Get in touch with emotions

28th November 2008 at 00:00

It's your first day as a teacher and those scrupulously-prepared lessons are the last thing on your mind. Instead, you're coping with nerves, trying to make a good impression and working out how to bond with pupils who refuse to listen.

Researchers argue that official professional standards are too dry and removed from the intense experience of becoming a teacher which, they say, lurches from "delight" to "despair". They propose a new model where emotions and relationships would be as central as acquiring skills and knowledge.

The team, based at Stirling and Manchester Metropolitan universities, looked at professional standards in Scotland and England. They identified seven crucial aspects of the early part of a teaching career (see panel) and spent three years examining how they were handled by 192 teachers in 45 schools across 13 local authorities.

Jim McNally, formerly of Stirling University and now at Strathclyde University, said the metaphor teachers used most often to describe their first months in the job was "emotional rollercoaster". Official professional standards concentrated on teaching skills and "don't quite represent the experience people have".

The research, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, found that existing standards "ignore" emotions, relationships and personal issues, the "real challenge" facing new teachers. Even well-prepared teachers arrive to find that ticking off a list of competencies is little help if, for example, pupils do not accept them; new teachers "virtually have to reinvent themselves".

Pupils' views were also analysed: the best new teachers developed good relationships with classes early in the year, and built on them.

Professor McNally stressed that current standards were a useful, yet incomplete, innovation: "Our new model encompasses a fuller appreciation of the learning process that statutory standards neglect, through a more sophisticated recognition of early professional learning."

It comprises five "quantitative indicators": job satisfaction; children's views on their learning environment; interaction with colleagues; teaching ability as judged by an external expert; and development of pupils as judged by colleagues.

Tony Finn, chief executive of the General Teaching Council for Scotland, acknowledged that emotions and relationships were important, but said these already came under the "professional values and professional commitment" section of the Standard for Full Registration; it was not about ticking off competencies.

He accepted there were things to learn from the findings, but stressed that recent Glasgow University research showed teachers talking "very positively" about the standard. It was based on a survey of 2,000 teachers, against the smaller sample used by Professor McNally's team which, moreover, covered England and Wales as well as the "quite distinct" Scottish standard.


Emotional: range and intensity of feeling from anxietydespair to delightfulfilment that permeate experiences

Relational: social interactions, mainly with pupils and colleagues, which produce relationships crucial to professional identity

Structural: organisational aspects of the school and education system which govern entry into the profession

Material, such as resources and rooms

Cognitive: explicit understandings in professional practice, such as curriculum knowledge, assessment, differentiated teaching, including the professional standard itself

Ethical: sense of commitment and care

Temporal: above dimensions change over induction year.

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