Exploring the teaching heart:
Brenes-Dawsey, Joseph Culbertson
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The purpose of this study was to explore how adult educators describe and make meaning of emotional labor experiences, as well as the conditions that give rise to those experiences. The study was guided by the following questions: 1) What is the nature of emotional labor in adult education? and, 2) How do adult educators make meaning of emotional labor experiences? For this qualitative study, a semi-structured interview protocol was used to collect data in the form of critical incidents. In-depth interviews were conducted with eight participants who serve as faculty members in a teacher training program that prepares working professionals in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields to become public school teachers in areas with disadvantaged or underserved populations. Critical incident narratives were crafted for each incident using raw data from the interview transcripts. Of the 72 critical incidents initially identified, 31 were selected for sufficiently robust analysis. Three prominent themes emerged from analysis of the selected critical incidents highlighting the importance of nurturing and cultivating an emotionally trusting environment, as well the importance of managing emotions across different areas and layers of the program. Findings from the study indicated that adult educators do not always perceive a requirement to perform emotional labor, making it difficult to distinguish between perceptions of emotional labor and emotion work. Findings further indicated that adult educators perform both emotion work and emotional labor across varying layers of the program and organization, thus calling into question the Marxist conceptualization of emotional labor as an oppressive requirement restricted to frontline workers. Finally, regardless of perceptions of emotional labor or emotion work, findings suggested that adult educators use emotion management experiences to provide contextual awareness of emotions in learning environments. Conclusions drawn from the findings were: 1) The concept of emotional labor fails to fully capture the complexity of emotion work performed across varying organizational layers; and, 2) Emotional labor and emotion work experiences trigger informal learning opportunities. Future research studies should consider the decision-making processes adult educators use when engaging in emotion management strategies.