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Thesis on teacher emotions wins contest

A Victoria University PhD student convincingly explained her study on teacher emotions to a win a $1000-first-prize in VU’s annual Three Minute Thesis (3MT) contest.

Jean Hopman of the College of Education beat nine other VU finalists in the competition that has doctoral candidates pitching their thesis topic to a non-specialist audience within three minutes.

Jean’s win means she will compete in Perth next month against champions from 48 universities across Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong for a shot at a $5000-first-prize in the Trans-Tasman finals.

Jean showed how her research, which developed through weekly meetings with a small sample of secondary school teachers in Melbourne’s northwest, could help teachers process and react to any strong emotions they may experience during their workday.

“Incidents that trigger strong emotions could be something as simple as a student saying ‘I love walking with you’ when you’re on yard duty, or one saying ‘I’m so stupid, I can’t do this,’” she says. “Emotion-triggered events are not always critical or negative.”

Jean says because teachers rarely have the time or experience to reflect on emotion-charged incidents, she hopes her study finds its way to school principals to help address the nearly 30 percent of Australian teachers who burn out in their first five years of teaching.

“The eagerness of the teachers to participate in my study shows they are gaining from it,” she says. “When we support our teachers better, they can support their students better.”

Before starting her PhD thesis, entitled Teacher Emotional Work: Applying reflexivity in teacher practice, Jean was a teacher and counsellor for more than 15 years in a range of educational settings, ranging from private schools in Dubai to juvenile prisons in Australia.

Jean is in her first year of candidature and is supervised by College of Education Dean Professor Pat Drake and Dr Gwen Gilmore.

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