Emotions in social interactions in pre-service teachers’ team practica

August 2021

Source: Teachers and Teaching, 27:6, 520-541

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The present study aims to explore the role of social interaction situations for student teacher emotions when interacting with team partners and mentor teachers.
As a team partner, a fellow student teacher cooperates as a peer in a team practicum:
Both student teachers have the same learning goals.
A mentor teacher is a schoolteacher who typically has a specific qualification for mentoring student teachers:
They supervise the student teachers’ teaching experiences in the classroom as part of the respective practicum placement.
This mentoring activity goes far beyond ‘cooperation’ with university-based teacher education and solely providing the practicum location.
To achieve these aims, the following research questions were addressed:
RQ1: Which positive and negative emotions do student teachers experience in social interaction situations with team partners and mentor teachers during practica?
RQ2: Which emotion-triggering social interaction situations with team partners and mentor teachers do student teachers report and how can these situations be characterised?
RQ3: How are emotion-evoking situations related to fulfilment of or threat to student teachers’ basic psychological needs (autonomy, competence, relatedness)?
The present study adds to the previous literature on student teacher emotions in practica by focusing particularly on the emotional impact of social interactions with the team partner and the mentor teacher.
Additionally, it contributes to the literature that focus on team practica as a specific form in teacher education.


Context and participants
The study was conducted at the University of Teacher Education in Bern, Switzerland and was part of a larger study on 'cooperation, relationships, trust and emotions in the team practicum'.
The three-year study programme there for pre-primary and primary education leads to a bachelor degree, and student teachers have to complete five practica.
Interviews took place a few weeks after the conclusion of Practicum Four, at the beginning of their third year of study.
Practicum Four has a subject-specific focus and is planned as a team-practicum, while the fifth and final practicum is an individual practicum.
Practicum Four lasts four weeks and is the longest practicum of the study programme that is completed in a team, as Practicum One to Three last two to three weeks.
Due to the high intensity of student teacher cooperation with the team partner and the mentor teacher, Practicum Four was selected for the study.
For the present study, 27 student teachers (24 females, 3 males) who volunteered met the criteria and were interviewed.
Six of these student teachers studied with a focus on kindergarten up to second grade, and 21 with a focus on third to sixth grade. 

Interviews and procedure
Members of the research team conducted semi-structured interviews face-to-face.
Informed consent of all participants was obtained prior to interviews.
Interviews lasted between 32 and 90 minutes.
At the beginning of the interview, student teachers were asked to report anything that came to mind with regard to emotions in the team practicum.
After that, they were explicitly asked to elaborate on the core emotions of joy, anger, and anxiety in their team practicum, as these emotions have been identified as significant teacher emotions (Frenzel et al., 2016).
Finally, student teachers were asked to report one positive and one negative experience with their team partners, as well as with their mentor teachers.

Results and discussion

Regarding the experience of emotions (Research Question 1), it was found that student teachers experienced a wide range of emotions in social interaction situations represented by 31 distinct emotions.
These results support previous studies that demonstrated an array of emotions experienced by student teachers (e.g., Anttila et al., 2016; Hascher & Hagenauer, 2016).
Student teachers reported more positive and more negative activating emotions than deactivating emotions in social interaction situations.
This pattern is arguably desirable for teacher training, as positive-activating emotions are considered to be more beneficial for personal learning (Pekrun, 2006).
However, many negative emotions also occurred.
Therefore, it is important to support student teachers in coping with emotions, specifically with negative emotions, that can lead to avoidance and withdrawal from challenging tasks (Anttila et al., 2016).
The results support the idea that teacher education should foster student teachers’ emotional skills. Such training can be integrated into teacher education, for example, as compact workshops or exercise lessons spread over weeks or months (see Vesely-Maillefer & Saklofske, 2018).
Applying approaches to stress reduction to student teacher education, such as mindfulness and mediation exercises (in order to recognise, understand and influence one’s own emotions) or more elaborate training programmes such as presented by Vesely-Maillefer and Saklofske (2018) specifically for student teachers are also conceivable.
The interviews revealed specific emotion-triggering social interaction situations with team partners and mentor teachers (Research Question 2).
Student teachers reported many situations with team partners fundamentally connected to interpersonal behaviour (support, shared special events, failed communication, etc.).
In contrast, more interaction situations that reflected behaviour on a professional level (positive/ negative feedback, [lack of] professional support etc.) were reported with mentor teachers.
This difference may be due to the distinct roles of team partners and mentor teachers: team partners are more likely to be close attachment figures (Gardiner & Robinson, 2009) who provide social and emotional support (Liou et al., 2017).
The role of team partners, thus, goes beyond being cooperation partners on a professional level.
Social interaction situations during practica can be linked to basic psychological needs fulfilment or threat (Research Question 3).
Fulfilment of the need for relatedness was prominent and linked to positive emotions in interaction situations with team partners.
In comparison, fulfilment of the need for autonomy was mentioned, but was linked less frequently to positive situations.
However, threat to the need for autonomy seems to be a source of negative emotions, especially in interaction situations with mentor teachers.
This may point to the challenge for mentor teachers to find and promote the right balance between support and autonomy.
An adequate balance between support and autonomy would be essential for need fulfilment and, consequently, for positive emotional experiences as well (Ryan & Deci, 2002; Thomas et al., 2019).
Fulfilment of or threat to the need for competence was more strongly related to interaction situations with mentor teachers.
As the authors’ results show negative feedback and lack of professional support from the mentor teacher evoke strong negative emotions in student teachers.
Negative feedback and lack of professional support both lead to a threat to the need for competence as well as to relatedness.
Not only for student teachers, but also later for beginning teachers, collegial support is inherently important for teacher’s competence (Kelchtermans & Deketelaere, 2016) and, thereafter, for intrinsic motivation and job satisfaction (Thomas et al., 2019).
In conclusion, the authors’ results go hand in hand with previous studies that highlighted the role of basic need fulfilment for student teachers’ emotions in teacher education in general (Hagenauer et al., 2017; Tong et al., 2009), and extend these findings by confirming this association in a team-teaching practicum.
More concretely, the results reveal that a specific situation can lead to different basic need fulfilment or threat depending on the respective student teachers’ perceptions and evaluations of the situation.
Consequently, the perception of basic psychological need fulfilment or threat seems to be a highly personal process.
Therefore, a closer look into student teacher’s expectations of the team partner and the mentor teacher is also needed.
To sum up, this work offers valuable insight into student teachers’ experienced emotions in interaction situations during practica and the link between these emotions and basic need fulfilment.
A practicum represents a socially complex and highly emotional phase for student teachers’ professional development.
Therefore, social and emotional aspects must be taken into account in teacher education.
It is crucial to support student teachers in the process of becoming competent and sensible interaction and cooperation partners, who are able to reflect on and deal with their own and others’ emotions.
This will support them in becoming satisfied teachers offering high quality teaching in the classroom.

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Updated: Mar. 31, 2022