Andy Hargreaves: Teaching is an emotional practice (Journal Excerpt)

It makes sense that teaching is an “emotional practice.” Such an inherent part of teaching is the building of relationships between student and teacher. I think it’s fair to say that students who feel no connection to their teacher are unlikely to feel they are in a “safe community” where they can be themselves fully and feel safe to do the trying-and-falling that is an integral part of learning (Sapon-Shevin). (Also, is it possible to spend an average of 30 hours a week in the same room as someone and not form some sort of relationship, whether healthy or not?) The first part of Hargreaves’s conclusion is that this emotional aspect of teaching needs to become a part of the discussion when talking about the work teachers do and the work that needs to be done to improve our schools:

“…the discourse of educational reform must acknowledge and even honor the centrality of the emotions to the processes and outcomes of teaching, learning and caring in our schools. The emotions must no longer be ignored, still less demeaned as peripheral in the proclamations of policymakers or…‘agony aunt approach’ leading to ‘a sloppy and sentimentalized kind of caring’ (Young, 1997” (850).

Seth Godin’s statement that teachers can “inculcate” their students with passion is an aspect of emotional work. Passion is an emotion! Passion for a topic, for an idea, for an action can be instilled in people and teachers have that power. “The discourse of educational reform” certainly involves much talk about teachers–how we need great teachers. Well, yes, but what makes great teachers great? What do they do that is better and beyond mediocre, average, bad teachers?

I would argue it’s the emotional labor and investment great teachers put into their work and students.



  1. I agree. Without a passion for what we do we can never really connect to our students. It would be hard to separate any emotional connection from students, especially many many students see their teachers as adults they can count on. I interviewed a Middle school student for another class. One of the questions I asked was how do you know when a teacher cares? She responded by telling me a teacher cares when they treat you like you were their own kid. I know that a parenting type of involvement should be avoided, but the emotional attachment children give to their teachers is not healthy to ignore. Great post very rich in content!

  2. You bring up so many good points, and I think you are correct in thinking that the emotionally invested teachers are the better teachers. Out of desire to help students, they will look for different or exciting ways to teach the students in order to make sure they learn. I think it was Ayers who said I teach them algebra because I love them, not because I love algebra. One thing I think we have to keep in mind, especially as the years go by and we get used to being with kids day in and day out, is that children are children not mini adults, so we have to give them more love and keep their developmental levels at the forefront of our minds – all at the same time as never underestimating what they can do!

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