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2 Study Sample, Techniques and Procedures

2 Study Sample, Techniques and Procedures

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A.L. Wieczorek


Study Results

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:

Discipline problems.

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

next section.


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

heterogeneous groups;

lack of equipment and teaching aids;

teaching listening and speaking;

teaching grammar;

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


A.L. Wieczorek

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

teacher’s book.

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.

Teaching grammar

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

very mundane.

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


A.L. Wieczorek

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,

translation mine)

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,

translation mine)

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


A.L. Wieczorek

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

foreign language.

5 Conclusions

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


A.L. Wieczorek

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


Elena Gallo

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’

learning behaviour




1 Introduction

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


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