Pedagogical Possibilities: Engaging Cultural Rules of Emotion

Oct. 29, 2009

Source: Teachers College Record, Volume 111 Number 11, 2009.


Teaching, leading, and learning are inextricably connected to emotions. Yet, the significance of emotions is rarely addressed in educational settings. However, when it is, the relationship between emotions and curricula is most often framed by of an overly individualistic behavior model that focuses on the management and regulation of emotions. This model obscures, if not denies, the structural-collective aspects of students’ and teachers’ emotions and thereby fails to recognize that emotions are culturally based, with patterns of selectivity deeply embedded in social and cultural structures. These patterns of selectivity operate to influence decisions that can lead to educational and social (in)equities. This article focuses on an imperative to understand how emotions function as sites of knowledge to create cultural rules of interactions that promote and/or hinder the preparation of teachers to act as agents of change.

Focus of Study: In seeking to better understand both individualistic behavior models and structural-collective aspects of teachers and students’ emotions as sites of knowledge within the classroom, the authors focus on the role of emotions in preparing preservice and in-service teachers to confront educational and societal inequities.

Research Design: The authors conducted a retrospective qualitative case study of 14 graduate students—reflecting a diversity including age, gender, and race—enrolled in a course on urban education. Using multicultural feminist theories, they analyze students’ understandings of a critical incident in the course about gender inequities through individual semistructured interviews, focus group interviews, and document analysis.


Students enter classrooms with “pretexts” of how teachers and students will interact in the classroom. These pretexts are integrally related to the negotiation of power in the intersections of race, gender, and class and underlie emotional selectivity. In these pretexts, a pedagogy of discomfort and a pedagogy of challenge simultaneously exist. The blurring and blending of these two pedagogies create a unique third space in which emotions serve as sites of struggle and contestation, and possibilities for changing the status quo of inequities. Four prevalent patterns of emotional selectivity emerged within the specific context of gender inequity in educational contexts: (1) denial of emotions, (2) mere existence of emotions, (3) simultaneous acceptance and denial of emotions, and (4) emotions-reason informing knowledge, identities, and actions. The fourth of these patterns offers pedagogical possibilities for challenging personal, educational, and societal inequities as it situates the focus of teachers’ roles as active agents of change.

Updated: Mar. 18, 2009