Stories of happiness, emotional goals and identity in 21ˢᵗ century teachers
Hooker, T. (2020). Stories of happiness, emotional goals and identity in 21ˢᵗ century teachers (Thesis, Master of Educational Leadership (MEdLeadership)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/13765
Permanent Research Commons link: https://hdl.handle.net/10289/13765
Happiness may be the key to keeping teachers in the profession. Rarely, however, does teaching tend to be associated with moments of happiness in educational research or in the popular imagination. In fact, quite the opposite view is presented in the significant body of literature that describes the emotional travails, stress and burnout of teachers. Consequently, there are recruitment and retention crises in schools throughout the Western World. Teacher identity is also in crisis, undermined since the late-1980s by economistic reforms which view teachers as producers and achievement as currency in an educational marketplace. Running counter to the more holistic, altruistic educational philosophies held by many in the profession, the reforms have attached a vulnerability to the identities of many teachers. Teaching culture has been described as one of unhappiness. This study aims to shine a light on the happy moments which exist in teaching life. In doing so, it wonders if others were to do the same, whether an embattled but noble profession could find new life and allow the people within it greater agency in their identities. With little in the way of preceding research, the thesis is exploratory. Sitting in the interpretive paradigm, it utilises a narrative methodology to capture stories of happiness from teaching life. Interviews were employed to elicit the stories from eight participants, with the aim of providing thick, socially-situated description of happy episodes in the classroom. Supporting, scene-setting data comes from two focus groups while participants also completed a diary to document their daily emotion. The study shows that teachers mainly experience eudemonic happiness, a type of positive emotion associated with self-actualisation after meeting long-held, personally important goals. It finds that a necessary precursor to these experiences is for participants to emphasise these long-held, altruistic goals in the narrative construction of their personal-professional identities, their teacherly selves. Furthermore, positive aspects of the teacherly self emerge from happy experiences in teaching because of self-actualisation occurring in the experience of eudemonia. Additionally, many of the teacher participants found particular happiness in the positive narrative arc of an underdog. Positive professional identity is important in teaching because it is associated with quality teaching practice. Therefore, there are implications for teachers who want to improve their happiness and also their practice. There are also implications for educational leaders and teacher educators to make space for happiness and the positive identity formation of teachers. This is because students are likely to benefit from teachers’ happy episodes if such episodes improve practice, although, further research into the connection between teacher happiness and student outcomes is suggested. That teachers may be particularly enlivened by an underdog story is good for students who require the greatest support. It is recommended that researchers address the connection between eudemonia and positive identity formation. In particular, it is important to determine if similar phenomena can be located across a range of settings and cultures.
The University of Waikato
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