Written by Nancy Goyette, Ph.D., professor and researcher, Université du Québec à Trois Rivières
Everyone knows that teaching is a complex profession that calls for many skills beyond those directly related to the profession itself. For second language teachers in particular, the challenges are far from easy, given that their working conditions are different in many respects from those of teachers in other disciplines. Some teachers are forced to teach in several schools or in multi-level groups; they are constantly adapting to the pedagogical needs of students with differing language skills in a given group; and, above all, their work performance depends largely on the environment they can cultivate so that students feel comfortable expressing themselves in a foreign language. In any event, the often complex daily challenges and heavy workloads, sometimes combined with emotional loads, are not factors that promote a sense of well-being at work.
Yet, some teachers manage to evolve within the school setting while remaining passionate about their profession. But how do they achieve this? This is one of the concepts that the psychopedagogy of well-being – a new field in educational sciences that combines positive psychology and pedagogy – is examining scientifically (Goyette et al., 2020). Essentially, it studies how to learn and support well-being in educational settings to promote the development of an individual’s full potential. The notion of well-being is therefore one of the pivotal concepts in this field.
Well-Being: A Complex Concept
In the wake of the pandemic and given the importance of well-being in schools, this emerging concept is becoming a means to improve academic success. However, while everyone has their own definition of “well-being,” science provides interesting insights that must be considered when developing action plans in schools to ensure a consensus among the educational team so that it makes wise choices consistent with its values and with relevant research findings. While there is no common definition of the term well-being, particularly since it is studied from different perspectives, Martin Seligman’s theory of well-being (2011) is interesting in light of this issue.
According to Seligman’s theory, well-being involves five elements: Positive emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment (“PERMA”). In fact, individuals who experience a sense of well-being tend to engage in voluntary activities to replicate one or more of these elements. For example, a teacher might organize an extracurricular activity with students because they find that it is motivating and that engaging students in it generates positive emotions that support the group’s cohesion. Another teacher might get involved in the school’s social committee to develop positive relationships with colleagues and staff members as a way of promoting a caring work environment.
Drawing on Seligman’s work, I tried to explore the elements of well-being that are predominant among persevering elementary and secondary level teachers (Goyette, 2014). The findings of this research prompt us to consider that well-being in the classroom is shaped around the meaning that teachers give to their professional lives (2016). Several elements revolve around this meaning, such as positive emotions, relationships, a sense of competence, professional commitment, and a passion for teaching. Although passion for teaching is often associated with teachers considered competent at their job, is it essential? Answering this question requires defining this concept and considering it in a pedagogical context.
Passion for Teaching: A Little, a Lot, Too Much?
Passion for teaching is “a driving force that leads teachers to love and [to] value their work in which they invest themselves completely and for which they develop part of their identity” (Goyette, 2018). And while the meaning we associate with our profession can be linked to passion, this is not always the case. Excellent teachers are not always madly passionate about their work. Robert Vallerand’s work (2015) on the dualistic model of passion for an activity is very interesting as it helps us understand that passion is not essential to good work performance.
Vallerand claims there are two types of passion: harmonious and obsessive. People who experience harmonious passion are able to maintain a balance in all areas of their life, including work, family life, social life, etc. They therefore have a flexible engagement in an activity that contributes to their well-being and they do things out of both pleasure and choice.
On the other hand, people who experience obsessive passion for an activity give it a disproportionate place in their life. This activity is often done at the expense of their psychological, emotional, or physical well-being since they have a rigid attachment to it. Both types of passion are experienced by teachers to varying degrees and impact several factors such as job satisfaction, sense of competence, and feelings of self-efficacy in the case of harmonious passion. Unfortunately, teachers who experience an obsessive passion for their work are more likely to navigate through unpleasant feelings fueled by constant pressure that can sometimes lead to burnout.
In conclusion, passion for teaching helps make the profession meaningful for some teachers, but it is not essential to being a good teacher. Therefore, to promote well-being at work, it is important to establish a good work-life balance and to be aware of the elements that provide us with a sense of well-being so we can face everyday challenges with enthusiasm. And if we are in fact passionate about our profession, we need to channel this passion properly to keep it harmonious and preserve our mental health.
Watch Nancy Goyette’s webinar in the CASLT Learning Centre to learn strategies to improve teacher well-being.
Goyette, N. (2014). Le bien-être dans l’enseignement : étude des forces de caractère chez des enseignants persévérants du primaire et du secondaire dans une approche axée sur la psychologie positive [Unpublished doctoral thesis, Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières]. Trois-Rivières, Quebec.
Goyette, N. (2016). Développer le sens du métier pour favoriser le bien-être en formation initiale à l’enseignement. Canadian Journal of Education, 39(4), 1-29.
Goyette, N. (2018). La passion de l’enseignement et la préparation des futurs enseignants à la construction d’une identité professionnelle positive. In F. Dufour, C. V. Nieuwenhoven, L. Portelance & I. Vivegnis (Eds.), Préparation à l’insertion professionnelle pendant la formation initiale en enseignement (111-126). Quebec : Presses de l’Université du Québec.
Goyette, N., Martineau, S., Gagnon, B. & Bazinet, J. (2020). Les effets d’une approche pédagogique préconisant la psychopédagogie du bienêtre sur la réussite éducative des élèves. Revue hybride de l’éducation, 4, 1-23.
Seligman, M. E. P. (2011). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. New York: Free Press.
Vallerand, R. J. (2015). The psychology of passion: A dualistic model. New York: Oxford University Press.