Why emotion is the intelligent choice

7th October 2005 at 01:00
It's easy to become disillusioned with teaching. It's a hugely rewarding career but, as many of us know, it can be stressful and pretty toxic for our personal lives. In my own case I felt that, as the years went by, it was difficult to sustain the enthusiasm I had as a bright shiny NQT. After eight years, I had acquired confidence and classroom management skills, but sometimes the sheer volume of work left me feeling resentful and unhappy.

We are all, to some extent, labouring in a measurement-obsessed culture. On TV, people are constantly measured by their incomes, property or waistlines. Most teachers trawl through coursework and curriculum, trying to match or better their targets. Sadly, we are rarely given encouragement or "permission" to take risks, create, grow or - horror of horrors - occasionally fail.

Recently, I have rediscovered my enthusiasm for teaching through emotional intelligence. At first, I was sceptical; I was worried that it sounded too "touchy-feely". I didn't want to hug trees or find my "inner child", be in "the zone" or think "outside the box". Yuk.

Surprisingly, what I actually found was that emotional intelligence allows us to discover our own individual emotions, strengths and goals. It encourages us to interact rather than react to ourselves and others. It celebrates individuality.

For years, our education system has suggested that intelligence is something which should be divorced from emotion. However, research into the brain has found that we have to in be a receptive emotional state in order to produce the important "thinking chemical", dopamine. If we are angry, stressed or nervous then we "shut down" and return to our "primitive brain" function - a familiar state during last lesson on a Friday afternoon!

It's time to ditch the target setting and statistical mumbo jumbo. I didn't sign up to work in a sausage factory. Maybe if we concentrated on the quality of the process, the results would come. Contemplating my school's percentage A-C target for GCSE doesn't get me jumping out of bed in the morning and I know it doesn't inspire my colleagues either. Well, there's probably one, but then there always is, isn't there?

Instead of asking us to focus on children's behaviour, emotional intelligence encourages us to explore our own. It starts with us and surely this is the key to establishing a happy, productive and respectful learning environment. It hasn't turned me into a perfect teacher or a paragon of virtue, but it has given me the confidence to try new things. Some experiments have worked and some haven't, but I am thoroughly enjoying trying them out.

Emotional intelligence takes us on the most exciting journeys into our own learning. And the best part is, we don't need any fancy resources or products; we already have everything we need inside ourselves to take the first steps.

Kathryn Palmer teaches English in Co Durham and is conducting a research project into behaviour management in secondary schools

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