Language Teacher Psychology

Language Teacher Psychology


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781783099443
Publisher: Multilingual Matters Ltd.
Publication date: 01/31/2018
Series: Psychology of Language Learning and Teaching Series , #1
Pages: 364
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.21(h) x 0.88(d)

About the Author

Sarah Mercer is the Head of the ELT Research and Methodology section at the University of Graz, Austria. She is interested in all aspects of language learning psychology, in particular self-related constructs, motivation, affect, agency, mindsets, and belief systems. She is co-editor of Positive Psychology in SLA (with Peter MacIntyre and Tammy Gregersen) and Multiple Perspectives of the Self in SLA (with Marion Williams). Achilleas Kostoulas taught English in schools in Greece before moving into language teacher education. He completed a PhD at the University of Manchester, UK and now works in the Department of English Studies at the University of Graz, Austria, where he teaches courses in ELT and Applied Linguistics. His research interests focus on the psychology of language learning and teaching.

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Introduction to Language Teacher Psychology

Sarah Mercer and Achilleas Kostoulas

There is no system in the world or any school in the country that is better than its teachers. Teachers are the lifeblood of the success of schools.

Ken Robinson, 2013

Why a Book on Language Teacher Psychology?

If you think back to your language learning at school, you might remember specific tasks or projects you did, but, even more likely, you will remember your teachers. You will remember the kind of people they were, the atmosphere they created in their classrooms and how you felt in their class and in your relationship with them. Teachers are absolutely defining in terms of a person's educational experience as well as often in terms of their life trajectories after school. Surely these people, who have the privilege and considerable responsibility of crafting learning experiences, are so important that understanding their characteristics, personalities, needs, motivations and well-being should be a priority. And yet, in second language acquisition (SLA) to date, this has not been the case.

Understandably and quite rightly, the learner-centred movement drew attention to individual learners. It raised awareness among educators and researchers of the ways in which learners can vary as individuals and how these differences can impact on how they acquire additional languages. This movement was necessary in light of the dominant focus at the time on the language itself and the technical methods for teaching language to learners, with little or no consideration of their personal characteristics. However, in the field's eagerness to move pedagogically and empirically away from teacher-centred approaches, it has perhaps inadvertently led to a neglect of attention being paid to teachers as a population and as individuals. While the field of individual differences in SLA blossomed in respect of learner characteristics such as motivation, sense of self, beliefs, styles and strategies, attention to the teacher and teacher individual differences all but vanished. Around the 1990s this began to change as researchers started to examine teacher identities and teacher cognition, marking a gradual introduction of a body of work focusing on teachers as individuals, yet still comparatively limited in scope when compared to the body of work which examines learners.

More recently, the field of learner individual differences (ID) research in SLA has also undergone something of a transformation. First, the field has expanded its empirical focus to include research on constructs such as emotions (Dewaele, 2015; MacIntyre & Gregersen, 2012), attributions (Williams et al., 2001), mindsets (Mercer & Ryan, 2010; Ryan & Mercer, 2012), goals (Woodrow, 2012), personality (Dewaele, 2012; Oxford, 1996) and others (Dornyei, 2009; Ehrman et al., 2003; Gregersen & MacIntyre, 2014). In a parallel development, there has also been a broadening of methodological approaches used to investigate learner diversity, incorporating qualitative and mixed method designs in addition to the more typical quantitative studies which dominated early work in the field (Tatzl et al., 2016). As the field has broadened, there has also been a notable trend towards increased interest in more holistic approaches, which examine interconnections between constructs and also the situated nature of constructs, and these new perspectives have often been influenced by complexity theories (Dörnyei, 2009; Dornyei & Ryan, 2015). Most recently, the field of ID research has grown to such an extent in content, scope and diversity of approaches that there is increasingly recognition of a community of research that falls under the umbrella of 'psychology of language learning and teaching', as evinced by the series in which this collection is situated. This new emerging field of scholarship extends beyond the traditional ID paradigm and, as such, creates the perfect conditions for broadening the agenda of those working in this area to include teachers, as is our intention with this collection.

There are several reasons why we feel it is especially important to study the psychology of language teachers. One important reason for studying the psychology of teachers is a need to redress the imbalance between studies that have focused on learners and those that have focused on teachers. When compared with the diversity, depth and breadth of research available on learner psychology, there is a notable scarcity of comparable studies examining a wide range of psychological constructs in teachers, teachers at all career stages and from multiple theoretical perspectives. Yet, if we can better understand teacher psychology, we can more easily appreciate the kind of support language teachers need to ensure that they flourish in their professional roles and are able to be the best teachers they can possibly be – for the sake of their own professional well-being as well as for their learners' well-being and ultimate learning. Indeed, understanding teacher psychology is a worthy goal in its own right (Holmes, 2005). As Maslach and Leiter (1999) point out, teachers are the most valuable part of the educational system and so their professional well-being must be a priority.

Yet, teachers are also at the centre of classroom life and their feelings, thoughts, goals and resulting behaviours dictate to a large extent the atmosphere for the whole group as well as individual learners (DeVries & Zan, 1995; Reyes et al., 2012). Essentially, teachers who are in a positive and enabling state of mind when they teach will not only enjoy their jobs more, but research shows that they will do their job better, with more creativity and enhanced pedagogical skills (Albrecht, 2006; Corcoran & Tormey, 2012; Furrer et al., 2014). As Bajorek et al. (2014: 6) explain, 'a teacher with high job satisfaction, positive morale and who is healthy should be more likely to teach lessons which are creative, challenging and effective'.

However, it is more than just the atmosphere they create. In many ways, teacher and learner psychologies represent two sides of the same coin. Through the process of contagion, we know that positive teacher emotions are closely connected to the affective states experienced by the learners (Frenzel et al., 2009; Patrick et al., 2000). This means that if teachers are happy and motivated, then it is more likely that their learners will be too. If learners are motivated and engaged, this too is motivating for teachers and so ensures an upward spiral of positivity, which benefits both teachers and learners (Fredrickson, 2013). As Mercer et al. (2016: 224) conclude, 'successful language learning depends to a large degree on teachers and, as such, for all concerned, we must make their professional well-being a priority'.

This book represents a plea for the importance of extending our understanding of the psychology of teachers, first, because they represent centrally important stakeholders in the language education process and are worthy of investigation in their own right, and secondly, because understanding language teacher psychology is centrally related to an understanding of the psychology of their learners too.

What We Already Know about Language Teacher Psychology

It is important perhaps to stress here that we are not claiming that there is no work on teacher psychology in SLA. A considerable body of research already exists, although there is a clear imbalance in respect to the work on teacher and learner psychologies (see Mercer, 2016, in press). Perhaps one of the key areas that has developed an extensive body of work concerns teacher cognitions – a term that encompasses teacher knowledge, beliefs and thinking processes. Research on the cognitions of language teachers builds on a well-established body of empirical and theoretical work in mainstream education (e.g. Shulman, 1986). An overview of early research on language teacher cognition has been provided by Borg (2003), who notes that research on teacher cognitions has typically focused on connections to prior language learning, teacher education and classroom practice. Later studies have tended to focus on three additional themes: a possible mismatch between teacher and learner beliefs; the connections between teacher cognitions and classroom practices; and the development of teacher cognitions in the course of the teachers' career trajectory (Kalaja et al., 2016). Within this body of literature there have been notable developments that are relevant for our understandings of the field of teacher psychology as a whole. Recently, a special issue of the Modern Language Journal has expanded the scope of research on teacher cognitions by suggesting contemporary understandings of the construct, which reflect their dynamic nature, their embeddedness in contexts, and the related trend towards the use of complex systems theory as a conceptual frame (Kubanyiova & Feryok, 2015). These developments foreground more holistic approaches which examine teacher cognitions in relation to other dimensions of teacher psychology, including teacher emotions in particular (e.g. Aragao, 2011; Barcelos, 2015; Golombek & Doran, 2014).

A second main body of work in language teacher psychology consists of studies conducted in the field of teacher identity, which has been heavily influenced by research on learner identities, following the seminal publication of Norton (2000). Writing 10 years ago, Tsui (2007) identified three salient themes in research, namely the multidimensionality of identity, the relations between social and private identities, and the relations between agency and structure in the way identities are constructed. Work on identity has continued to expand in scope; the vibrancy of the field can be seen in the publication of recent special issues that have appeared in TESOL Quarterly (Varghese et al., 2016) and the Modern Language Journal (De Costa & Norton, 2017), as well as comprehensive collections of empirical and theoretical papers edited by Cheung et al. (2014) and Barkhuizen (2016). The diversity of theoretical perspectives in teacher identity research was outlined by Varghese et al. (2005), who argued for an openness to theoretical pluralism, although the vast majority of work has tended to take some form of sociocultural perspective. This sociocultural focus has resulted in increased sensitivity to the situated nature of identity construction, which has proved to be an enduring theme in teacher identity work (e.g. Clarke, 2008, 2009; Hawkins & Norton, 2009; Kanno & Stuart, 2011; Menard-Warwick, 2013).

Another area of research that is beginning to attract empirical and theoretical attention is language teacher motivation, which has drawn on an increasing body of work in teacher motivation research in general education (Richardson et al, 2014). Considering the salience of motivation in SLA research in general, it is perhaps surprising that such interest has been slow to develop. Typically, teachers have been examined in terms of how they can influence learners' motivation but not in terms of the character and quality of their own motivation. One especially notable recent publication is Dornyei and Kubanyiova (2014), in which the authors describe how the L2 Motivation Self System (Dornyei, 2005) can also be considered in respect to the psychology of language teachers. Other areas connected to teacher motivation which have been studied more recently include professional development (e.g. Hiver, 2013), professional commitment (e.g. Gao & Xu, 2014), as well as in relation to self-beliefs (e.g. Kubanyiova, 2009).

Finally, there have also been a few isolated studies in areas such as teacher self-efficacy (e.g. Mills & Allen, 2007; Wyatt, 2014, 2016), emotions (e.g. Cowie, 2011; Kalaja et al., 2016; King, 2016), agency and autonomy (e.g. Kalaja et al, 2016; Lamb & Reinders, 2007; Smith, 2003; White, 2016), and also teacher ID as interlocutors (Gurzynski-Weiss, 2013). However, these cannot yet be thought of as representing fully developed fields of research, even when compared with language teacher cognition and identity, which themselves have been relatively limited in their scope, depth and breadth (see also Mercer, 2016, in press). As Kalaja et al. (2016) conclude in their overview:

... compared with research on learner beliefs, research on teacher beliefs has made less progress over the past few decades in opening up new theoretical starting points, or challenging traditional definitions or research methodology. (Kalaja et al, 2016: 12)

One other development in the field that has led to a growth in attention to teachers is the emergence of work inspired by positive psychology in SLA (Gabrys-Barker & Gaiajda, 2016; MacIntyre et al., 2016). This has introduced a range of new constructs, many of which lend themselves well to being examined in relation to teachers. For example, recent publications have highlighted the relevance of resilience and related constructs to the professional lives of teachers (Day & Gu, 2014; Howard & Johnson, 2004; Tait, 2008), and this construct has been picked up in respect of language teaching and extended by Hiver and Dornyei (2017), who proposed the idea of 'teacher immunity'. They see this as being a kind of protection that evolves over time as part of teachers' identities and they caution that it can develop into either productive or also potentially maladaptive immunity. Another strand of positive psychology inspiring work with regard to teachers has examined language teacher emotional and social intelligences. Research in this area is prompted by awareness of the role of emotional and social intelligence in shaping classroom environments which are conducive to learning (Elias & Arnold, 2006; Nizielski et al., 2012), as well as concerns about teacher well-being (Day & Gu, 2009). In a recent publication, Gkonou and Mercer (2017) look specifically at the emotional and social intelligence of language teachers and the ways in which these constructs are enacted in classroom practices.

Therefore, we see positive developments in the field and a contemporary climate that is fertile for investigating teacher psychology in depth and from a range of theoretical and methodological perspectives. Yet, in briefly reviewing the work in the field, we notice that there appears to be another imbalance, namely in the types of teachers who are being studied. The larger focus lies mostly on pre-service or early career stage teachers. There are likely to be pragmatic reasons for this as researchers have easier access to pre-service teachers and they may well represent the populations with which they work and thus are intrinsically of interest to the researchers. Furthermore, pre-service teachers are still most clearly open to development and part of teaching programmes, which means research can more readily have clear implications for practice in terms of suggestions for training courses. In addition, in-service teachers are often under greater time pressures, which could possibly make them more reluctant to be involved in research projects. However, in-service teachers across the career trajectory are a vitally important population to understand in terms of their unique psychological situations and the specific challenges they face (Day et al., 2007). We also note that late career stage teachers approaching retirement remain even more woefully under-researched with no investigation into how they can be supported in flourishing in their jobs all the way up to retirement, ensuring they leave the profession on a positive professional high (see Oxford et al., this volume). Clearly, such research into teachers across the professional lifespan would offer vitally important lessons for policy makers, continual professional development programmes, and educational leaders including school principals as well as for teachers themselves. With this collection, we hope to provide impetus for further research and set an agenda which is open to a range of constructs and teacher populations as well as diverse methodological and theoretical approaches.

What Our Aims Are with the Book

As such, our main aims with the book are twofold. First, we wanted to explicitly name the area of research of language teacher psychology and thereby generate further interest in the field. The field of psychology in language learning and teaching (PLLT) is becoming increasingly well established as a community. It has its own biennial conference, a book series with a major international publisher, several special issues and books in the field, as well as a nascent professional association. However, PLLT remains dominated by a focus on the learner (Mercer, 2016) and, as the field grows, it is necessary to take stock of the balance and profile of work being done under the broad umbrella of PLLT. In doing so, it became apparent that there is a need to 'redress the balance', ensuring that we better understand teacher psychology from a more complex, nuanced and diversified perspective. As such, we hope to see a broadening in the range of constructs being investigated in respect to teachers with a consideration of work already being done in general education as well as positive psychology specifically. We also wanted to draw attention to teachers as valuable individuals across the professional lifespan and encourage a greater understanding of the issues facing language education professionals across the globe and across different career stages. We also believe in the central importance of teachers as key stakeholders and one of the most influential factors in successful learning (Hattie, 2009); understanding them as a population and as individuals must become a priority for the field if we wish to have a comprehensive understanding of processes of language learning and teaching.


Excerpted from "Language Teacher Psychology"
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Copyright © 2018 Sarah Mercer, Achilleas Kostoulas and the authors of individual chapters.
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Table of Contents

About The EditorsAbout The AuthorsList of TablesList of FiguresList of AbbreviationsZoltán Dörnyei: Foreword1. Sarah Mercer and Achilleas Kostoulas: Introduction to Language Teacher Psychology2. Phil Hiver, Tae-Young Him and Youngmi Kim: Language Teacher Motivation3. Paula Kalaja and Katja Mäntylä: ‘An English Class of My Dreams’: Envisioning Teaching a Foreign Language4. Taguhi Sahakyan, Martin Lamb and Gary Chambers: Language Teacher Motivation: From the Ideal to the Feasible Self5. Manka M. Varghese: Drawing On Cultural Models and Figured Worlds to Study Language Teacher Education and Teacher Identity6. Wendy Li and Peter I. De Costa: Exploring Novice EFL Teachers’ Identity Development: A Case Study of Two EFL Teachers in China7. Anne Feryok: Language Teacher Cognition: An Emergent Phenomenon in an Emergent Field8. Mark Wyatt: Language Teacher Self-Efficacy Beliefs: An Introduction9. Jim King and Kwan-Yee Sarah Ng: Teacher Emotions and the Emotional Labour of Second Language Teaching10. Christina Gkonou and Sarah Mercer: The Relational Beliefs and Practices of Highly Socio-Emotionally Competent Language Teachers11. Jean-Marc Dewaele and Sarah Mercer: Variation in ESL/EFL Teachers’ Attitudes towards Their Students12. Cynthia J. White: Language Teacher Agency13. Joseph Falout and Tim Murphey: Teachers Crafting Job Crafting14. Phil Hiver: Teachstrong: The Power of Teacher Resilience for L2 Practitioners15. Achilleas Kostoulas and Anita Lämmerer: Making the Transition into Teacher Education: Resilience as a Process of Growth16. Tammy Gregersen and Peter D. MacIntyre: Signature Strengths as a Gateway to Mentoring: Facilitating Emergent Teachers’ Transition into Language Teaching17. Rebecca L. Oxford, Andrew D. Cohen and Virginia G. Simmons: Psychological Insights from Third-Age Teacher Educators18. Mehvish Saleem: Exploring Language Teacher Psychology: A Case Study from a Holistic Perspective19. Achilleas Kostoulas and Sarah Mercer: Conclusions: Lessons Learnt, Promising Perspectives.

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