Article notes – Exploring Emotions in Language Teaching – Jack C. Richards

‘Article Notes’ is a set of blog posts in which I write down my notes about articles that I read. These notes are not meant to be ‘academic’ or ‘formal’; rather, they are my ramblings and immediate thoughts in reaction to the content I read. I’ve written them up to help me remember the article, and to share my thoughts with those who are interested. I welcome your feedback and comments!

Our Reading Room

Some time ago, Anna Hasper got in touch with me with a brilliant idea: she wanted to start a reading club of sorts for teacher educators. I obviously jumped at the idea, and so here we are – we’ve just had our first Reading Room meet up, and it was a lot of fun! We looked at Richards’ article Exploring Emotions in Language Teaching, and spent about 90 minutes sharing our thoughts, opinions, etc. All in all, it was a really positive experience, and I can definitely see how impactful similar communities of practice can be. We will most likely hold our Reading Room events once every six to eight weeks, so expect to see more article notes!

Normally with my ‘article notes’ post, I go over the summary and my notes, but as I’m joining them with the Reading Room stuff, the format will change slightly. First, we’ll look at some of the pre-reading questions that Anna put to the group, then I’ll write a short summary of the article with some of thoughts. I’ll then write my answers to the post-reading questions we had, and include a short reflection on the Reading Room.

Pre-reading questions

What sort of emotions do language teachers, language learners, and teacher-learners experience in their respective roles and teaching-learning contexts?

This is a difficult question to answer succinctly, but I’ll give it a shot. I think that there is a really wide spectrum of emotions felt by all in their respective roles. I imagine that at different stages within each of these positions (e.g., as an early-career teacher or trainer), different emotions are likely to be present. For example, early-career teachers might be full of excitement and joy regarding teaching, whilst at the same time experiencing stress about classroom management, worry about expectations from management, and distress at realising that even with their studies, much is to be learnt ‘on the job’.

Language learners also go through the same thing, although perhaps there are moments throughout the year where certain emotions are more present. For example, exams or test might evoke more negative emotions. Or perhaps at the start of the year when group dynamics are a little all over the place, and they are trying to ‘find their place’ within the group identity. This being said, I have no doubt that learners also experience very positive emotions for the same things – exams/tests when they get good marks or they see progress, for example.

To what extent do you agree with the statement below? Why? 

“Emotions can shape the way teachers teach and can influence learners’ willingness to make use of what they have learned. Hence learning to teach involves not only mastering how to communicate subject matter to learners but also how to manage the emotional dimensions of teaching and learning.” 

Richards, 2020, p.1

This is an interesting statement, and I do agree with it. This being said, I wonder how much can be ‘taught’. Richards wrote about content domains within Second Language Teacher Education in his book Beyond Training, and emotional competence wasn’t actually one of them. I do, however, think it is a worthwhile addition.

Summary and notes

“What we call ’emotional competence’ refers to the teacher’s ability to develop and maintain an emotionally-managed classroom, one in which there is neither too much nor too little emotion on either the teacher or the students’ part.”

Richards, 2020, p.3

Richards’ Exploring Emotions in Language Teaching, in essence, takes the reader through an overview of how emotions come into play for learners and teachers, highlighting the importance of developing emotional competencies within teachers and teacher educators. He starts by explaining that emotions within language teacher have become more in focus since the “affective turn” (Richards, 2020, p.1) – that is, when the affective (emotions, etc.) aspect of language learning was brought into the linguistics and applied linguistics world. Whilst he doesn’t go into detail about this, we can assume that before the affective turn, much of the research focus was on SLA and the teaching factors that lead to acquisition of certain language features. We were discussing this in the Reading Room and took a guess that the affective turn was some time in the 90s, most likely following the work of people like Rebecca Oxford and Zoltan Dörnyei – this is just a guess though.

When focusing on teachers, Richards writes about “emotional competence” (Richards, 2020, p.3) and implies that this is actually a teaching competence; that is, successful teachers have a certain level of emotional competence. I thought this was quite interesting because when I think back to the various taxonomies of Second Language Teacher Education (SLTE) knowledge bases, Richards’ (1994) six “Content Domains” comes to mind (if you want to read about these, you can here!). The affective element, or emotional competence, is not really mentioned in any of these content domains, except potentially in ‘communication’. I’m not saying that the affective side has not been absent from the literature, but it would seem that for a large part the knowledge base SLTE works from lack an explicit focus on emotional competence. I would love to be shown otherwise, though, so please do point me in the right direction if you can!

“The emotional climate of the classroom will depend on how the teacher sees her or his role, how she or he interacts with students and builds rapport and trust, the responsibilities students have during the lesson, the materials and resources the teacher makes use of, and how students are grouped.”

Richards, 2020, p.6

Richards goes further and speaks about the emotional climate of the classroom, and how this is actually multifaceted, although within the local context of the classroom is largely controlled by the teacher. Preceding this, however, he points out that teacher emotions are influenced by numerous things such as colleagues, administration, pay, etc. These external-to-the-classroom factors will, though, impact what occurs within the classroom, and this for me highlights the importance of managers and teacher educators creating the right emotionally supportive conditions for teachers. Whether this is through the provision of training or through ensuring that the social dynamic of the language teaching organisation is position (or many other things), a large part of the responsibility for teachers’ positive emotions, and thus learners’ positive emotions, rests on the shoulders of those within the tactical (e.g., teacher educators and Directors of Studies) and strategic management (e.g., directos) roles.

“In emotionally-managed classrooms, teachers anticipate the emotions that language learning involves and look for ways of helping students cope with negative emotions as they arise.”

Richards, 2020, p.7

We now turn to learners, with Richards (2020, p.7) writing that “an affectively positive environment puts the brain in the optimal state for learning”. This, for many of us, is a no-brainer, and, as Abeer mentioned in our reading group, most teachers implicitly work with emotions – they know their students and provide the right emotional assistance when necessary. However, Richards (2020, p.7) writes that teachers “anticipate the emotions”, and this to me implies that perhaps there is also an explicit focus, maybe even in the planning stage of a lesson. I’ll touch on this a little more in the post-reading questions. To summarise, though, what Richards writes says to me that we should be including an emotional/affective element with the plan so that teachers make these planning decisions more explicit.

Richards finishes the section focused on learners by noting that emotions are also culturally impacted, thus implying that an understanding to the cultural context in which we teach is important. Anna, however, raised an excellent point and mentioned that Richards could have (and maybe should have) gone even further, as emotions are also impacted by the micro, macro, and meso systems in play. The emotionally climate of the classroom can be impacted by learners’ personal feelings, those of their family, local laws, etc. This is something that I feel would be quite interesting to explore in more detail.

“Studies such as this demonstrate the need for a practicum course to include activities that help novice teachers develop emotional competence, in other words, the ability to anticipate and prepare for incidents that can arouse emotions during teaching and to learn how to manage emotions that may arise during their practicum experience.”

Richards, 2020, p.12

In the last section, Richards talks about teacher-learners; that is, teachers on pre-service or development courses. He then goes on to mention that teachers on these courses come across a whole mix of emotions, and teacher educators, in effect, need to provide them with the skills and support necessary to work with these emotions. He also mentions that there is a need for emotional competence development within the practicum itself. I touch more on this in the post-reading questions.

Post-reading questions

What kind of emotions have you observed in your teacher-learners? 

I think it is important to define the context when talking about teacher-learners. I have yet to work as a teacher educator within a pre-service context, so I can’t provide any anecdotal data. This being said, I have worked with many teachers within an INSET context, and largely as part of in-house development programmes. The emotions I’ve seen in this group of teachers is extremely wide. Here are some examples:

  • Happiness: I’ve seen teachers almost ‘beam’ with happiness when they receive positive feedback from observations, especially when they’ve been working hard to develop in a certain area, or when their last observation was not as positive as they had hoped.
  • Sadness: I’ve had teachers crying because of the pressure that they have put on themselves to get everything ‘perfect’. Also, when they’ve received feedback that made them aware of an issue they were unaware of before.
  • Annoyance: I’ve seen some teachers become annoyed when they’ve been in workshops that weren’t relevant to them – especially when those workshops were obligatory.
  • Worry: Some teachers worry about their level of knowledge about teaching, and in the case of NNESTs (and how their lack of knowledge might be perceived by management and/or their peers), worry about their level of English.
How do you think we can best help teacher-learners manage their emotions during their learning process?

A difficult question. I do think that ensuring that those in charge of teacher education, no matter the context, make an active effort to view SLTE as more than ‘the technical stuff’. This has happened quite a lot since SLTE has moved away from transmission models of teacher learning, but there is a still a focus on the teaching skills and abilities side of things (for good reason, though). This being said, by creating more room within the curriculum for the emotional aspect of learning, we will not only be able to support teachers emotionally, but also help them develop their awareness of how they can support learners.

Have you got any strategies in place to manage emotions in your work?

I don’t think we have any official strategies in place, although we do have coaching sessions, which are sessions in which teachers can choose to talk about whatever it is they feel like talking about. This being said, these are usually development-focused, although I do try to push the ‘How are you feeling in the academy/with your classes/etc.’ line of questions.

I have to say most of my work as a manager focusing on the emotional aspects within the workplace focuses on two areas: group dynamics and teacher stress. With the former, we aim to hold at least two social events a term as well as other bigger events throughout the year to try to create a team environment.  With the later, I have a daily ‘ritual’ of sorts in which I go around to each teacher and ask them if there is anything they need from me (or that I can help with). I also like to offer some time around exam time to help out with exam marking. Again, these are not really official emotional tools that have been implemented, but they are part of my leadership strategy. Perhaps, however, there is room for more official emotional support for teachers.

What do you feel are the practical implications of this research paper for teaching and teacher education?

I think there are many, although I’ll include only a few here. I’ll first focus on teaching, and then teacher education.


Regarding teaching, perhaps there is scope to revise the traditional lesson plan? I’m not a big fan of formal observations or formal planning, but I do see their value in that planning formally does highlight and bring to the surface teacher thinking. I would really like to see an ‘affective possibilities’ section – a section in which teachers can write about what might occur on an affective level at certain stages throughout the lesson, and what they should do if this occurs. I’ve created an example here – I am interested to know your thoughts!

Teacher education

One implication that comes to mind is ensuring that teacher education raises more awareness regarding the importance of class dynamics and teachers helping learners create a sense of ‘us’ within the class (I wrote about this here). For example, I don’t know how many times I’ve heard teachers say that at the start of the year they do a get-to-know you activity, and then move into the course book. Within my academy, we don’t give out coursebooks for the first two weeks for this reason – we want teachers to spend time on developing group dynamics.

I also think that there is scope to have ’emotion priming’ sessions. What do I mean by that? Well, whilst we can’t provide direct experience of negative emotions within workshops (at least not as they would be in class or in teachers’ lives), we can present teachers with various situations/stories of real classroom or teacher life stories, events, critical incidents, etc. We can then ask teachers to visualize themselves in these scenarios and imagine how they would feel. From here, we might explore these imagine emotions, and get teachers to work out action plans for when these emotions present themselves. I also think this is important for management teams!

Reading Room Reflections

The first reading room was a lot of fun. We were a small group – Anna, KD, Abeer and myself. Of the group, I was the most junior and so for me it was a real privilege to work with a group of very experienced teacher educators from different contexts. As we were talking and discussing the article, I was constantly writing notes on loads of amazing ideas that came up, points that were mentioned, and things that I need to learn more about. Here are two of those notes:

  • CASEL framework: A very interesting framework for Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) that I really want to explore from both a teaching and training perspective.
  • Criticality: It was really interesting to hear how the other trainers in the group were able to analyse the text from various viewpoints, and be critical of the Richards’ viewpoints, detail he gave to certain aspects, etc. This is something I feel is one area of ‘academia’ that I still need to develop. I look forward to working more with these trainers, and seeing how they engage with texts critically.

We will be holding a follow-up session to this Reading Room – we’d like to take what we were speaking about, and go a little deeper and maybe focus on producing something for teachers – I’m really excited for this also. I know that we will be holding another Reading Room proper around the end of April, so expect another one of these ’round ups’ shortly 🙂


Richards, J.C. (1998). Beyond Training. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Richards, J. C. (2022). Exploring Emotions in Language Teaching. RELC Journal, 53(1), 225–239.


  1. Rachel Tsateri says:

    Very interesting, Jim. Thanks for sharing. I’m writing a post about the technical versus the emotional aspect of training atm, so this couldn’t have come at a better time. The emotion priming sessions idea is fascinating. Look forward to the next reading room write-up!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Rachel! Will be looking forward to reading that post when it comes out! You might also be interested in Korthagen’s article “Inconvenient truths about teacher learning: towards professional development 3.0” – well worth a look if you’re considering the emotional aspects of training.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Rachel Tsateri says:

        💡💡Just read it but will need to reread it a couple of times! Fascinating concepts :Realistic and value-based approach, meaning-oriented reflection, the theory-practice-person triangle, we feel therefore we learn..Lots of food for thought. Really insightful. Many thanks for sharing, Jim! 😀

        Liked by 1 person

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