Alice co-constructed her loving relationship with her students in order to strengthen her teaching and her students’ learning. Her attention toward their emotional states and their stories as well as her investment of time and effort outside class to interact with them was how she expressed her love for her students. Several love-inflected words in Excerpt 6 such as “care,” “encouragement,” “open heart,” “patience,” and “respect” show the teacher’s love toward her profession. This gesture in turn fostered her students’ reciprocation at a time when she needed support from them, which is elaborated on in the next section. Likewise, Priya’s love toward her students transcends the four walls of her classroom. She was attentive to other factors such as their family background and how it transfers to and shapes their learning (Excerpt 7).

Excerpt 7: Students don’t lack capacity but support

Many students in the public schools come from a very low socioeconomic background. Some of them even work as child care givers and as house maids in the families of a high socioeconomic background. They don’t have time to do their homework and to spend some out-of-school time to invest in their studies. When they come to the school, they already look tired and can’t concentrate on their studies. I feel very bad for them and try to help them after school and communicate with their parents, but I also have limited time. They don’t lack intelligence and capacity, but they lack support from families and society. Each of them has so much potential and talent. I try to communicate with their parents too, but there is only so much I can do…

Priya’s love in the form of empathy for her students is connected to the influence of broader socioeconomic factors. Instead of viewing her less attentive students as being less talented, she attributed their lack of concentration on study to the absence of a supportive system from their families and society. This knowledge of her students, which contrasted with the reality of having limited time and resources to help these students, amplified her negative emotions. This plight and other similar external demands drained her energy as shown in Excerpt 8.

Excerpt 8: Fading love

I am under pressure to prepare my students for the exams and to finish the course in time. I am a very emotional person, and I want to listen to students’ stories and help them, but I have no time for that. I don’t even know what I can do for them. Sometimes I try to reach out to their parents, but most of them are too busy doing multiple things to make a living for their family. Many of them think that sending their children to school is more than what they can do. So, my love towards teaching is like sparkling fire sometimes, but sometimes it just fades away.

Although Priya viewed her students as individuals full of potential, her teaching condition and external factors at the macro level prevented her from helping her students, which resulted in her frustration. For example, the pressure of having to prepare students for exams in general often impedes teachers’ freedom in practicing their love. This subsequently makes them more concerned about gearing their teaching towards exam preparation, which makes them less mindful of their and the students’ emotional states. This reality corroborates the findings of De Costa, Rawal and Li (2018) who reported that their participants’ emotions were tied to a lack of teacher autonomy. Excerpts 5, 6, 7 and 8 above from both participants also reinforce Lanas and Zembylas’ (2015) understanding of love as emotion and praxis, in that love entails knowledge of others and being able to reach out and be connected (Vincent, 2016). Alice’s conscious selection of strategies to keep students active in the class and to befriend them by attentively listening to their stories indicates her love as praxis, that is, a willingness to reach out and connect with them, a point that was discussed earlier. Likewise, Priya’s belief and knowledge about her students’ potential and her attempts to reach out and connect to their parents shows her love as emotion and praxis to provide maximal help to the students despite her frustration related to her helplessness. In short, our focal participants’ attentive love toward their students was not uni-dimensional; instead, they demonstrated loving moments where their students responded to their love and care positively. In addition, they constructed a reciprocal relationship between them.

4.3 Constructing positivity resonance

According to Hargreaves (1998), love tends to be viewed as an abstract concept connected to our heart. However, when it comes to the manifestation of love, it can be interpreted in terms of how it is embodied and practiced in real situations, that is, through teaching in this context and thus can take on different realizations in different situations. In this study, both participants expressed their love toward their profession in relation to how they constructed positivity (Fredrickson, 2013a) toward their students and their institutions. Alice, as seen in Excerpt 9, saw love as something that was co-constructed with her students.

Excerpt 9: Love as co-constructed between teacher and students

Sometimes I was not in a good mood and when I entered the classroom, the students would observe my negative emotions and started some small talk, sharing with me some funny things that happened in the class and would try to help me adjust my emotions. With this kind of teacher-student relationship, even though both students and I felt sleepy in the afternoon class, we would help each other and try different ways to mediate the class atmosphere and maintain the class flow.

Fredrickson (2013a), elaborating on the micro-moment nature of love, stated that human beings sometimes adjust their emotional states or attune to each other’s emotions, which leads to mutual care and the establishment of strong social bonds. As illustrated in Excerpt 9, Alice’s loving relationship with her students is associated with her students’ awareness and noticing of her negative emotions and their subsequent attempt to help her manage her emotions in the classroom by sharing funny incidents. Her acknowledgement and acceptance of how love is constructed by and between teachers and students not only helped her regulate her emotions but also enabled her to improve her pedagogical practices. In a similar way, as seen in Excerpt 10, Priya exhibited her love for her students and her profession by being mindful of not letting situational negativity intervene with her teaching.

Excerpt 10: Wearing positive glasses

I might carry a lot of emotional baggage from my personal life to my classroom, but once I see my students’ faces, I forget the problems. I feel that these students’ future is determined by the way we all teachers teach them. I believe that our negative emotions should not affect our teaching. I adore and love my students and, therefore, I don’t want them to suffer due to my negative emotions. It is difficult at times to keep wearing the positive glasses though … I always try my best to stay as positive as I can while performing my responsibilities related to teaching, especially classroom teaching.

In Excerpt 10, we observe that Priya willingly and intentionally made an effort to create a boundary between her personal emotional state and her teaching. This can be attributed to her care and concern, which made her consciously decide to focus on the positive aspects of love while teaching her students. This commitment demonstrates her concern to avoid possible transfer of negative emotions to her students, which resonates with how the relational construction of positivity (Lanas, 2017) that is attuned to students’ welfare.

However, this loving relationship between teachers and students as well as teachers’ care toward students described above were not insulated and divorced from the teaching and learning environment in which they were situated. Teachers’ individual decisions and how they can be influenced by broader social ideologies is examined next.

4.4 Historically and socially constructed love

As seen across the previous themes (passion for the teaching profession, realization of students’ potential, and constructing positivity resonance) and as experienced by both teacher participants, love was manifested in a variegated manner. The unfolding of love toward their profession was shaped by Alice, and Priya’s personal emotions and their interactions with their students and institutions. Put simply, on a broader level, teacher love can be enhanced or eroded depending on how wider social views and practices impact teacher emotion. Such views and practices are constitutive of societal expectations placed upon teachers and the teaching profession.

Excerpt 11: Teachers are engineers of students’ soul

Teaching is sort of an ideal job for girls in China, in many parents’ eyes. The reason that I chose to become a teacher is partly because of this profession and the social meaning it entails. Being a teacher means that you expect to be respected by students, parents and society. You are the “engineer of students’ soul.” It also guarantees a relatively good salary and welfare and small risk of getting fired by the school.

As can be seen in Excerpt 11, Alice’s original motive of becoming a teacher was closely related to the social status and social respect a teacher can invoke. Teaching in China is considered a prestigious and respectable profession (Gao, 2008; Yin & Lee, 2012). Whereas Alice’s positive emotion and love towards teaching was shaped by a broader positive social perception that circulated within China, Priya, by contrast, had to negotiate negative societal perceptions that inevitably impacted her perseverance in teaching.

Excerpt 12: Teachers impact hundreds of lives

Teaching is not viewed as a prestigious job in Nepal. Although teachers are respected by their students, the overall societal view does not encourage many young people to choose the teaching profession. One reason is the low salary of teachers in comparison to other professions. I know that money is very important, but I love what I do, which impacts hundreds of lives every year. Some of the students I taught have now become established professionals in different fields such as medical, engineering, and other fields. This gives me an aha moment somewhere inside the heart which cannot be compared to any material gain.

As expressed in Excerpt 12, despite the relatively low value accorded to teachers in the Nepalese society, Priya was professionally sustained by her sense of inner satisfaction and her students’ success. In a similar vein, she further explained that patience and persistence were vitally important characteristics of being a good teacher.

Excerpt 13: Teaching requires patience and persistence

Sometimes I get tired of hearing the same discouraging comments from family and society about my career …people would still say things like “So, that’s all (teaching) you are going to do throughout your life?”. My immediate family members used to pressurize me to prepare for other bureaucratic jobs rather than wasting my time in teaching. Constant reactions like this momentarily make me think of giving up, but such feelings do not last long ...and I am still persisting because I believe that teaching requires patience and persistence. I envision myself retiring from teaching when I get old.

Excerpts 12 and 13 show that Priya’s ability to survive and thrive in the teaching profession and to build a loving relationship with her students and profession was not always shaped by her love at a personal level. Rather, wider socio-political factors such as social perception toward teaching profession and a relatively low salary could result in brief but intermittent moments of jaded love. For example, Priya’s love toward the profession did not receive the loving response from the people whose opinions she valued and the prevalent societal ideologies she aligned herself with. While these social attitudes did affect her passion toward the profession, they did not undermine her love of teaching, overall.

5 Conclusion and implications

In this study, we sought to investigate how love was manifested and co-constructed in two teachers’ experience, that is, their teaching practice and their relationship with students, institutions and broader social contexts. The findings of the study showed that the teachers manifested their love toward their students and their profession through different means. First, they held a great passion for their profession and they strove to maintain it despite the challenges placed upon them (Excerpt 4). Second, they constructed positivity resonance in their classes and with their students by developing a loving relation with their students and by viewing their profession through a positive lens (e.g., wearing positive looking glasses, Excerpt 10). Third, they consciously and willingly took charge of being aware of their students’ potential and strategized their teaching even in the midst of being in unfavorable teaching conditions. They did so by listening to their students, by befriending them, by helping them in out-of-class time, and even by reaching out to their parents (Excerpts 6 and 7). Fourth, their love toward their profession had been impacted by societal perception of teaching as a profession. In Alice’s case, she seemed to enjoy relatively greater social and occupational prestige than Priya because of the different societal views toward teaching in China and Nepal, respectively. Despite all the factors that led to a waxing and waning of love toward their profession, both participants actively strove to embody love in teaching. While Alice’s love was positively manifested in relation to her students, Priya’s love was contingent on its being acted upon in her classrooms or in relation to the entire education system, which tended to be exam-oriented. Thus, Priya’s love was negatively affected by the education reality in Nepal.

As Lanas (2017) suggested, we should reflect critically on our teacher education programs and make love a central focus in teacher education as we guide our teacher candidates to enact loving responses and adopt loving attitudes in their teaching. After all, social views toward the teaching profession can impact teachers’ emotions. Even though we might not entirely change societal perceptions of the profession, raising awareness about how teacher emotions can influence their teaching and student learning might gradually alter public opinion about teaching being a less prestigious job; such a perceptual shift is necessary if teaching is to become a worthy enterprise that “impacts hundreds of lives” as Priya stated. Like Ahmed (2004), we contend that love should not be viewed just as a feeling or an abstract trait. Rather, it is socially constructed, circulated, and shared so that both learning and teaching can become enriching experiences.

About the authors

Wendy Li

Wenjing (Wendy) LI is a Ph.D. candidate of Second Language Studies Program at Michigan State University. She joined the program in fall 2015. Before coming to the United States, she taught English as a foreign language in different educational institutions in China for more than two years. Her research interests include language socialization, language teacher identity, emotions, and language pedagogy. She holds an M.A. in TESOL from Lancaster University, UK.

Hima Rawal

Hima RAWAL holds an MA in TESOL from Michigan State University and Master of Education (M.Ed.) in English Education from Tribhuvan University, Nepal. Currently, she is a Ph.D. student in the Second Language Studies Program at Michigan State University. Her research interests include language teacher professional development, teacher identity/ideologies, teacher/learner beliefs and emotions, study abroad, translanguaging in multilingual classrooms, linguistic landscape and South Asian languages in diaspora settings.


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Published Online: 2019-01-22
Published in Print: 2018-11-27

© 2018 FLTRP, Walter de Gruyter, Cultural and Education Section British Embassy

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