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Reflections on Pandemic Emotions: Reconstructing Self as a Female Educator in Nepal

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Abstract

This paper focuses on exploring the question, 'How did the reflections of my emotions during the time of pandemic help me reconstruct my identity as an educator?'. Written as a retrospective reflection on vulnerability, courage, and empathy, self-reflective diary entries were used for data analysis. The paper shows the gendered implication on the emotional expression on me as a female faculty and how it impacted my identity as an educational leader.
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Peer Reviewed Article
Volume 6, Issue 2 (2021), pp. 6-29
International Journal of
Multidisciplinary Perspectives in Higher Education
ISSN: 2474-2546 Print/ ISSN: 2474-2554 Online
https://ojed.org/jimphe
Reflections on Pandemic Emotions: Reconstructing Self as a
Female Educator in Nepal
Bhawana Shrestha
Abstract
Even though the documentation on the effects of the pandemic on
educators is being done, enough spaces have not been provided to the
female educators working in higher education in Nepal. In this paper,
I attempt to explore the journey of navigating my emotions as an
educator in Nepal working from home and hope to contribute to the
broader discussions on emotions and emotional expressions. The
context of this self-study is my life as an educator working in higher
education between 29 March 2020 to 29 March 2021. This paper
focuses on exploring the question, ‘How did the reflections of my
emotions during the time of pandemic help me reconstruct my
identity as an educator?’. Written as a retrospective reflection on
vulnerability, courage, and empathy, self-reflective diary entries were
used for data analysis. The paper shows the gendered implication on
the emotional expression on me as a female faculty and how it
impacted my identity as an educational leader.
कोिभड-१९ महामारीले िश0कह1मािथ क3तो 5भाव पारेको भ9ने
राको अिभलेिखकरण भइरहेको भए
तापिन उBच िश0ामा कायEरत मिहला िश0कह1का बारेमा Gयसले पयाEI ठाउँ िदएको छै यो अनस9धान
पQमा नेपालको उBच िश0ामा कायEरत, घरबाट काम गनE बाUय मिहलाको मनोभावह1को एउटा याQाको
1पमा अ9वेषण गदEछ
Gयसले महामारी भावना मनोभावज9य िवषयमा Yने हZर छलफलमा योगदान
\ याउने आशा गदEछ
यो 3व-अ9वेषणको प^रवेश मिहला िश0कले नेपालको उBच िश0ामा काम गरेको
२९ माचE २०२० देिख २९ माचE २०२१ सaमको समयाविध हो। यो अनस9धान पQको 5c
महामारीमािथका मेरा 5ितिवaबनले कसरी मेरो पिहचानको निनEमाEणमा मdत याEयो भ9ने अ9वेषण गदEछ
कमजोरी, साहस सहानित को वEeयापी 5ितिबaबन भएकोले यसमा तfया िवhेषणका लािग 3व
7
5ितिबिaबत डायरीको 5योग ग^रएको िथयो। यो अनस9धान पQले मिहला िश0कको मनोभावज9य
अिभeयिiमा िनिहत लैङिगक महZाका साथै कसरी Gयसले शैि0क नेतका 1पमा मेरो प^रचयलाई 5भाव पायm
भ9ने देखाउँछ।
Keywords: COVID-19 pandemic, emotions, gender, higher
education, identity
Affective Self-Understanding and Reflective Writing
What can the documentation of emotions and the reflection of
them contribute to the understanding of one’s identity as an
educational leader? Affective self-understanding is a reflective
practice that helps an individual understand their own emotions to
heighten the awareness about themselves (Mortari, 2015). As Slaby
and Stephan (2008) have pointed out, affective self-understanding is
Sui generis, meaning significantly different from other ways of
referring to the world where meanings cannot be derived purely from
cognitive intentional states. Given that this is the form of self-
understanding where humans face both inward and outward to
generate an evaluative awareness of both, the existential situation, and
the affective process in that while experiencing the situation, it brings
the implicit awareness to the forefront and helps in understanding and
reconstructing the identity. This paper explores my journey of
affective self-understanding where I navigate my emotions as an
educator working in higher education in Nepal with the upsurge of the
coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. The paper further
explains how the reflection of my emotions through affective self-
understanding helped me identify my vulnerability and then slowly
helped me find courage amid the crisis and foster empathy.
The need for exploring the emotions arose with the sudden
increase in the anxiety attacks that I started getting which started
affecting my physical health. Although I used to have anxiety attacks
before, the frequency suddenly started rising with the increase in the
death tolls in the country during the lockdown. Gupta, et al. (2020)
emphasizes that more than one-fourth of the Nepalese participants
were found to have experienced predominant anxiety with 7 % of
them experiencing depression during the time of lockdown. As a
faculty who was working in an institution that was exploring online
teaching and learning opportunities and was not leaving any stones
unturned in trying to pave the way to rethinking the prevalent
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education system during the difficult times, the added workloads were
not serving well for me making me feel even more anxious. As I
observed the increasing helplessness and vulnerability as an educator,
I felt an extreme need to overcome it both for my personal and
professional growth. This was a phase of ‘reflective learning’
(Dewey, 1933 as cited in Peltier et al., 2005) as it encompassed two
interrelated ideas that are a state of doubt and mental difficulty, and
an act of exploration to get rid of that hesitation. It was an
uncomfortable feeling to just be in a state of on hold with anxiety
unsure about what lies ahead signifying the importance of looking
within for the exploration.
Reflective journal writings had been an engaging process for
me as an educator and had worked as a medium for learning and
growth. I started reflective journal writing in 2013 when I had just
started teaching to help me clear my confusion. I find it difficult to
share my thoughts and confusions with others easily and given my
inexperience in teaching, I needed a way out to express those
confusions. Writing reflective journals helped me take a step back
from the situations that I was in as a novice teacher and encouraged
emotional discourses with myself first and then slowly with other
colleagues later supporting my growth both inside and outside the
classroom. Bubnys (2019) argues that reflection is a conversation
with oneself where an individual provides the answers to the
questions for themselves, considers solutions by evaluating its results
themselves, and makes an amendment in a way that fosters
relationships even in the group settings. Witnessing its benefits, I
have continued the writing until now where I share my reflections in
the form of blogs written in the English language. This paper has used
the self-study method to interpret the reflective journal writings that I
had used to get a comprehensive understanding of the new
possibilities amid the crisis.
The themes that will be discussed in this paper relate to my
questioning self about my vulnerabilities, the newfound courage, and
the reconstructing of my identity as an educator during times of crisis.
Through the interpretation of these themes, I have come to understand
my journey of emotions during the period and how my gender had
played a crucial role in the construction of my identity and the
emotions that I was feeling as an educator and had an impact on my
outcomes. I acknowledge that addressing the full understanding of the
teacher’s identity is challenging for me given how broad the concept
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is in itself. Given how identity is an ongoing process, it involves both
a person and a context, I believe that individual voices combine into
the voice of a community giving rise to discourses that shape
perspectives, thus can be closely associated with self-concept
(Lauriala & Kukkonen, 2005). Thus, this paper shares my subjective
understanding and transformation of my identity based on the self-
reflection that I had with the knowledge that I have at the present
moment.
Theoretical Influences
With the popular use of the concepts like ‘emotional literacy’,
and ‘emotional intelligence, the agreement on the importance of
emotional life in the teaching-learning process as well as critical
reflection is increasing. Though the concept ‘emotional literacy’ and
‘emotional intelligence’ are often found to be used interchangeably
(Brackett, 2019; Dirkx, 2006; Goleman, 2005; Khadka, 2019;
Shrestha, 2018), the concept ‘emotional literacy’ means one’s
affective self-understanding while the concept ‘emotional
intelligence’ addresses the process of enriching that self-
understanding through focused attention or reflective analysis (Park,
1999). With the increasing social science research showing the
significance of emotions on human agency as well as learning, and
decision making (Archer, 2010; Brackett, 2019; Goleman, 2005;
Mortari, 2015), the emotional side of life cannot be avoided when it
comes to critical reflection. Reflective analysis of one’s own action
and interaction which can be developed both formally and informally,
however, is a complex teaching-learning process among the
participants who are involved in the higher education institution
(Bubnys, 2019).
To navigate this complexity, I am employing a critical
paradigm. Through this, I aim not only to understand or share an
account of behaviors but also to seek change in behaviors in myself
(Mack, 2010). The change in behaviors meant relating the knowledge
construction with the difficult times of pandemic and adapting to cope
with the complexities, and challenges that are hindering my growth as
an educator. Standing on the ontological assumption that the social
reality is defined by the persons of the society, my epistemological
assumption is that knowledge is a social construction made through
media, institutions, and society (Cohen et al., 2007). Therefore, I
consider using the socio-cultural approach in understanding my
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emotions influenced by Vygotsky’s (2012) works. Though Vygotsky
did not develop a theory of emotions and identity, his emphasis on the
idea that emotions as socio-cultural constructions especially
concerning the verbal expression of thoughts are significant which he
emphasizes are similar to the non-verbal expression of emotion. Tsai
et al. (2004) argue that understanding the values related to emotions
in their socio-cultural settings provides guidelines for desirable
emotions to facilitate emotional regulation norms and interpersonal
relationships. Because one of the major functions of culture is to
maintain social norms, Matsumoto et al. (2008) claim that since
emotions serve as primary motivators of social behaviors, culture has
created guidelines and norms about the regulation of emotions. This is
further supported by Hoy (2013) with the argument that for the
maintenance of social relationships, individuals are asked to display
certain emotions only. The display of emotions, both externalizing
and internalizing, are related to the socialization contexts like family,
schools, classmates. Gender is considered as one of the important
factors in the socialization process and in setting the guidelines about
the expressions of emotions (Olson et al., 2019). Gendered
expectations might differ according to the culture, however, the
influence of gender in the emotional understanding during the process
of critical reflection is unavoidable.
Similarly, understanding the role of reflection and reflexivity
is equally important because of my direct involvement in the process
and the product of the research. Though the similarities between
reflexivity and reflection are evident, reflexivity should not be only
considered as “the achievement of ‘introspection’ as an isolated mind
in private contemplation, as the traditional concepts of insight and
self-analysis may have implied; rather, self-reflexivity always
involves an affective engagement, a meeting of minds” (Lewis, 2000,
p.685). Reflection can be broadly categorized into three interrelated
stages; awareness, critical analysis, and change (Hay et al., 2004). It
starts with the awareness of a particular experience stimulated by
either some uncomfortable or some positive feelings leading to the
stage of critical analysis of the contextual knowledge and
brainstorming of the alternatives to finally moving ahead with a new
perspective which Mezirow (1991) calls perspective transformation.
Using the broader view of epistemological reflexivity, I have
derived the understanding as a researcher through my involvement in
the reciprocal processes on interpretation related to my being in this
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world. I have both influenced and been influenced by the experience
of my engagement in the research taking into consideration how I act
on the world and the world acts on me is in a loop (Hand, 2003).
Therefore, the critical reflection of my personal position, self, and
identity has been acknowledged and can be seen accounted for in my
reflective diary writing. Reflective writing empowers us to have that
perspective transformation “when questions about the investigated
phenomenon are written down creating the possibility to go back and
reflect… and reveal the richness of the phenomena in the outlived
experience”(Bubnys, 2019, p.4). Mortari (2015) terms this practice as
“the journal of emotional life in which the learner writes about their
self-investigation of their emotional life to gain a meaningful
comprehension out of it” (p. 158). Recording my emotional life in a
journal has not just helped me keep myself open to other opinions but
has also helped me understand my own assumptions and beliefs as an
educator.
Self and Identity
Though self and identity are complementary terms, they are
distinct. According to Owens (2006), “the central quality that
distinguishes self from identity is that the self is a process and
organization born of self-reflection whereas identity is a tool by
which individuals or groups categorize themselves and present
themselves to the world” (p.206). Self is a source of continuity that
provides a sense of connectedness and unbrokenness to the
rejuvenated identity of an individual. We understand our rejuvenated
selves by observing ourselves in association with our social
relationships and social interactions (Swann & Bosson, 2010). I have
been a higher education faculty for the last five years in an institution
in Nepal that is affiliated with an American University. A married
Nepali woman, I am also a doctoral student. So, I relate with
interaction theorist Goffman’s (1959) argument that people are like
actors taking on various identities where the self is a consequence of
the scene that comes off rather than the cause. Given this situationist
approach to the self and identity, I feel the continuous need for
reflection in general, with high importance during the times of crisis
in particular to find my true self, opposite to Goffman’s notion of not
having a true self. With a research interest that focuses on improving
her practices as an education leader concerning her works in the field
of emotional intelligence, reflection on my own emotions is crucial.
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Thus, I agree with Snyder (1974) that rather than perpetually getting
engaged in impression management activities, self-monitoring helps
us find our true enduring sense of self that has valued cross-sectional
consistency. In this light, my true enduring self as an educator is
someone who strives on improving the quality of life and learning
both in myself and in others, enhancing optimism and trust by being
mindful of our emotions. However, with the global pandemic, it
became evident that my own optimism and trust were shaken with the
deteriorating work-life balance as well as the mental health fueling
the need for critical questioning of my deeply held beliefs and
assumptions as an educator (Mezirow & Taylor, 2011).
My experiences during the time of working from home that
started on 29th March 2020 led me to explore the answers to the
questions concerning my own emotions and my identity as an
educator especially in terms of my gender. The need for the
expression of my emotions that I felt particularly because I was a
female heightened as I felt limited and suppressed within the
collective identity as an educator. When the team reflection meeting
was going on, I used to find myself turning my camera off and
cooking meals for the family. Especially, when the male faculty
thought of giving an extra hour for some musical sessions after the
classes, I used to find myself still cleaning the dishes and craving for
an hour of rest during the break. Somehow, I had started seeing
myself more as an outsider who was in the zoom meeting but not a
part of it in anyways which slowly started turning out as a burden for
me. The identity that was being framed by the collective discourses
that educators who are working during these difficult times are
trailblazers stood as a site of contradiction and conflict with my
subjective identity leading to the creation of knowledge through the
act of questioning myself as a researcher (Guba & Lincoln, 2005).
Working from home during the time of pandemic offered me a unique
opportunity to systematically observe the different educational
landscapes that men educators and women educators were in. The
shift from feeling marginalized and silenced as a female educator to
reconstructing my identity amid the gendered space through open
discourses helped me reconfirm my presence and power.
Role of Reflection on Emotions in Shaping Teacher’s Identity
Understanding the individuals as intentional beings and the
formation of identity cannot be context-free, especially concerning
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socio-cultural contexts, identity is a shifting phenomenon and is
transformational (Varghese et al., 2005). The constant reconstruction
of the teacher’s identity based on the wide range of narratives they
create to explain themselves and their teaching lives, the discourses,
and the context they are part of makes understanding of a teacher’s
identity challenging, making the role of reflection in the exploration
of identity significant (Beauchamp & Thomas, 2009). Beauchamp and
Thomas (2009) further argue reflection “as a key means by which
teachers can become more in tune with their sense of self and with a
deep understanding of how this self fits into a larger context which
involves others; in other words, reflection is a factor in the shaping of
identity” (p.182).
Zembylas (2003) highlights the significance of reflection on
emotions and claims two ideas. The first one is that the construction
of a teacher’s identity is effective and is dependent upon power and
agency, while the other is that the introspection of those components
helps them gain a richer understanding about themselves as a teacher.
Given that teachers are not just technical experts, the importance of
exploring their emotional experiences is extremely important in
relation to their personal lives. Nias (1996) observes teachers having a
deep emotional relationship with their work for three reasons; first,
teaching involves interaction because of which emotional dimensions
are inevitable; second, teaching becomes the main source for them for
their self-esteem, fulfillment, as well as vulnerability; third is because
of the extension of the second as they are heavily invested in their
students as well as the values which they believe represent their work.
More than emotion as a psychological phenomenon, the emotions that
teachers experience and express are matters of social construction,
especially concerning power and culture, and have to be re-thought
associating it with identity (Campbell, 1994). Therefore, the role of
reflection on emotions is immense as the identity formation of the
teacher “involves how the social operation of power and agency
influences the discourses about emotion and identity and vice versa”
(p. 218).
Vygotsky (2012) argues that the individual experiences can be
understood only when it goes beyond the individual and is examined
through the social and cultural processes. If analyzed the human
actions and speech, the representational systems of tools and signs
used in the socio-cultural setting then it can be seen as the resources
that constrain or transform the action. However, the examination in
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itself does not yield self-knowledge if not provided a discursive shift.
The discourse with the self and with the others helps open up a space
for self-consciousness even in terms of identity which consequently
helps in the reconstruction of identity highlighting the importance of
critical reflection on the emotional experiences and expression
(Britzman, 1998).
Methodology
The drive to improve my practice as an educational leader
motivated me to explore my assumptions rigorously in an organized
manner. Garbett and Ovens (2012) illustrate that self-study shifts the
researcher from being an ‘outsider’ who looks in on practice to
analyzing and improving their own practice. Drawing on a self-study
research approach, I aim to make my process of critical reflection
ongoing and iterative through careful critical questioning on the
written journal entries (Loughran et al., 2007). The writing on the
journal was unstructured and an honest depiction of the circumstances
and the reflections. As a researcher, I have engaged in the critical
reflection of my written reflections and have tried to deconstruct the
underlying emotions and explore the tacit knowledge which Mezirow
(1991) calls ‘taken-for-granted’ frames of reference. This self-study
spans the time frame of one year keeping the global pandemic
COVID-19 in the backdrop and using the lens of Mezirow’s (1991)
transformative theory. The journals had both inside and outside
classroom reflections as an individual experience where classroom
meant virtual classrooms. In this self-study, I have been involved in a
dialogic process where I have engaged in a conversation with self and
others by sharing them as a blog or social media posts (Boyer et al.,
2006). The interdependent relations between the individual
experience, critical reflection, and dialogue played a crucial role in
the perspective transformation helping me reconstruct my identity as
an educator. Since it is a challenge to analyze every account of
emotions in any given context (Zembylas, 2003), I have chosen to
focus on the major incidents that happened during the pandemic that
influenced me most when it comes to orienting my identity as a
higher education teacher.
I relate to Cooper (2013) as she brings the metaphor of series
spinning plates in the air and illustrates the significance of reflective
journaling for the meaning-making process by helping an individual
organize those spinning plates and helping them grapple with their
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own sense of belonging. With reflective journaling of the major
events, I have found myself getting further clarity over the incident as
soon as I write them down. After writing, when I read it again, I
analyze and examine my thoughts, feelings, and actions about my
identity as a teacher. This has led further to making connections
through interactions within myself and others, thus engaging me
actively in the meaning-making process.
Reflections
Vulnerability
COVID-19 induced a substantial global burden worldwide
since its first diagnosis in Wuhan, China, highly affecting the nations
with lower capacity to cope with the pandemic and claimed that
vulnerability and lack of coping capacity as the two major dimensions
to be relevant to it (Wong et al., 2020). The dimension of
vulnerability meant the “susceptibility of populations to hazardous
incidents” given the socioeconomic, political, and social features
(Wong et al., 2020, p. 816) on the one hand, while on the other, it also
meant “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure” (Brown, 2012,
p.34). As a higher education married Nepali female faculty who
belongs to a middle-class family, I witnessed both the dimensions of
vulnerability that I could find being expressed in my daily journals.
Vygotsky (as cited in Nyongesa et al., 2017) argues that social
interaction is crucial for an individual’s cognitive development for
both the formal as well as the natural setting, and language is a tool
that is important to bridge the understanding of the world and the
particular context. Journaling served a similar purpose for me in
helping me become a more independent learner in terms of
acknowledging my vulnerability and in shaping my identity as a
teacher.
As a consequence of the lockdown, universities in Nepal were
temporarily closed for nearly two months since March 24, 2020,
however, I being the part of the institution associated with the foreign
University decided to shift to a completely online model right away
since March 29, 2020, where teaching and learning were undertaken
remotely. Although the abrupt transition was made possible through
emergency training on e-learning strategies, the challenges were seen
around the inevitable variations in the socio-economic backgrounds,
and different gender roles of both the faculty and the students as they
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were not prepared mentally and technically (Gautam & Gautam,
2020).
Questions and concerns started to rise to support the
vulnerable students through discussions and seminars (Chapagain &
Neupane, 2020), however, not enough space was provided to address
the vulnerability of the faculties, mostly female faculties even when
the lockdown had shown a considerable rise in gender discrimination
among working men and working women both as a subject and as a
participant (Nepal & Aryal, 2020). As a part of one of the core
committee members myself that conducted an international virtual
conference for higher education educators based on rethinking
education amid the crisis, I realized how I was finding it difficult to
find at least one female higher education faculty as a speaker and was
feeling frustrated about it. Seeing the huge gap in the participation of
women educators, on the one hand, was inducing anger within me
while on the other hand, I being a woman, that too a married woman
myself, I was facing the challenge of putting in an extra effort to bring
the same outcome as my married male colleagues were triggering
disgust within me. The female faculties were busy doing the
household, caring for their babies, taking classes, checking
assignments all at the same time. However, when it came to male
faculty members they were busy in the meetings, seminars, and
virtual conferences that had some major role in the decision making. I
was noticing our voices as female faculties during the crisis were not
being heard. We were not finding space to share what we were going
through, what our experiences were, and most importantly how we
were feeling. One of the consequences of the lockdown was an
increase in the workload for women in the household along with the
extension on the office work hours making it a challenge for women,
especially married women to maintain a work-life balance giving rise
to emotional breakdown and mental health issues (Kolakakshapati et
al., 2021). The added feedback sessions that all the faculties had to be
a part of to enhance the skills for virtual teaching-learning had either
no or few female faculties. Those were also filled with praises for the
male faculties while female faculties had to go through shame and
guilt for not being even able to turn on their video cameras while
teaching. These social interactions were shaping my perception in a
way that I had started seeing myself as an individual with low self-
esteem who needs to prioritize her household chores more than that of
her office work. On 10 April 2020, I had written,
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I can understand how for so many female educators working
from home and advocating for online education is a burden. I
can understand how they are expected to be teaching while at
the same time cooking meals for their family. I can make
sense of why they are turning off their camera while they are
talking to their students because on the other side they are
patting their crying toddlers.
The expectation for women to perform a majority of the housework
and childcare responsibility is there despite the increment of full-time
participation of women in paid employment. Vygotsky (2012)
explains this as the outcome of understanding created by the social
interaction where we depend on the society even to create a
perspective about our own identity. In this context, while the home is
considered as a place for healing and recovery in general, for women
it is recognized as a place for additional unpaid work. Therefore, what
Olson et al. (2019) has claimed for secondary school teaching applies
to higher education teaching as well:
Whether emotion management bolsters or counters a teacher's
wellbeing and intention to stay in their job or the profession,
may depend on the fit of this emotion management within that
teacher's identity—and the extent to which the job allows the
teacher to fulfill the objectives linked to that identity. (p. 141)
The perceived identity of Nepali women is to fulfill the role of a
caretaker of the family with utmost perfectionism relating that with
the family and work-life balance that anything that is done for self-
development either triggers the feeling of shame or the feeling of guilt
within them. Nepali (2018) claims that with the changing workplace
dynamics it has grown more complex in the situation where the
women are expected to work as equal as men in the office along with
greater responsibilities at home and are expected to not fail in both
places. The unexpressed but deeply engraved expectations for the
working women by the society forces women faculties to not just
outperform in the teaching but also in the household influencing their
choices and consequences as an educator (Harvard Business Review,
2018). Apart from that the rising death tolls were triggering fear of
losing our loved ones, and the increasing uncertainty was weakening
the mental well-being, I felt helpless and vulnerable for not finding
the reflective space to share whatever I was going through within the
professional sphere making me share my feelings on my journals. On
16 May 2020, I had expressed
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We both (me and my husband) hear the murmur of our
neighbors every evening as they break the inhuman silence of
this city with their grocery visits and realize the running fear
that is inside all of us. As we have become closer than ever,
the terror has also grown more than ever with this increasing
uncertainty.
The lack of safe space for the expression of the authentic self had led
women to experience emotional and physical exhaustion, anxiety, and
unproductiveness. I, too was one of them when teachers were being
considered as the trailblazers amid the crisis. Chapagain and Neupane
(2020) highlighted the importance of the attitude and ability of the
teachers in playing a supportive role in the creation of the flexible
environment and identify themselves as “learning engineers” who
play the role of champions amid the crisis (p. 109). However, with the
increasing fear in my personal life, I identified myself in a vulnerable
spot as a higher education faculty not being able to give my best in
fulfilling the role as a champion. The emotional exhaustion
contributed to burnout in my work context with the untold but
heightened pressure from the management to adopt high-performance
in the work systems.
Courage
The massive pressure and uncertainty concerning the
workload that was being expressed both officially and unofficially felt
like we were gearing up for a war that needed acknowledgment of my
emotions, acceptance of my vulnerabilities, and finding different
coping mechanisms. I expressed that vulnerability through a poem on
22 May 2020. Some of the excerpts of which are
Meandering on my thoughts,
I realized how vulnerable I was
In a society that never let me express,
The stories that I had lived and felt
day and night.
My vulnerability haunted me in disguise –
Like a ghost that had no mercy on my wounds.
The poem represented my failure to maintain a balance between my
work and family chores leading to serious implications on my
emotional well-being. The increasing demand of the outcomes both
inside and outside the classroom, at the administrative level of the
institution as a faculty along with heightening expectations at home
19
while working from home, left me to feel bounded and stressed.
Vygotsky (as cited in Chigondo, 2019) argues this scenario as the
impact of socio-cultural setting that impacts an adult’s decision
making, especially the women in leadership. The emotional
manifestation of heightened stress and vulnerability demanded
courage. Brown (2012) claims that vulnerability is the key to
wholehearted living as courage goes hand in hand with vulnerability.
Hemmingway (as cited in Lopez et al., 2003) defines courage as
“grace under pressure” (p. 191). By default, being a human, we are
not perfect, however, Buber (2002) argues that for humans in the
darkness lies the light, in fear there is salvation and in callousness,
there is great love. For me, courage meant the ability to recognize
emotions and act in a meaningful manner regardless of the risks
associated with them (Woodard, 2004). Being exposed to multiple
social-emotional challenges, I was already feeling sad, when an
insulting incident from one of the male students triggered rage,
disgust, agony, and grief all at the same time. The student had sent an
abusive and threatening message for not receiving the grades he had
anticipated. On 28 October 2020, I wrote a long monologue and
shared it through a blog after receiving a foul-mouthed abusive Viber
message.
As I look back, my eyes fill up with tears; tears of joy for a
few of my students are doing amazing with their lives who had
given up on their lives at one time; tears of pain for a handful
of my students didn’t find meaning in the education system
and left studying after their high school; tears of guilt for not
meeting up that mark of a perfect teacher that several of my
students had expected; tears of disappointment for not meeting
my own expectations and reacting on my impulse; tears of
sadness for being helpless when how much I try to help them
with their learning but they see their fewer grades and rather
than putting an effort on their work, they keep on taunting,
abusing, scolding, foul mouthing me.
The way the message was crafted from the student, I felt angry for
being born as a female and then to be working as an educator during
the difficult time. I understood what Palmer (2017) meant when he
claimed teaching, as a daily exercise where we practice vulnerability.
It was even more difficult when it was online with its easy access to
abuse.
20
Meanwhile, the blog that I shared helped me connect with
another female faculty from another institution who had been through
a similar situation. She called me back to share her story and that
conversation made me realize that it was not only me who was facing
online abuse from the male students during the pandemic. Few
conversations with other female higher education faculties helped us
understand the gravity of the situation but the shame and guilt that we
have to go through when bringing these issues into the limelight,
especially at times like the pandemic present us in a negative light.
More than the victim, we were judged for not being the torchbearers
and helping our male students navigate the situation. Thus it is
understandable why serious attention has not been given to cases like
these. This transparent self-disclosure among us formed a strong
sense of courage and mutual trust between us which Ilies, et al. (2005)
describe as relational authenticity. However, teacher emotions are
usually felt but not displayed as they are expected to avoid feeling
anger, irritated or frustrated and most importantly are assumed to play
the roles of a caring adult and show interest in the course and the
students almost every time (Hoy, 2013). Campbell (1994) argues that
the experiences and complaints of women are dismissed either
considering them as an offense or stigmatizing women as being
overly sensitive and claims that the expression of authentic emotions
can be considered a privilege. This makes the authentic expression of
the emotions of female teachers even more challenging.
I realized that the truth that I had started to share and the
vulnerability that I had started to embrace had helped me feel
courageous and started expressing my emotions, especially my anger
and disappointment regarding the events that helped me connect with
other educators who were going through a similar situation like mine.
Brown (2012) argues that vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like
courage and both of them are not always comfortable, however, both
are not weak as they nurture relationships and fosters innovation. I
echo with Spelmen (1989) that “[anyone] who does not get angry
when there is reason to be angry or does not get angry in the right
way, at the right time with the right people, is a dolt” (as cited in
Campbell, 1994, p. 47). Though we could not muster the strength to
bring out all the stories in public given the ethical dilemmas that we
had in that context, we nurtured a healthy relationship among each
other within and beyond the institutions we were working in.
Choosing vulnerability involves being transparent and open to the
21
emotional exposures in relationship with self and with others and
often comes with risks. Here, the importance of emotional regulation
is important to understand what the teachers are feeling and what
function the emotion fulfills. However, I echo with Hoy (2013) as she
claims
The unpreparedness of teachers for the reality that their chosen
profession will require emotional labor to enact a myriad of
sometimes contradictory display rules; that they will live with
a constantly changing landscape of criticism and reforms
‘inflicted’ upon them by parents, administrators, and
policymakers. (p. 264)
My authentic display of emotions encouraged me to develop social
and emotional competencies to regulate my emotions being true to
myself which helped me build confidence and determination. On
February 17, 2021, reflecting on that day’s class where I had to stand
up for a female student against a male student when he shunned her
instead of listening to her while she was sharing some probable
solutions for growing rape issues in the country, I wrote
As an adult, every woman has the right to self-determination,
but in a context where there are multiple structural problems
just because of the patriarchal order of the society, it is
important to support each other whenever we can and
wherever we are.
This newfound courage where I gave myself the permission to feel
and display my authentic emotions helped me improve my
confidence, lower my levels of anxiety, and got me engaged in
different programs where I could share my experiences. This also
helped me have a difficult conversation with my husband where I
shared the problems that I was having because of the added
responsibilities on my front since the time we started working from
home and need more support from him in the household. This is what
Vygotsky (as cited in Allahyar & Nazari, 2012) explains
transformation as the “inborn capacities entangled with socio
culturally constructed meditational means, through the internalization
of which an external operation is internally reconstructed” (p. 81).
Once I moved away from the idea of perfectionism and balance, I was
courageous enough to focus on the aspects that I found meaningful
rather than the ones that I was forced to do.
22
Empathy
My reflection about my emotional experiences also led me to
a journey of understanding the need for emotional education more and
making me realize that using the right word to describe authentic
emotions helped me manage my emotions as well as respond with
empathy. Roulston (2020) argues that the COVID-19 pandemic came
as an opportunity for the higher education teachers to focus on their
self-reflection as a part of ethical decision making where they see
themselves as a human being affected by the non-human forces and
seek to inspire actions that matter in the classrooms with students.
Regular reflection on the emotional journey has helped me see my
strength but has also helped me figure out my limitations. On 30
January 2021, after facilitating a session for the facilitators and
activists from different countries on the importance of being self-
aware and authentic about our emotions that are associated with our
activism, I reflected
With my own experience as an activist, I had sometimes been
thought of as a change-maker while the rest of the time, I have
been termed as a troublemaker. By now, I have come to
understand the importance of courage to be an activist,
meanwhile, I have come to realize the importance of
encourage more.
The heightened awareness of the complexity that I was facing in
expressing my authentic self in the challenging times made me
question if the skills that I had were enough to encourage myself and
others and what could I do to improve my practices. I thought of
being a part of a course that would help me be better at it as a
facilitator. Thus, I joined a facilitation certification course. The course
helped me center around myself as an educator, see through my
vulnerable side, and provided me alternative ways to express my
emotions by holding a space for myself. I could see the improvement
in my interpersonal relationships as I could hold a space for other’s
authentic emotions as well within and even beyond the classroom.
Reflecting on the course, on 4 March 2021, I had written
Having a brief moment with myself; observing the inner self
so that I can prepare for being able to see what is going inside
of me to prepare to see what’s going on inside of others is
important while I create and hold space for the ones I am
practicing empathy with.
23
Reflecting on my authentic emotions by acknowledging my
vulnerabilities helped me develop self-compassion and be courageous
to work on myself and see as well as listen to others which helped
foster empathy for myself and others. Campbell (1994) argued that
empathy does not come easy for everyone, especially for women as
the feeling of shame is subtly encouraged by the ones who keep
denying the feelings of women are held responsible for the
unpredictable attitudes that women share especially concerning their
individual accountability and their emotional wellbeing. The
contextual perspective on the self and my emotional expressions
helped me understand the idea of ‘becoming’ that Zembylas (2003)
suggest as “the incompleteness of identity and a dynamic identity
construction, one that involves a non-linear process by which an
individual confirms or problematizes who she/he is/becomes” (p.
221). The journey of understanding the vulnerable side of me as a
higher education teacher and holding that space for myself and my
discourses continues fostering empathy within me and in my
interpersonal relationships reshaping my identity as a reflective
practitioner who keeps on working on improving her practices as an
educational leader by exploring her authentic expressions.
Conclusion
The move toward an understanding of my teacher self through
the reflection on my emotions during the pandemic provided space for
my transformation. Furthermore, the construction of my personal
narratives during the process of reflection helped me reconstruct the
dots of my personal life and my narrative by opening the conditions
of possibilities for who and what I as a higher education teacher might
be by highlighting my situatedness of self (Zembylas, 2003).
Therefore, the journey from being vulnerable to finding the courage to
being empathic has become a continuous process for me through the
reflection of my emotions and expression of emotions. Not explicitly
on teacher identity construction, but this paper encourages critical
attention towards the reflections and narratives of female higher
education faculties of Nepal and how challenging it can be for her to
find a space for her authentic expressions. This reflection also
provides an insight into how the critical reflection on emotions can
contribute to the transformation of a teacher’s identity which can
foster courage in her in contributing to the larger discourse amid the
pandemic.
24
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Author Bio
BHAWANA SHRESTHA, is a Ph.D. scholar of Educational
Leadership at Kathmandu University School of Education and is the
founder of an education initiative ‘My Emotions Matter’, Nepal. She
is exploring the answer to her research question on how to improve
her practices as an education leader working in the field of Emotional
Intelligence and trying to generate her living theory that will
contribute to the 'flourishing of humanity'. She also works as a faculty
29
of King's College Nepal and teaches undergraduate, and graduate
students. The author’s major fields of study are emotional
intelligence, educational leadership, gender, and reflective practices.
Email: bsbhawana830@gmail.com
... There are many studies about educational activities during the pandemic but not on the urgent educational process carried about by teachers at the beginning of the pandemic. Nevertheless, there are a few studies related to the teachers' or students' effective distance education experiences during the pandemic period (Clark et al., 2021;Jones & Kessler, 2020;Shrestha, 2020;Trust et al., 2020;Yang et al., 2022), interactions between teachers-students and teacher-parents (Cruz, 2021;Erol & Danyal, 2020;Karakaya et al., 2021;Tiwery et al., 2021). When it is considered that the emotions of teachers (Hong et al., 2016) and interactions (Wubbels & Brekelmans, 2005;Wubbes & Levy, 2005) are decisive key components for academic success, taking the opinions of teachers taking part in distance education activities about these components is thought essential and will be guided for the following distance education activities. ...
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p>Work- family balance” is a term that refers to an individual’s perceptions of the degree to which s/he is experiencing positive relationships between work and family roles, where the relationships are viewed as compatible and at equilibrium with each other. Like a fulcrum measuring the daily shifting weights of time and energy allocation between work and family life, the term, “workfamily balance,” provides a metaphor to countervail the historical notion that work and family relationships can often be competing, at odds, and conflicting. There was a time when the boundaries between work and home were fairly clear. Today, however, work is likely to invade our personal life — and maintaining work-life balance is no simple task. Family work balance is a complex issue that involves financial values, gender roles, career path, time management and many other factors. Every person and couple will have their own preferences and needs. The problem of maintaining a balance between work life and family life is not a new one. But in the recent few years social scientists have started paying more attention to it. Now there is growing concern in Nepal and experts are of the view that a constant struggle to balance both sets of life will have serious implications on the health of an employee. The seriousness of this problem increases many times in the cases of women workers in our society which is a traditional one and where women are still supposed to have greater family responsibilities. They are expected to look after their children, entertaining the guest, taking care of their parents, in laws and other elderly members of their families as also managing kitchen and other household affairs. Neglecting any of these responsibilities for the sake of discharging work in office or in other institutions where they are employed is not tolerated by their husbands and other male members of the society. We talk of women empowerment but we fail to understand the problems which working women are facing in the tradition bound society like of ours. The study is a pioneering work to investigate into this problem. It is a modest attempt to understand the manner in which women workers try to maintain balance between their work and family lives. The study also explores the ways and means by which female workers can be enabled to maintain proper balance between the two sets of their lives. The findings of this study may be of great use to employers, and business executives as well, who have now come to realize that the responsibility to maintain a healthy work life balance rests on both the organisation and employee. Pravaha Vol. 24, No. 1, 2018, Page: 217-232</p