For Beginners: Your Feelings are great Data

We are teaching at a time when data is at the forefront of evidencing pupil progress. For good reasons. However, not all the data is being used as it could be. What about your or the pupils emotions as useful data?



We are teaching at a time when data is at the forefront of evidencing pupil progress. For good reasons. However, not all the data is being used as it could be. What about your or the pupils emotions as useful data? I would argue that is we are not aware of how we and our students are being driven to make choices due to basic and primitive emotions then we are literally being fools to ourselves. Worse, we are fools in charge of the education of others!

The fundamental basis of using psychodynamic theory in the classroom is to help teachers understand the role anxiety plays in the life of the school and as such the classroom.  The aim is to make that anxiety more manageable. If the anxiety is more manageable then maybe your job as a teacher will be more manageable. You will enjoy it more. The pupils you teach will learn more.

Psychodynamic theory suggests that to be manageable, anxiety needs to be acknowledged and processed. In psychodynamic speak, it has to be ‘made available for thought’.  If it is not then it can feel as though we are in the passenger seat of a car out of control and careering towards disaster.  Instead of having an experience, an experience is having us and we, on some level, are terrified powerless bystanders witnessing our own destruction.  Sometimes year 9 on a Wednesday morning might feel something like this?

Sigmund FreudIt was Freud who first theorised that the first life threatening sense of anxiety comes when the child (you) is separated from the mother at birth. For our purposes this is key to our understanding of our behaviour as teachers and the behaviour of the children in front of us, particularly in times of stress – like most days at school or like the beginning of a school term, week, day, lesson etc!

Understanding anxiety, its roots, its uses, its effects is key to making our professional lives less stressful and more enjoyable and productive.  When, as teachers, we understood more about this concept; when it is made part of our training;when it was part of the dialogue of the everyday life of education then education would be transformed.

Anxiety is like a fuel and it lasts all of our lives

Understanding anxiety is key for the simple reason that the life threatening anxiety we feel in the early days and months of our lives remains with us as part of our unconscious, to a greater or lesser degree all of our lives. What is the beating heart dry mouth fear of a class you believe have you in their sights if not a deep sense that some or all of them are out for your blood?

Of course these are not conscious thoughts.  They defy reason and logic because they come from a time before words, a time when we were not ‘thinking’ in the way we understand the term.  It comes from a time when we were just ‘feeling’.

Conclusions – Your experience

  • The feelings you have in the classroom, about yourself, about your teaching, about your pupils are feelings all teachers have or have had at some time.
  • Do not feel isolated as though they are yours alone.
  • The fact that you might struggle with your emotional life as a teacher is normal.
  • Education needs to make time for teachers to reflect on the effects of the emotions alive in a classroom can be.

Conclusions – You as a teacher

  • Each person has a private expectation of every other person.  You, as the teacher, may feel as they do, just another person but one who is compelled to take charge.
  • Thinking about the expectations your pupils have and what the silent teacher taught us you need to realise that YOU are the teacher!
  • You are all ‘strangers’ in a room.
  • Whether you want it or not, whether you realise it or not, you are the one with the authority in the room, initially at least.
  • Your pupils have an expectation that YOU will take charge
  • YOU will set the agenda.
  • They have a feeling that they will be led by YOU.

As important as anything to remember is that you are all there to have a learning experience and you are all in it together.

Do now: Journal Journal

  1. Write down how many beginnings there are in your school day, both for you and the pupils you teach…
  2. When you have done that, think about what all beginnings promise
  3. Keeping that in mind, plan for one “beginning” more effectively. For example:
  • take your time to mentally acknowledge the expectations that beginnings have for everyone you are teaching,
  • plan an effective starter for your class where you seize the beginning of a lesson.
  • stand at the door of your classroom and greet children as they go in.
  • ….
  • ….

“Reflective Practice” – Emotions as Dataemotions as data

As teachers we are often asked to reflect formally on the success or otherwise of our lessons but never on the emotional experience we had in the lesson.  Emotions can be seen as dangerous and counter-productive, something to be handled. I would like to offer that you/we begin using emotions as data.  Reflecting on the emotional ebb and flow in a lesson can provide you with some great data about the class, pupils in the class as well as sensing how a subject or topic or way of teaching ‘lands’ in the room.

A journal can help you organise your thoughts and disentangle some powerful emotions  and feelings about individual pupils or classes or even colleagues.  A journal can help you see how your perceptions can sometimes be far from the reality or they might help you decide that you are seeing things clearly.

If you’re stuck then write about your own beginning as a teacher. What did you want? What did you expect? Why did you become a teacher?

In other words where did it all begin for you?

                                                   …Preparing for Lesson Two  

Melanie Klein wrote that children, from the very beginning, from the moment they are born, are hardwired to learn. She called this the “epistemophillic instinct”.

Key Question:  How would your teaching change if you really knew that the children in front of you wanted to learn…always?

Please make a comment either about this article or your own experience. Feel free to contact me, ask questions or make suggestions.  This is a resource for teachers…


Lesson One PDF: PDF session 1 2013

Further Reading: “The Emotional Expereince of Learning and Teaching” (Isca

Looking forward to a productive lesson? Looking forward to a productive lesson?

Lesson Two: Transforming Anxiety into Growth


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