Teachers’ emotions in the time of COVID: Thematic analysis of interview data reveals drivers of professional agency

Karen Porter (Lead / Corresponding author), Paula Jean Miles, David Ian Donaldson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
28 Downloads (Pure)


Purpose: We explored two complex phenomena associated with effective education. First, teachers’ professional agency, the volitional actions they take in response to perceived opportunities, was examined to consider individual differences in its enactment. Second, “strong” emotions have been proposed as important in teaching and learning, and we wished to clarify which basic emotions might be involved, besides curiosity, which is a known emotional factor in engagement in teaching. We also explored how agency and basic emotions might be related.

Approach: Thirteen teachers working in Scottish secondary schools were interviewed at the start of the covid pandemic in 2020 to discuss relevant feelings, thoughts and actions arising from unprecedented changes in their lives and professional practices. Thematic analysis was used to identify aspects of agentic behavior and basic emotions expressed.

Findings: Teacher agency was expressed through adaptability, collective agency, constrained agency, and non-action. Four basic emotion percepts were identified, which we label as “CARE”, “CURIOSITY”, “COOPERATION”, and “CHALLENGE”.

Originality: We extend the definition of agency to include volitional non-action as a response to opportunity. In contrast to prior research emphasizing emotions as an outcome of volitional behavior, we explore emotions preceding agency. We develop four theoretical propositions related to teacher emotions. (1) Four emotion percepts substantially influence teachers’ voluntary motivated behavior. (2) The amount and proportion of emotions experienced varies between individual teachers. (3) The four percepts are experienced concurrently or in rapid succession in engaged teaching contexts. (4) Professional experience and specific situational factors also influence teachers’ behavioral choices. For future consideration, we suggest that awareness of emotion percepts may encourage both teachers’ engagement and their professional agency for the benefit of their pedagogical practice and outcomes for their students.
Original languageEnglish
Article number987690
Number of pages18
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 3 Nov 2022


  • teaching
  • indivi
  • education
  • agency
  • emotion
  • emotion percept
  • complex dynamic systems
  • thematic analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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