Review of Mercer, Sarah and Kostoulas, Achilleas (Eds.) (2018). Language teacher psychology.

[Review of Mercer, Sarah and Kostoulas, Achilleas (Eds.)  (2018). Language Teacher Psychology. Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters. xxi + 341 pages ISBN-13: 978-1-78309-944-3 Paperback]

Marilyn Lewis, New Zealand

Lewis, M. (2018). Review of Mercer, Sarah and Kostoulas, Achilleas (Eds.) (2018). Language teacher psychology. Relay Journal, 1(2), 441-443.

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At first glance this book’s title may not appeal to classroom teachers looking for ideas for tomorrow’s lesson. Delving further into the book’s description, though, they might be surprised at how interesting it is to have the magnifying glass focussed on them instead of its usual examination of learners. The introduction suggests a specific reason why a book like this could be worth reading, namely that teachers can often be more memorable to students than the classroom tasks set for them. With these and other reasons in mind, it seems surprising that books examining students hugely outnumber those that examine the psychology of teachers.

The editors of this 19-chapter book are currently based at the University of Graz, Austria while other contributors, including some new and some familiar names come from (or are based in) Armenia, Austria, Britain, Canada, China, Finland, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, the UAE and the USA .  Another range is in the writers’ experience and, therefore, their age range. Although references are given chapter by chapter rather than collectively at the end, there is surprisingly little overlap, which means that readers have an extensive list of further sources. The chapters can be read in any order.

Questions about teacher motivation include pre- and in-service considerations. In their chapter on “Language teacher motivation” one question asked by Hiver, Kim and Kim could be of interest to people interviewing teacher trainee candidates: “What motivates individuals to enter the teaching profession?”.  Read this section to see if your own answer to that question fits in their categories. (Mine didn’t.) This question of initial motivation recurs in later chapters. A teacher quoted by Varghese said, “I wanted to be a bilingual teacher because I wanted a child’s experience to be different from mine.” (p. 71).

The student teachers in a Finnish study by Kalaja and Mantyla were asked to describe their ideal English class of the future. One feature of this research was that the students were asked to report both verbally and visually. Results from the latter make interesting viewing, some including photographs, some diagrams, some in Finnish, some in English. Pre-service teacher educators could be interested in inviting their students to do similar reflections as a way of preparing themselves for their future classrooms.

Because teachers of English often move around the globe, readers might choose a particular chapter according to a place where they would like to teach. For insights into language teacher motivation in post-Soviet Armenia, look at the study by Sahakyan, Lamb and Chambers. Apparently the status of teachers there has dropped compared with other possible career choices, so why might teachers choose to join or to stay in the profession?

The six participants varied in age, length of service and language education backgrounds (Armenian, Russian and English).In a different chapter two teachers are the basis of a case study reported from China by Li and de Costa. Details of their experiences will be of particular interest to those who are following the constantly changing approaches to language teaching in that country.

Here is a question for potential readers. Do you see yourselves as “highly socio-emotionally competent language teachers” (p. 158)? If so, a couple of chapters co-written by Mercer are waiting for you. The first, with Gkonou, explains how the authors selected the six teachers for their study, how observation and interviews yielded information on the topic and of course, how that label is defined. The subjects were from the UK and Austria teaching EFL/ ESL at secondary level. The chapter ends with questions which could form the basis of a fresh study. A second chapter co-written with Jen-Mark Dewaele continues the theme of teachers’ emotional intelligence (EI). Using an online questionnaire brought in a large number of responses (513) with insights into teachers’ feelings about working with lively students, including a comparison between the attitudes of male and female teachers. A related word is wellbeing. Falout and Murphey are interested in the concept of how teachers’ jobs can continue to be meaningful to them, or, as their title expresses it, “Teachers crafting job crafting” (p. 211).  Responses from many countries, language speakers and level of teaching result in some fascinating lists of responses.

For a glimpse into a classroom where very challenging behaviour can affect the teacher as well as other students read White’s report of an English class for immigrants and refugees in New Zealand. She calls her chapter “Language teacher agency” a term defined as teachers’ efforts to make choices in a range of situations, including the one described here. It will be encouraging to others who find themselves facing very demanding classroom situations.

Some chapters will appeal particularly to mentors and teacher educators. Gregersen and Macintyre speak of the benefits of mentoring to both parties. For the emergent (novice) teacher there is value in being shown ideas for classroom activities, for improving relationships with students and for self-care. Kostoulas and Lammerer want to know how teacher educators face challenges. Amongst other interesting summaries they present a “hypothetical model of a resilience system” (p. 251) which is at the centre of a circle that includes inner strengths, external support and learned strategies. Their conclusions arise from a one-person case study of someone transitioning into the role of teacher educator.

Towards the end of the book a chapter boldly announces itself as coming from third-age teacher educators. An opening Shakespearean quotation sums up its spirit: “Ripeness is all.” (p. 291).  Oxford, Cohen and Simmons are the authors and subjects of the study. Readers who have passed through the stages of being novice teachers, then mentors, then professional educators can draw inspiration from the experiences described here. The writers speak of both negative and positive emotions at this stage of their lives: occasional fear when looking ahead versus joy when reflecting on career highlights.

Of course every profession has its jargon but just occasionally in this book the language in which an interesting idea was wrapped seemed more complex than the idea itself. It would be a pity if this put off readers at the pre-service stage who might otherwise benefit from reflecting on their chosen profession.   In his introduction, Dornyei makes a comment that seems to sum up well the book’s message. “Different teachers can achieve success in different situations, by means of a range of widely divergent strategies….” (pp xix-xx). To find examples of your own strategies or to dip into other people’s, get hold of this interesting book.

Notes on the Contributor

Marilyn Lewis is a New Zealander who enjoys keeping herself professionally updated in her retirement through reading and through working with practising teachers and language learners in different parts of the world. She also finds that co-writing books and articles is a good way to keep engaged.