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2 Study Sample, Techniques and Procedures
As a result of the study, two clusters of stressors emerged: general teacher stressors
and foreign language teaching-speciﬁc stressors. The general stressors were compatible with the results of Kyriacou (2000).
General Teacher Stressors
There have been eight groups of stressors relating to teaching in general isolated as
a result of research data analysis, the following groups are:
Lack of student motivation.
Low results of students.
The atmosphere at school.
Social pressure on teachers.
Lack of career development prospects.
Conflicts at work and home.
The process of teaching.
All these factors refer to general teacher stressors since teachers of all subjects are
likely to experience them. They also affect foreign language teachers, apart from
foreign language teaching-speciﬁc ones which are going to be elaborated on in the
Foreign Language Teaching-Speciﬁc Stressors
In the process of carrying out the study, apart from stressors applying to teaching in
general, there also emerged stressors unique to foreign language teachers. Some of
them appear to be interconnected with the general stressors since they refer to
stressors already elaborated on, but they are also, in a sense, foreign language
teacher speciﬁc. These are: lack of job security, work overload, marking, and the
contradictory expectations of others. Those factors are treated not only as general
stressors, but also as foreign language teacher-speciﬁc ones since current
socio-economic situation makes the teachers of foreign languages more prone to
such stressors as the lack of job security and work overload, whereas marking and
contradictory expectations of others as foreign language teacher-speciﬁc stressors
refer to the speciﬁcity of teaching foreign languages.
Three clusters of stressors have been identiﬁed: stressors referring to the current
socio-economic situation of foreign language teachers, stressors referring to speciﬁc
expectations of others towards foreign language teachers, and stressors referring
exactly to the process of teaching a foreign language.
High Inhibitions and Low Self-esteem as Factors …
• Socio-economic stressors
– lack of job security;
– teachers of Polish teaching English.
• Stressors associated with expectations of others towards foreign language
– excessive societal demands;
– expectations of students’ parents.
• Stressors directly associated with the process of teaching a foreign language
lack of equipment and teaching aids;
teaching listening and speaking;
implementing new material in a foreign language;
teacher’s own inhibitions.
Primary stressors referring to socio-economic situation of foreign language
teachers relate to the massive ﬁring of those teachers and their difﬁculties in ﬁnding
a new job. It happens due to a variety of reasons, some of which are going to be
discussed, the outcomes, however, always tend to be associated with high levels of
foreign language teacher stress, tension and exhaustion.
The issue of contradictory expectations has already been tackled while discussing the general stressors, but foreign language teachers claim that apart from
expecting contradictory things, people ﬁrst of all demand more from foreign language teachers than from teachers of other subjects.
When it comes to stressors directly connected with teaching a foreign language,
some of them refer partly to general stressors, and partly to the foreign language
teacher-speciﬁc ones. There is, however, a group of stressors which refer directly to
teaching a foreign language and they are going to be elaborated on.
Teaching too heterogeneous groups
A signiﬁcant number of respondents indicated that too heterogeneous groups make
them stressed at work since teaching a foreign language is very difﬁcult and
sometimes nearly impossible if groups are too diverse. The teachers point out that
sometimes, especially in schools which are popular and have many students, one
class is divided into two language groups according to language levels—for
instance one group are beginners, and the other—more advanced learners of a
foreign language. If a given teacher teaches those divided groups, everything seems
alright, but it often happens that, when a colleague is ill, the language teacher needs
to teach two groups at the same time. The levels are not even, so either one group is
bored, or the other does not beneﬁt from the lesson, is bored and some of its
members start misbehaving. The respondents report that it is very stressful, especially hence they see that such whole class practice in case of heterogeneous classes
makes no sense at all, but they need to teach anyway, no matter how much it stands
in contradiction with their believes. The teachers who tackled such problems
indicated that it is foreign language teaching-speciﬁc issue since it does not seem as
important in the case of other subject. This situation is also an organizational
problem which influences the process of teaching and triggers, as a result, foreign
language teacher stress. In the previous section the problem of not dividing one
class into two groups was discussed, but as it can be seen, also group division may
entail problems due to reasons mentioned above.
The lack of equipment and teaching aids
The next two stressors refer to similar things and are organizational in nature. These
are the lack of teaching aids and the lack of equipment, such as CD recorders,
overhead projectors, etc. Lack of aids refers here to the lack of items such as
dictionaries, phonemic charts, CD records, etc. Many respondents claim that they
stress much if they do not have a CD recorder since they are not native speakers of
the languages they teach and they would like to present the authentic pronunciation
and language to their learners. They do not feel they are able to do it themselves by,
for example, reading from the transcript that is usually placed at the end of each
Teaching listening and speaking
Other two stressors reported by the respondents are connected with teaching two
skills: listening and speaking. Many informants claim that teaching those two skills
makes them really very stressed. First of all, according to the respondents, it is very
difﬁcult to teach skills rather than particular pieces of knowledge, facts that could be
learnt by heart. The teachers stress that they not only teach about the language, but
they also, or even ﬁrst of all, teach to use language in order to be able to construct
numerous utterances. They point out that they also teach communication and it is not
easy since there are learners who refuse to communicate because of many reasons
such as, for instance, affective factors, the willingness to retain one’s identity, etc.
The respondents claim that teaching such skill as speaking is difﬁcult hence there is
no ready recipe how to do that properly and it all depends on a variety of factors like
a given group and the rapport that a given teacher has with such group, appropriate
teaching aids, teacher’s creativity, teacher’s knowledge about teaching speaking and
even the choice of topics; and this is one stressor. The other one, also connected with
teaching speaking, refers to the unwillingness of many learners to talk. The teachers
state that they sometimes, even though all conditions of a good speaking lesson are
fulﬁlled, cannot make their learners talk and they ﬁnd it frustrating hence they feel
they have done whatever was possible to encourage and prepare their learners to
speak in a foreign language, but they then refuse. The teachers admit that teaching
speaking is the most stressful part of teaching a foreign language.
When it comes to teaching listening, it is rated by the respondent as second worst
skill to be taught. Here also the fact that teaching a skill is very difﬁcult plays a role
and, additionally, the fact that teachers very often do not have equipment necessary
to do that. This also triggers stress and frustration for the reason that the teacher
cannot focus on all the skills during the lesson, as it is recommended.
High Inhibitions and Low Self-esteem as Factors …
The teachers did not mention teaching the skills of reading and writing as
triggering stress. This may be because no special equipment is required to teach
students how to read and write properly. All the reading texts and models useful
while writing are usually contained in the course book, and even if they are not, it is
enough to copy them. The teachers usually copy materials in advance, so here there
is no threat of something unexpected happening.
Some of the investigated teachers stated that they sometimes are not able to copy
some extra materials at school since either the photocopier is broken, or the school
authorities are of the opinion that it is a waste of money, and they do not allow
teachers to copy materials. This situation is not nice, but they are of the opinion that
it is not stressful for them. They seem to be used to such state of affairs and they do
not mind it.
Another stressor connected with teaching a foreign language is teaching grammar.
The respondents are of the opinion that teaching grammar is problematic since there
are vital differences between L1 grammar of the learners and grammar of such
languages as, for instance, English or German. English teachers claim that they ﬁnd
it especially difﬁcult to teach the present perfect tense hence there is no Polish
counterpart, whereas German teachers report teaching cases as difﬁcult. The
teachers also claim that teaching grammar of a foreign language is difﬁcult because
they try to use that language during the whole lesson and it is difﬁcult to explain
grammar in that language which should be adjusted to the level of learners and also
the willingness to avoid metalanguage makes them nervous. Students, according to
the investigated teachers, do not like learning grammar, they are of the opinion that
it is boring and unnecessary. Especially exercises based on drilling are considered
The teachers also argue that even nowadays, when there is a conviction that
communication and the ability to convey message is most important, some degree
of grammar accuracy is necessary in order to communicate without hindering
understanding. The teachers claim that that they would like to devote more time to
teaching grammar, but they cannot since they want to teach according to the syllabus. This is also a source of frustration and stress.
Implementing new material using foreign language
The next stressor is closely connected with the previous issue since it is the issue of
explaining and implementing new material in a foreign language. Here again the
respondents claim that it is very difﬁcult if one is to do that in accordance with the
principles of foreign language teaching methodology which speciﬁes that whenever
possible the explanation and instruction should also be conducted in that very
language. The language should be also appropriate in relation to the level of a given
group. This all makes it stressful for many respondents who emphasize that they did
not have enough practice at university and they simply do not know how to manage
that. It can be assumed that it comes with the experience of a teacher since after
teaching a foreign language for a few years the teacher have already worked out
their own strategies of implementing new material using foreign language. They
more, less know what to expect in relation to their students’ level and they do not
try to use foreign language all the time, what is a typical feature of teachers new in
the profession. It was obvious from the research results that it is young and inexperienced teachers who worry most about implementing new material in a foreign
language. Their older colleagues stated that they, all knew how to make the students
understand and, they do not insist on teaching everything in that language being
taught. Their primary goal was student comprehension.
There are certain areas of teaching a foreign language where, according to the
opinion of the study respondents, it is better to switch to the mother tongue of
students. When asked to explain it, the teachers gave examples of teaching
beginners new vocabulary items. They stated it was not possible to explain the
meaning of new items of vocabulary in a descriptive way because beginners would
not understand it. In case of teaching children they said they tried to use pictures,
but when teaching adult beginners, it was not as easy, since many abstract concepts
were elaborated on and they could not be illustrated by a simple drawing. Besides,
adults like being given Polish counterparts and laugh when they are shown pictures.
Teachers’ own inhibitions
The last group of foreign language teaching-speciﬁc stressors refers to the problems
and inhibitions that the teacher has as a speaker of a foreign language. These
problems may be partly responsible for the stressors mentioned above since teachers
report that they are stressed and frustrated by their own lacks in vocabulary, pronunciation problems and the necessity to speak a foreign language at all times within
the classroom setting. Many respondents claimed they were ashamed of themselves
and embarrassed in situations when they were asked by their learners about certain
items of vocabulary which they did not know. They were extremely afraid of losing
face in such situations and reacted nervously, either reprimanding their learners for
not knowing that vocabulary items themselves, or assigning ﬁnding the answer to
their own question as homework. The teacher respondents stated they were aware
that such behaviours discouraged learners from asking questions, which is not good
since it leads to many problems with understanding. The teachers indicated they felt
remorse, which ass stressful since they blamed themselves and, they cared too much
about their own lack of vocabulary knowledge, which added to their stress.
After the individual interviews were carried out and the results were analysed, a focus
group interview was conducted in order to clarify some issues tackled by the interview
informants. The issues needing clariﬁcation concerned lack of equipment and teaching
aids, implementing new material in the target language, or teaching grammar and
language skills as sources offoreign language teacher stress. During the focus interview,
it was revealed that nearly all of the above stressors were the result of the teachers’
inhibitions and low self-esteem with regard to the language they were teaching.
Below there are three narratives obtained from respondent responses, which
demonstrate the issues of teachers’ inhibitions and self-esteem as primary factors in
foreign language teacher stress.
I am really stressed when it turns out that my CD recorder doesn’t work. I can’t
imagine reading from the transcript since I’m not a native speaker of English and I
High Inhibitions and Low Self-esteem as Factors …
know I make many mistakes, I mean pronunciation, etc. I’m extremely afraid of
losing face in front of my students or colleagues. (Respondent 8, translation mine)
It is apparent that the teacher is afraid of losing face in front of her students because
she has inhibitions concerning her own pronunciation. For that reason, the lack of
equipment is an indirect stressor, whereas teacher’s own pronunciation is the primary stressor.
I know I’m not a walking dictionary, but I tend to get embarrassed when a
student asks about a vocabulary item I don’t know. I’m aware I don’t need to know
everything, but I don’t have high self-esteem levels as a Spanish teacher, I feel I’m
not a very good speaker of the target language though I should be. (Respondent 7,
Here, in turn, it is clear that the teacher is uneasy about her own knowledge of target
language vocabulary and unaware of the fact that it is not possible, even for a native
speaker, to know all vocabulary items of a given language. It testiﬁes that this
teacher is very inhibited and doubts her own capabilities.
People [native speakers of English] often tell me I’m a fluent English speaker,
but I know that’s not true. While speaking to my students I hear my mistakes, I
know I should not be a teacher because I’m not proﬁcient enough. (Respondent 2,
This respondent seems to have a really low level of self-esteem when it comes to
the language she teaches. The respondent seems to be petriﬁed while speaking to
her students for fear of making mistakes.
These three examples of narrations were the most controversial ones, however all
the teachers but one, who participated in the focus interview, mentioned that they are
afraid of losing face when they teach a language, that they have low levels pf
self-esteem with regard to their language competence and that they are in general
afraid of making mistakes because they treat it as a failure. The focus interview results
suggest that most foreign language-speciﬁc stressors seem to derive from teachers’
inhibitions and low levels of self-esteem with regard to the language they teach.
4 Discussion of the Study Results
As a result of the study, two clusters of stressors emerged. The ﬁrst group constitute
stressors that are general teacher stressors, so they concern teachers of all subjects.
Respectively, they also concern foreign language teachers who are exposed to
general teacher stressors as well as to foreign language teaching-speciﬁc ones. The
stressors relating to the speciﬁcity of foreign language teaching were divided into
three groups. The socio-economic stressors of foreign language teachers concerned
only the teachers of English and therefore they cannot be treated as foreign
language-speciﬁc for all foreign language teachers. Besides, lack of job security can
also be categorized as triggering general teacher stress. As far as expectations of
others towards foreign language teachers are concerned, it is visible that these are
quit high, bit on the other hand, nowadays general expectations of the society
towards all teachers are high therefore this group of stressors cannot be treated as
referring to foreign language teaching only.
The third group of stressors refers directly to the speciﬁcity of foreign language
teaching. They relate to the heterogeneity of the learner group, lack of equipment
and teaching aids, teaching the skills of listening and speaking, teaching grammar
and implementing new material using the target language. After the conclusion of
the focus interview, the study results revealed that all of these stressors, except
teaching too heterogeneous groups, are connected with teachers’ low levels of
self-esteem and high inhibitions with regard to the taught language.
The inhibitions concerned teachers’ mistakes, lacks in vocabulary and general
fear of losing face. Many teachers admitted to being ashamed of their pronunciation
and becoming stressed as a result. Study results indicate a tendency for older teachers
to be more ashamed of their pronunciation and to report it more often that teaching
pronunciation is for them problematic because of their own flaws. It may be the
result of different teaching paradigms in the past—the emphasis was on grammar and
direct translation, but not on pronunciation and, for instance listening skills.
There were two teachers in the sample who stated that the necessity to speak a
foreign language makes them stressed. Their explanation, however, suggested that
this stressor is triggered by their doubting their own capabilities as speakers of a
Teaching a foreign language is very speciﬁc because foreign language teachers do
not only have to choose appropriate teaching methods in accordance with the policy
of the school they work in and/or with their own believes about teaching, but they
should also take the issue of learner differences and individual variations into consideration. Learning a foreign language is a sensitive matter, because people engage
emotions in learning the language and these emotions are varied. Learner differences
such as learner styles, individual variations, etc. (Brown, 2000; Harmer, 2003) need
to be taken into consideration as well. Additionally, teachers are non-native speakers
of the target language they teach and they are exposed to stress as a result.
Hargreaves (2000) claims that teaching is very emotional in nature and in the
case of foreign language teachers, it may be even more emotional due to the fact
that teaching a foreign language entails emotional challenges to one’s sense of self
and identity that it implies, because of the necessity to learn, speak and then teach a
language which is not their native language.
According to Brown (2000), learning and teaching a foreign language is a very
emotional process since it requires changing one’s ego and for that reason many
people ﬁnd it problematic. Horowitz (1996) states that foreign language teachers
tend to have negative feelings towards their language proﬁciency, often manifested
by their anxiety referring to it. Foreign language teachers have to not only ﬁght their
own inhibitions to use the target language while giving explanations and
High Inhibitions and Low Self-esteem as Factors …
instructions, but they also need to help their learners ﬁght their inhibitions concerning learning a new language. Of course, the fact that foreign language teachers
claim to be stressed because of their inhibitions and low levels of self-esteem
concerning the language taught, does not necessarily mean that they are not good
teachers, or proﬁcient users of language. They may simply doubt their capabilities
due to low levels of general self-esteem or because of the attitudes of the society
towards all teachers nowadays. It is, for sure, an issue worth investigating further.
Limitations of the Study
The study was qualitative in nature, so the results were not presented in the form of
numbers and percentages. The author tried to describe what makes the foreign
language teachers stressed and frustrated at work and what the roots of the stressors
enumerated by those teachers are. All possible measures were taken to make the
process of collecting the data and carrying out the analysis objective and transparent. There were, however some limitations of the study. There was not an even
sex distribution among the respondents, so it could not be investigated how sex
moderates factors evoking stress of foreign language teachers. There were practically no differences referring to stressors and situations triggering stress declared by
male and female teachers, but the author feels that, if there were more male teachers
in the sample, some differences might be visible. Also the levels of stress were not
diagnosed, so the stress levels reported by the respondents were declarative. On the
other hand, thanks to the nature of qualitative research, the author had the chance to
be really close to the investigated teachers and learnt a lot about their stress,
especially due to the research technique which was an in-depth interview allowing
for exploration of the topic if such opportunities arose. The saturation was achieved,
so an assumption could be risked that the problem has been explored. When it
comes to the limitations, thanks to further research all the things that were not
explored can be investigated in the future.
Suggestions for Further Research
The qualitative research that was applied is by deﬁnition explorative in nature, so it
might be assumed that the research brought new insights into foreign language
teaching. On the other hand, the research was not based on random large sample, so
the results should be interpreted cautiously. In the future a model of factors triggering foreign language teacher stress could be proposed and tested on the large
sample in the future. This may allow the researcher to verify if the results are
invariant with regard to speciﬁc research context, e.g., age, sex of the teachers and
the type of school that they work in. Furthermore, the stress levels and personality
traits of the prospective respondents could be diagnosed by the use of special
batteries of tests designed by psychologists. This would allow for the further
exploration of the problem and may give new insights with relation to teacher
stress, but also coping strategies of foreign language teachers and the burnout
syndrome which is often the outcome of long-term occupational stress. Also a more
even sex distribution among the respondents would ensure more objectivity with
regard to sex affecting factors evoking stress of foreign language teachers.
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“I Want to Be Happy as a Teacher”. How
Emotions Impact Teacher Professional
Abstract The role that affective factors play in the teacher professional development (PD) process has not been sufﬁciently investigated. This emotional work still
remains a neglected, “untapped vein” (DiPardo & Potter, in Vygotsky’s educational
theory in cultural context. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 317–45,
2003). Approaching PD as a self-determined task that involves a sequence of
decisions and actions theoretically frames the perspective in this study which
examines the ways teachers relate to their own learning processes. Open-ended
questionnaires distributed before and after teacher workshops and follow-up
semi-structured qualitative interviews were used to explore how ten university
language teachers proceed in accomplishing their PD. Four kinds of teacher goals
(instructional, occupational, developmental and affective-emotional) and three
appraisal patterns in teacher learning behaviour emerged, with critical consequences
for the two professional teacher proﬁles that were identiﬁed. The results prove a
close link between positive emotions and teacher professional development and
conﬁrm some of the essential functions of positive emotions.
Keywords Teachers’ emotions
University language teachers’ professional
development (TPD) Role of goals in TPD Affective-emotional goals Teachers’
The currently crucial goal of educating life-long learners impinges on the need to
build life-long ‘learning’ teachers. However, the diverse challenges that the
endeavour of teacher professional development (TPD) involves are often
under-estimated. Professional development has been a long debated topic in teacher
E. Gallo (&)
Sprachenzentrum, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitọt Mỹnchen,
Schellingstraòe 3/Rỹckgebọude, 80799 Munich, Germany
â Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016
D. Gabryś-Barker and D. Gałajda (eds.), Positive Psychology Perspectives
on Foreign Language Learning and Teaching, Second Language Learning
and Teaching, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-32954-3_14