“There Are No Emotions in Math”: How Teachers Approach Emotions in the Classroom

Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

Teachers College Record







Our research describes teacher emotions and the way that teachers manage emotional events in the classroom. Recent work completed by these researchers suggests that teachers’ emotions and their reaction to student emotions are influenced by the teachers’ beliefs.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study

In this study, we explored teachers’ beliefs and their descriptions of emotional events within their classrooms to understand how teachers attempted to address or repress student emotions. The research questions were written accordingly: (1) How do teachers view their role in addressing student emotions? (2) How do teachers approach student emotions in building relationships with their students to establish suitable learning environments?


From previous studies on emotions and building relationships with students, we surmised that the beginning of the school year would be a useful time to develop an understanding of the teachers’ perceptions of emotions in the classroom. Participants were interviewed twice in their classrooms, the first time 2 weeks before the beginning of school, and the follow-up was conducted 2 weeks after school started.


Eight in-service teachers were individually recruited from one of the researchers’ graduate courses at a southeastern university. These particular teachers were purposefully recruited because they expressed an interest in improving themselves as teachers, were willing to talk freely about their classroom transactions, and discussed the importance of developing relationships with their students.

Research Design

This research used thematic analysis from qualitative data interviews.

Data Collection and Analysis

A semistructured protocol was used in the interviews to encourage the participants to reflect on their thoughts and feelings about events that transpired during the first few weeks of school. Questions such as “Tell me about your first day of class” and “What happened?” were asked to examine how participants described their perceptions of their students, their introductions with the students, and developing their classroom atmosphere.


This research sheds light on the multiple issues that are involved in developing a useful emotional climate in the classroom. Many of the teachers were consistent in their teacher beliefs, the teacher selves they wanted to portray, and approaches they used when emotional events occurred within their classrooms or with a particular student. Frequently, the participants described instances in which they juggled their daily instruction agendas while handling student emotions. We found that those participants who believed that teachers should shoulder the responsibility of addressing student emotions did so to create a more nurturing and sensitive classroom environment. The participants also revealed that their perceptions of dealing with student emotions changed or shifted after working with their students. Realizing that teaching students is more than instruction, one teacher described his conceptual change of what teaching was and how emotions impacted his students and their relationship.


Having a thorough understanding of the prevalence of emotional experiences in the profession might help teachers to feel more competent in acknowledging and helping manage student emotions, rather than avoiding emotional situations in the classroom. Additionally, different subjects tend to elicit different types and levels of emotional experiences for both teachers and students. Although we tend to focus more on unpleasant emotions, both preservice and in-service teachers also need to be able to address pleasant emotions, which can also be disruptive and cause harm if they are not dealt with appropriately. As such, teachers within specific subject areas should be educated on how to handle emotions that are commonly felt within their domain.