Emotions Attributions of ELT Pre-service Teachers and Their Effects on Teaching Practice

January - June, 2020

Source: Profile: Issues in Teachers’ Professional Development 22 (1):15-28.

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article presents the results of a qualitative study researching both the emotions Mexican preservice English language teachers (ELT) experience during their practicum and the attributions they give to them.
The emotions originated from the interactions of pre-service teachers with students, materials, and supervisors are analysed to understand to what they attribute those emotions and the effect of those emotions on their teaching practice, if any.

To understand the emotions experienced by pre-service teachers during their practicum, it was necessary to provide a detailed account of their views and describe the context in which said emotions originated.
A qualitative approach was selected as the most suitable for the purpose of this research, as it was thought to facilitate a better understanding of the emotions experienced during practicum and the attributions given to these by pre-service teachers.
The following research questions were formulated for the present study:
1. What emotions do pre-service English language teachers experience during their teaching practicum?
2. What were these emotions attributed to?

The present study was conducted in 2015 with pre-service English language teachers from the undergraduate ELT degree programme at a south eastern Mexican university.
The participants were fifteen preservice teachers, eight female and seven male, whose ages ranged between 20 and 23 and who, during the study period, were teaching for the first time.
The university assigned pre-service teachers to educational institutions in the city, where they taught for a period of between 8 and 12 weeks for an average of three hours per week, with some lessons designed in pairs and some individually.
Journal entries describing their teaching performances and the emotions they experienced therein were written individually.

Data Elicitation Procedures
Data were collected via classroom observation, preservice teachers’ reflection journals, and semi-structured interviews.
Pre-service teachers were asked to write reflectively about their teaching sessions and describe the emotions they experienced during them.
Semi-structured interviews were used at the end of the study period to clarify some of the issues expressed in the journal entries.
The meanings the pre-service teachers gave to emotions and the situations in which they arose can only be understood through the lenses of their experiences.
In addition, the researcher observed the participants twice during their teaching practicum, with the objective of understanding the context in which the emotions were experienced in order to aid the interpretation of the findings.

Data Analysis
By the end of the study, 118 teaching journals entries had been collected, 15 semi-structured interviews conducted, and 30 practicum teaching sessions observed.
The data set was analysed using content analysis, a method providing an accessible and theoretically flexible approach to data analysis (Patton, 1987).

Pre-service teachers experienced positive and negative emotions during their practicum.
The most frequent positive emotions experienced were joy, happiness, and satisfaction and the most frequent negative emotions were despair, insecurity, frustration, worry, and stress.
These emotions were attributed to three major themes:
(a) Students’ Behaviour and Attitudes,
(b) Undeveloped Teaching Skills, and
(c) Beliefs About Teaching and Learning. Although there was some overlap among the responses in each theme (e.g., between Theme A and Theme B, with some pre-service teachers attributing the indiscipline of their students to their own undeveloped teaching skills), each theme is presented separately here to aid understanding and clarity.

Attributions of Negative Emotions

Most pre-service teachers were overwhelmed by the students’ undisciplined classroom behaviour and lack of interest in their classes,
Having unmotivated and undisciplined students also affects pre-service and novice teachers’ confidence and self-efficacy.
Although some of the pre-service teachers participating in the present research described having difficulty interacting with students during class (for such reasons as a lack of familiarity, their lack of experience, or the students’ response to their activities or classes), others described having no problem establishing a positive relationship with students.
Furthermore, these negative emotions may be regarded as experiences pre-service teachers needed to go through or had to face in order to gain confidence and experience.

Attributions of Positive Emotions
Although participating pre-service teachers did experience negative emotions, they also described positive ones, which functioned as scaffolding to help them endure and overcome negative emotions during their practicum.
Most positive emotions were attributed to the students’ active performance.
The literature on emotions reports that teachers’ positive emotions are mainly caused by their interaction with students (Cowie, 2011; Méndez López, 2017).
Participants of this study worked with children and adolescents; working with students of these ages requires a great deal of professional and personal commitment, to not only designing materials and activities suitable for students but also to showing a real interest in them as people.
As stated by Arizmendi Tejeda et al. (2016), preservice teachers who embrace teaching as a vocation tend to enjoy teaching, but this does not prevent them from experiencing negative emotions, which may affect their motivation (p. 40).
In this study, having students who participated and showed interest in the activities designed for them motivated pre-service teachers to continue working.
This finding concurs with Nguyen’s (2014) study which found that student engagement in class is a predictor of pre-service teachers’ positive emotions and sense of fulfilment.
This is an important aspect to consider, as classroom management and the forming of positive interpersonal relationships with students are regarded as important factors, not just for students’ learning but also for teachers’ emotional well-being (Mercer et al., 2016).

Undeveloped Teaching Skills
Most pre-service teachers described realising that being in front of a group was not as easy as they had envisaged, enduring despair, insecurity, stress, worry, and frustration because of difficult classroom situations.
The main difficulties reported by participants in this study were a lack of techniques for introducing a specific topic and a lack of strategies for disciplining students, as well as unmotivated learners and unforeseen problems during class.
However, most pre-service teachers emphasized that the indiscipline of the children and teenagers in their classroom was their main concern during practicum.

Attributions to Undeveloped Teaching Skills
Most participants described how they possessed undeveloped teaching skills, which some of them attributed to their lack of commitment to the profession, stating that they did not really want to major in English language teaching.
An important aspect to be considered when analysing the different emotions or feelings expressed by pre-service teachers is their sense of vocation or calling for teaching.
As a lack of financial resources sometimes limits access to Mexican universities, students often find themselves enrolled in a degree programme very different to what they had envisaged.
This can affect their motivation to teach.
This lack of vocation is likely to become strongly evident when the pre-service teachers face their first teaching experiences, generating intense emotions that may cause them to lose the desire to teach completely. The pre-service teachers without a sense of vocation for teaching seemed to display more emotional intensity in response to the negative events they faced during their practicum which, thus, affected their motivation.
The preservice teachers’ identities were being constructed through and shaped by their experiences in their incipient professional lives.
Although these situations were difficult, they helped the pre-service teachers’ teaching practice, as they were forced to consult their supervisors for ideas or approaches for fulfilling their students’ needs.
The pre-service teachers not only asked their peers for advice or sought suggestions from more experienced teachers, but some also decided to enroll in further courses to better attend to their students’ needs in their future practice.
Thus, participants realised the necessity of developing specific skills for responding to their students’ needs and interests and managing their classrooms more naturally.
Some participants expressed that they found teaching students at different levels burdensome, since they did not really want to teach at all.
They had enrolled in the course solely because it is a graduation requirement for the ELT undergraduate degree, with the expectation of subsequently finding work in tourism in the northern part of the state.
This affected their teaching practice, as it meant they showed no disposition to improve.
Other participants, in contrast, found the practicum experience positive and gained confidence from noticing how basic their teaching skills were, in that they realized they just needed more practice and training. These students also showed evidence of their developing skills as language teachers, with some expressing the need to be trained to deal with special needs students and children.
Most participants of this study did not express having a vocation for teaching which may have influenced the frequent experience of negative emotions due to their undeveloped teaching skills.
Thus, the pre-service teachers’ beliefs were hindering the improvement of their teaching skills, as they attributed their negative experiences to their lack of teaching abilities without intention or energy placed on improving these (Weiner, 1992).
On the other hand, when teachers have a calling for the profession, it has been found that they will regard negative experiences optimistically, thus benefitting their levels of energy and motivation (Cross & Hong, 2012).
In this study, some participants that regarded negative experiences as events they had to go through also expressed this optimistic view.

Beliefs About Teaching and Learning
The pre-service teachers expressed their beliefs about teaching and learning in reflective journal entries.
These beliefs could be the result of previous school experiences or the influence of a teacher they considered either good or not good, or one who provided them with positive experiences during their learning process.
The pre-service teachers participating in the present research expressed their belief that a teacher can play different roles in relation to their students.
Rather than being simply a teacher who presents information and guides students in the construction of new knowledge, some teachers believe that they also must be a moral guide.
Some of the pre-service teachers expressed concern about not only language content but also their students’ more profound needs.
Pre-service teachers also state that teachers need to be aware of their students’ feelings to ensure that they are comfortable, patient, and tolerant.
These beliefs are in line with the tenets of humanistic language teaching, an approach that places great importance on the development of students as human beings while at the same time developing language skills.
Pre-service teachers expressed beliefs about being good teachers.
They expressed the idea that, to be considered good professionals, teachers needed to consider feelings and demonstrate patience, tolerance, and humour.
This is in line with results of studies done in the Mexican context (Méndez López, 2011b, 2015b).
The literature on attribution reveals that students with fixed ability beliefs usually attribute their success or failure to an innate ability or talent (Weiner, 1992).
Pre-service teachers may extrapolate this to teaching, believing that they will never improve their teaching skills no matter how many training courses they take.
This can make the practicum period a difficult one, not only for pre-service teachers but also for supervisors, who may find themselves overseeing reticent and closed-minded pre-service teachers.
Thus, it is important for supervisors and trainers to help pre-service teachers shape these beliefs so they can improve their teaching skills.

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Cowie, N. (2011). Emotions that experienced English as a foreign language (EFL) teachers feel about their students, their colleagues and their work. Teaching and Teacher Education, 27(1), 235-242.
Méndez López, M. G. (2011b). The motivational properties of emotions in foreign language learning. Colombian Applied Linguistics Journal, 13(2), 43-59.
Méndez López, M. G. (2015b). Emotions reported by English language teaching major students in Mexico. Chetumal, mx: uqroo.
Méndez López, M. G. (2017). Labor intensification and emotions of Mexican language teachers: A case study. Innovación Educativa, 17(75), 31-48.
Mercer, S., Oberdorfer, P., & Saleem, M. (2016). Helping language teachers to thrive: Using positive psychology to promote teachers’ professional well-being. In D. Gabryś-Barker & D. Gałajda (Eds.), Positive psychology perspectives on foreign language learning and teaching (pp. 213-229). Cham, ch: Springer.
Nguyen, M. H. (2014). Pre-service eal teaching as emotional experiences: Practicum experience in an Australian secondary school. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 39(8), 63-84.
Patton, M. Q. (1987). How to use qualitative methods in evaluation. Newbury Park, us: Sage Publications.
Weiner, B. (1992). Human motivation: Metaphors, theories, and research. Newbury Park, us: Sage.  

Updated: Jan. 28, 2021


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