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Professor, Researcher, Educator

Sarah Mercer is a Professor for Foreign Language Teaching and the Head of the ELT Research and Methodology Department at the University of Graz. Find out more about her research projects, publications, and upcoming events on this website.

Book on Table


Language teacher professional curiosity: Understanding the drive for professional development

Sarah Mercer, Mirosław Pawlak

Teacher professional development (PD) has been shown to have numerous benefits, such as greater self-efficacy, higher motivation, and enhanced wellbeing (e.g., Kimura, 2014; Polin, 2023; Wang & Chen, 2022), and teaching additional languages is certainly no exception. However, the extent to which teachers are willing and able to engage in PD throughout their careers depends on many factors, some of which are related to the context in which they work, while others are reflective of their individual attributes such as attitudes, motivations, and personality. This paper focuses on the latter by reporting the findings of a study that examined language teacher professional curiosity (LTPC). The data were collected through semi-structured interviews from 6 Austrian and 6 Polish language teachers at different stages of their careers. Qualitative analysis allowed valuable insights into the nature of LTPC, curiosity-driven behaviors as well as factors influencing these behaviors. It also provided the basis for a tentative cyclic process model of LTPC in which interest and curiosity interact to produce a focus of curiosity, which is impacted by motivation, agency, autonomy, and social context, generating a drive for teacher behaviors in respect to their PD.

Reference: Mercer, S., & Pawlak, M. (2024). Language teacher professional curiosity: Understanding the drive for professional development. Studies in Second Language Learning and Teaching.

Teacher emotions and the emotional labour of modern language (ML) teachers working in UK secondary schools

Jim King, Haydab Almukhaild, Sarah Mercer, Sonja Babic, Astrid Mairitsch, and Giulia Sulis

The present paper seeks to explore the contextual factors shaping the emotional labour experiences of secondary school teachers and explain the ways these educators manage their emotions. Data were generated through a series of 20 in-depth, semi-structured interviews with modern language (ML) teachers in the UK. The findings showed that teachers experienced primarily negative forms of emotional labour and these experiences were driven by five interrelated contextual factors: the lack of institutional support, heavy workload, low perceived status of MLs, students’ lack of motivation, and classroom misbehaviour. To manage their emotions, the study reveals that teachers used a wide range of coping mechanisms such as suppression, venting, social support, positive reframing, and the development of positive student–teacher relationships. In light of our results, we call for the emotional dimension of teaching to be better integrated into training programmes, an improvement in working conditions and better support mechanisms for teachers.

King, J., Almukhaild, H., Mercer, S., Babic, S., Mairitsch, A. & Sulis, G. (2024). Teacher emotions and the emotional labour of modern language (ML) teachers working in UK secondary schools. International Review of Applied Linguistics in Language Teaching.

101 Psychological Tips for Language Teachers

A compact, user-friendly reference book which draws from up-to-date research and theories from psychology to offer teachers with practical tips for small changes which they can make to their practice which will significantly improve learner outcomes and teaching. Focussing on principles from 'nudge theory', this publication aims to facilitate positive learning and teaching scenarios. The book is organised around six core areas of the psychology of language learning and teaching: teacher wellbeing; leading with compassion, authority and skill; balancing the socio-emotional climate of your group; improving learner self-esteem; empowering students.


Reference: Mercer, S., & Puchta, H. (2023). 101 psychological tips for language teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.





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Feel free to contact her via

ELT Research and Methodology Department
University of Graz
Liebiggasse 9
8010 Graz

+43 (0)316 380 - 8190

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