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Do I Really Want to Be a Teacher? Despite the True Negatives: An Autoethnography

by Shrehan Lynch[1], Sports Development and Coaching Sciences, Bournemouth University



The majority of research into teaching has been from an international perspective, primarily investigating teacher satisfaction. The focus of this research is to investigate the idea of un-enjoyment in the role of a student teacher, undertaking research in an independent preparatory school, filling an integral research gap. An auto-ethnographic method was used: this was an appropriate research method as not only did the researcher illustrate a particular situation, but she was also able to capture depth of experience in the findings. Findings showed un-enjoyment derived from segregation of the teaching group, job role and teaching methods. The research contributed to the teaching field by theorising that negative group membership can outweigh any positive emotion and lead to un-enjoyment. In theory the role of a student teacher has to be met with support but also responsibility; it is important for employers to get this mixture correct to enhance job enjoyment. It is also important for employers to be aware that they are employing the correct individual, provide continued professional development and motivate student teachers.

Keywords: Student teacher, autoethnography, enjoyment, un-enjoyment, schools



Teaching can be seen as a popular career in the United Kingdom (UK). This is evidenced by an estimated 11.9% of the working population being employed within the education sector (ONS, 2012); 54,014 are full-time teachers employed in the independent sector (ISC, 2012) and 361,000 are full-time teachers in the state sector (DFE, 2011). There are three main routes into teaching: university-based training, where a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) is completed; school-based training, where Qualified Teachers Status (QTS) can be gained; and 'experienced teachers QTS' for those who have previously worked abroad in a teaching role (DFE, 2012). Initial teacher training is of huge importance particularly for state-maintained schools; the Department for Education (DFE) complete an annual census to ascertain how many teachers are needed to fill Local Authority posts (Teaching Agency, 2012).

The purpose of the research was for me, Shrehan Lynch[2], to investigate personal enjoyment in the role of a Student Teacher (ST) while on a placement year from university, studying Sports Development and Coaching Sciences. The rationale for the study was the gap in the current research: no research has been carried out into the lack of enjoyment of such people and in light of the constant recruitment issues, the research intends to help understand the field of STs. Within this article the term 'Teacher' refers to any professional in that chosen career. 'Student teacher' relates to all beginner teachers who are starting their teaching experiences, including novice/pre-service/PCGE qualified/unqualified and first-year teachers. 'Enjoyment' is defined as an outcome of experience where the dynamic interaction between stable individual factors and temporary moods lead to a positive emotional content of the experience (Eliashberg and Sawhney, 1994: 1152). 'Job Satisfaction' is defined as having a positive effect in happiness of an individual in terms of productivity and creativity (Kilic and Yazici, 2012: 183).

The aim of this study was to investigate the lack of enjoyment in the role of a ST. To achieve this aim the following objectives were identified:

  1. To collect and evaluate data regarding enjoyment through ethnographic methods;
  2. To identify what is not enjoyed in the role of a ST;
  3. To find out the factors influencing enjoyment in the role of a ST;
  4. To develop a personal awareness regarding the teaching profession.


Background: where is the gap?

Much of the existing research into teaching has been focused on teachers' satisfaction rather than enjoyment. Without job satisfaction, retention and turnover become a problem (Dolton and VanDerKlaaw, 1999: 543; Rhodes, 2006: 434). Many teachers choose to leave the profession and pursue other careers due to an array of factors such as family commitments, work load, personal preferences (Rhodes et al., 2004: 76). This can be shown in the global research that has been undertaken showing factors that influence job satisfaction. Table 1 shows the positive/negative factors along with the country to which the study pertains.

Table 1: Positive and Negative Contributors to Job Satisfaction

Table 1: Positive and Negative Contributors to Job Satisfaction

From a cultural perspective Table 1 shows that all the countries included have similar contributors to job satisfaction. The most common positive contributor is having a high level of self efficacy alongside support from colleagues/school. Strikingly the most common negative contributor is emotional exhaustion, along with lack of personal accomplishment and the working environment. These factors must be improved to increase job satisfaction and consequently retention rates of staff. For the purpose of this study the word 'satisfaction' is replaced with 'enjoyment'; this emphasises a deeper emotional state of an individual and will therefore increase the understanding as to why emotional exhaustion effects job satisfaction for example, this is where there is a literature gap.

Research does show that positive emotions of STs are mainly derived from pupils and their success (Kyriacou and Kunc, 2006: 1253; Timostsuk and Ugaste, 2010: 1566), and having positive working relationships with colleagues (Huang and Waxman, 2008: 241; Nasser-Abu and Fresko, 2010: 1596). Furthermore negative emotions/factors include: workload, school management, time pressures, pupil behaviour, the effects of private life (Kyriacou and Kunc, 2006: 1253), fear of failure, pedagogical principles (e.g. the positive upbringing of children) not being adhered to (Huang and Waxman, 2008: 241; Timostsuk and Ugaste, 2010: 1567) and negative interactions with colleagues (Timostsuk and Ugaste, 2010: 1568; Darby et al., 2011: 72). Although positive/negative emotions are highlighted within research there is no research found in understanding why positive working relationships contribute to a positive emotions for example. Williams (2009: 639), an Australian ST, documented her experiences when changing career to teaching; she agrees that there is a clear lack of research into the experiences of such people.

Following a detailed analysis of research the majority of which is international, it is evident there is a lack of literature on STs and their enjoyment; this shows a clear need for additional research due to this research gap. The current autoethnographic study is the only known study of this kind in the UK. This data can be used to increase awareness to employers and could also prove useful for a perspective applicant for a ST role to evaluate in more detail the benefits or lack thereof in this case within this role.



Research Design

Previous studies into teaching have used qualitative research designs (Cockburn, 2000; Rippon and Martin, 2005; Shoval et al., 2010). For this particular study qualitative research was most appropriate (Ellis, 1991, 1999), as it allows greater understanding which quantitative data would not provide. The particular design adopted was that of an auto-ethnographic method. Sparkes (2000: 21-41) defines auto-ethnographies, otherwise known as self narratives, as personalised accounts that draw upon the experiences of an author/researcher to extend sociological understanding. However, Ellis et al. (2010: 279) highlight that auto-ethnographies are controversial and many other academics think the research is biased (Atkinson, 1997: 339; Gans, 1999: 542-43; Anderson, 2006: 374). Negatively, Coffey (1999: 116) and Madison (2006: 321) state that auto-ethnographers are navel gazers, self-absorbed narcissists who do not fulfil scholarly obligation of hypothesising, analysing and theorising. Alternatively Long (2008: 189) states that auto-ethnographers are good writers who construct auto-ethnographies and cater to sociological and scientific imagination. Auto-ethnographies are now a commonly accepted research design in the social sciences (Gratton and Jones, 2010: 193). The method can be seen as a limitation within this study due to researcher bias; in order to increase credibility, certain steps were adhered to as suggested by Manning (1997: 98), Spindler and Spindler (1992: 154-57) and Klenke (2008: 38). Firstly, prolonged engagement in the setting where there was interaction between data collection and data analysis. Secondly, reflexivity, being aware of researcher bias which can be controlled by writing a journal. Adhering to these steps, I was in the school for an academic year, I started data analysis in January (2012) when I had six months of interaction left in the school. I also kept a diary which was objectively focused by the question asked each day, what didn't I enjoy?


The method used for this study was written field notes in the form of a diary. Diaries provide an instant time-bound detailed personal reflection in relation to events/activities that take place while a person is immersed in a group/setting. Stebbins (2001: 10) states that continual exploration is a necessity for an environment which is continually changing, as a school does. Conversely, some argue that because a diary is instantaneous it limits the research; Briggs and Coleman (2007) state that a diary must be written by an adequate, stable writer and that writing instantly does not give the researcher enough time to process the information. However, the diary in this study was revisited on numerous occasions to overcome this and became an opportunity to reflect. The diary was typed up every evening after the school day on my password-protected computer. The setting arose as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: I was in a particular situation, employed in an independent preparatory school in the South of England and I was a keen researcher, and therefore in the perfect position to produce an auto-ethnography. The nature of the research was overt participant observation, and therefore the ethical consideration needed for the study was keeping the school confidential (the school is referred to as SchoolZ), offering those working within the school the right of withdrawal and keeping staff names anonymous (where the same member of staff is referred to it is done by Colleague X/Y/Z). These were adhered to throughout the study. The data was analysed through the well-known method of coding, which allowed the mass amount of data to be organised effectively. Although a second coder would have been preferred it was not used due to the sensitivity of the data.


Findings and Discussion

This section is divided into the three subsections of the common themes that derived from coding, the qualitative analysis used. Moreover, quotations from the journal are used frequently to give the reader an insight into my feelings at the time of writing. At the end of each subtheme there is a recommendation for any school to consider and sometimes specifically SchoolZ, or teacher-training providers, including future teaching research suggestions; this is my contribution to research in the teaching field.

Did not enjoy
Being part of a group

I have always strived for acceptance in my social groups; one of the biggest things I struggled with at SchoolZ was being part of the 'teacher group'. I was already anxious about this prior to starting:

It's two days before I start at SchoolZ, I've got myself some 'teacher clothes' and I am starting to feel very nervous. It's so important for me to make the right impression, as this could be my future place of work and I'm so afraid that I'm going to make a mistake or be late or do something wrong.

The first week was the hardest week, as I realised I was part of a segregated group and I sought after being part of the whole teaching group:

I found out that most people who do this job have obviously just left school and are called 'gappies' or gap year students rather than student teachers. This makes me feel segregated but also the feeling part of a group. I feel part of a group because I'm with three other male student teachers so only alone in the sense that I'm the only girl. But then segregated as we are obviously at the bottom of the teaching staff. I have to admit I HATE the term 'gappie' it sounds horrible.

This feeling of being segregated did not go away and I started to take it quite personally, I spoke to another ST about his feelings:

I asked him what he thought about being referred to as a 'Gappie'. He said he did not like it as he has already graduated from university and is not a gap year student. He said he would prefer to be called a 'placement student' or 'work experience'. I prefer the term 'student teacher'.

The term 'gappie' became permanent and unfortunately could not be shaken off. Despite this, I had other worries that became apparent:

My main worry at the moment is the staff room environment. I feel it's difficult to sit with a group of people already talking and tend to find myself sitting alone. The other staff sit in 'cliques' and either moan about: 1. The management, 2. The students, 3. The students' parents. I then don't want to be part of a 'clique' because I don't really want to moan about anything I just want to do my job, so I am in a difficult situation.

I found it extremely difficult to 'work out' other staff members, especially when they were not forthcoming with conversation:

Overall, I am feeling disheartened today. It wasn't my best day. I'm feeling very segregated from the staff room and
again had to sit on my own. I feel the other teachers look down on me.

These findings were of great concern and I found myself sometimes avoiding the staff room. I took part in helping with any lunchtime activities which were mainly held by the music department. Admittedly I was not alone with these feelings, the other STs felt the same, this was positive as it confirmed it was nothing I was doing wrong. My findings concur with Stoker (2010: 26-27): when interviewed on her worst moments teaching in schools she referred to staff-room politics. Additionally Ritchie (2009: 10-18) states that staff rooms are full of cynics who complain as soon as a new initiative is brought in by senior management, and also that productive staff are never in the staff room because they are 'eager beavers'. Ball (2012: 245) refers to the groups of the staff room as reflecting the direct micro politics of the school; staff sit in their own preferred cohorts discussing the political history of the institution. Haigh (2006: 2) agrees and states that the reason teachers behave in a superior way is due to the fact they are the leaders of the school, by qualification and definition. Despite the negative criticism Hunter et al., (2011: 33) state that staff rooms are imperative for beginner teachers; they should be a place of professional learning, supporting the beginner teacher with mentoring from staff. He also states this could also help with the retention, satisfaction, and effectiveness of new and experienced teachers alike.

Furthermore after sometime at the school I started to feel segregated by a particular member of staff who was quite unpleasant towards me:

I was spoken to extremely rudely and given snide looks across the staff room by colleague Y; for no apparent or aware reason. This made me feel really uncomfortable and I felt I was being watched. I don't know what I have done to upset this person but it seems that my presence seems to aggravate her. I try to avoid this person at all costs now as her presence around me makes me feel negative and sad. The only problem is - it is my job to work with her.

Positive support from colleagues contributes to job satisfaction and increases self efficacy. In contrast, Rhodes et al. (2004), Crossman and Harris (2006), Menon and Saitis (2006), Skaalvik and Skaalvik (2009, 2011) and Klassen and Chui (2010) all stated that the work environment can be a negative contributor to job satisfaction. If the working environment is of an unpleasant kind the individual is bound to be dissatisfied in their job role thus lead to un-enjoyment. This explains why I was feeling unhappy in my working environment. It could be suggested that either new staff members should be inducted into the staff room experience or existing teachers should make a conscious effort to make new staff feel included. This can be done at a management level. When new staff join, at the start of the academic year, team-building activities could be completed to integrate new and existing staff members. Agreeing with Hunter et al., (2011), I also recommend greater research into staff-room experiences. I also highlight that this is a new finding in teaching research; feeling segregated from the staff room/teaching group being linked with the lack of enjoyment.

Job role

The purpose of the ST is to provide a high level of support to pupils, parents and staff. Some of the key responsibilities of a ST are to assist and support staff in lesson preparation, delivery of lessons and other administrative duties. Admittedly when accepting the role I was aware that sometimes I would be expected to do things I would not perhaps want to. Nevertheless I may have underestimated this:

At lunch (on our break) we were given photocopying jobs for other members of staff. So I and the other student teachers had to do them. It's annoying that we have to do mundane and laborious jobs, so much that you would describe it as tedious over time. I feel undervalued and disenfranchised. I know it is part of my job, but I feel that I could be doing so much more valuable tasks to the benefit of the school and myself. I do not feel that I am reaching anywhere near my full potential. This makes me then enjoy the job less and puts pressure on my ability to motivate myself or justify my position in the school.

At times the lack of motivation showed in journal entries:

Today I felt tired, tired of tedious tasks (admin), put in compromising situations (marking when I'm not meant to be), tired of being called upon to help others (photocopying, supervising in break times), tired of constantly telling students off (Year 3 classroom), tired because it's the end of the week and tired of running round after members of staff all day! I think I would feel far happier if I was just given responsibility to take my own games sessions and to have more authority in the classroom. The problem is that I know I am unqualified and cannot do these things but I feel so powerless about it. I also feel that I can't speak out about it because I am in a powerless position as a student teacher and they will simply say, just do your job!

These findings highlighted how important motivation is in teaching; it is important to be motivated and motivate others as a teacher (Thompson, 1996: 30). Lowe (2008: 194) suggests students are more likely to achieve more by being constantly encouraged and motivated which enhances competence.

It took a number of weeks for me to accept that what I believe is in the best interest for the students and what actually happens in SchoolZ is different:

Today I found frustrating. The hockey season is over and the next season that starts in January is netball. The head of department wanted the senior girls to do netball, which I understand as he wants them to be prepared for the next season ahead but they will play netball everyday for another 13 weeks and I feel I just want them to do something different like girls' football, swimming or tag rugby. Whenever I seem to ask about them doing this then colleague Z says no or makes up an excuse. I feel like the girls' best interests are not at heart. They will burn out from overplaying sports and will not want to take part in them by the end. It is also important for young people to have a variety of things to do; therefore, I feel sorry for the students, having to play netball/hockey Monday-Friday, it must be boring for them. What happens after this is I feel deflated in the games session and do not put my all in to it because: 1. I know the girls don't really want to do it as they just moan to me in the changing rooms and 2. Because I'm bored of teaching the same stuff over and over again.

If all the staff were in agreement/if I agreed with their principles then perhaps I would be more inclined to teach the school's games syllabus; this links closely with the cohesion performance relationship, when group cohesion is positive this improves performance (Forsyth, 2010: 138).

Another aspect of my job that I did not enjoy was feeling useless and irresponsible:

After this afternoon's senior games session I feel sad. I was asked to set out numerous cones for a certain drill by a teacher and while I was doing so the other three teachers stood and watched. Although it is part of my job to assist the teachers in no way did I feel like I was doing so, I felt like I was doing the work while the teachers had a private conversation for ten minutes. After thinking about this a lot on my way home, I do understand I must help the teacher where necessary but I feel that my potential is not being used in a positive way. I also feel like I am not learning by doing this and therefore it is not aiding in my process of being there. I would like to feel useful not useless and be responsible.

Reed (1982: 39) suggests an employer benefits substantially by giving responsibility to a student on work experience. I struggled to be given responsibility at SchoolZ, despite doing a degree in Sports Coaching and having more playing experience than the teachers at times. I felt angry and sad about this, especially considering that in the interview senior management promised me responsibility. Morehead et al. (2009) suggest that when STs are angry and defensive about criticism they are often incompetent. In hindsight I do not think I was incompetent, I think the school was merely reluctant to hand over responsibility to a female 'gap student' who was willing to take on more than previous gap students. Unfortunately, this sadness contributed immensely to my lack of enjoyment and far outweighed anything I did enjoy at SchoolZ. In future SchoolZ should look closer at employing STs to fit their required role and perhaps just target those just on 'gap years' rather than placement-year students and graduates.

A secondary part of the job role was dealing with behavioural issues. This happened rarely but at the start of the job I recorded its beginnings:

I feel very undermined when the children do not listen or do what I say and its very tiring and tricky for a student teacher to show their authority when they have no disciplinary procedures to follow. I am not a teacher that likes to shout to show their authority so it is very hard.

The journal entries within this section reflect emotional exhaustion, the feeling of being tired from doing the same task, frustration from the lack of responsibility and the annoyance of misbehaving students. Crossman and Harris (2006), Skaalvik and Skaalvik (2009, 2011), Briones et al. (2010) and Zhang and Zhang (2012) show emotional exhaustion is a negative contributor to job satisfaction. This feeling of emotional exhaustion is linked to burnout; burnout is based on isolation, feelings of incompetence, irritability and negative work orientation (Pozo-Munoz et al., 2008: 136; Schwarzer and Hallum, 2008: 152). Research suggests that high levels of burnout in teaching are due to the high emotional involvement and daily contact with students (Pozo-Munoz et al., 2008: 136). Griva and Joekes (2003: 468) found that UK teachers appear far worse off compared to their European colleagues due to increased job demands and different coping strategies; I would agree with this considering my year in the profession.

Despite the findings of job role being linked with dissatisfaction, there is a lack of research linking job role with un-enjoyment. Considering this new finding I propose further research in this area in the way of what schools can do to reduce emotional exhaustion and what coping strategies teachers should use, this would in turn increase job satisfaction and enjoyment. In my case, extrinsic motivation would have sufficed. Nevertheless, a responsibility of the school is to ensure they are employing the right individuals for their required posts.

Teaching Methods

This section refers to the un-enjoyment of watching/assisting with the teaching methods of certain teachers. There was a certain teacher I personally found somewhat disorganised and chaotic:

Well today did not start well. I was left for fifteen minutes alone in the class with the children as the teacher was late. This was annoying, as I didn't know what to do! This is the second day this has happened and I'm only on week one in school! I have not enjoyed being in the class as everything seems to run late or over the scheduled time. I am given jobs such as sticking things in books and writing in homework diaries, which are not the best jobs to do, but they are obviously part of the job. I have also not had a break today, so I feel exhausted. To be more specific about why I am not enjoying the classroom time I have made a list:
• The teacher is often late.
• The lesson starts late.
• The students are given too many and/or complex instructions to cope with for their age and ability.
• Most of the children do not fully understand what they are doing; as such I have to individually explain to each child what it required.
• Just as they grasp the task that has been set the lesson finishes, some of the students have only just managed to write the date in their subject book.
This cycle follows through from one subject to the next.

There was one other particular member of staff I found it particularly hard to observe in and around the Games environment:

I was with the autocratic teacher this afternoon in the senior games lesson. I was made to be her 'servant' for the entirety of the lesson which was not enjoyable. I was rudely demanded to 'immediately get a bag of balls and three sets of bibs and meet her on the court as soon as possible'. During the lesson I was appalled by the language she used to speak to the students such as 'why the hell are you passing like that, that's awful'. I felt humiliated, dehumanised and sad.

It is interesting to note that this is the same member of staff around whom I felt uncomfortable in the staff room. At university close attention is paid to coaching language and how to get the most from your participant in a lesson. I felt this did not correspond to anything this teacher did:

I assisted in the senior girl's netball today and noticed the teacher has some excellent drills to do with the students but her coaching style is not portraying her and her knowledge of the game well. She comes across very autocratic and the students are frightened of her! Her lessons would be far more enjoyable if she relaxed a little and became more 'pupil centred'. It is hard to enjoy a lesson when you feel like 'you're walking on egg shells'.

Despite bringing this concern up with senior management they responded with 'colleague Y has been a valued member of the teaching staff for a considerable amount of time and she achieves results within her field'. I felt the students' interest was not at heart and although they may win matches they do not enjoy playing them or training for them with this teacher. Similarly, like myself, Huang and Waxman (2008) and Timostsuk and Ugaste (2010) found that STs experience of negative emotions occurred when pedagogical principles were not adhered to (the positive upbringing of children). Gipps and MacGilchrist (1999, cited in Mortimore 1999: 46-67) clearly identify that teachers need to understand pedagogy to improve their own pedagogy, as this maximises the learning of the pupils they teach. This can be done by training teachers to be lifelong learners (Dewey, 1990). Neil and Morgan (2003: 156) and Capel and Whitehead (2010: 286) highlight that it is the headteacher's responsibility to ensure continued professional development (CPD) of staff. In the light of these points and considering evidence has not been found in teaching research I suggest frequently offering a wide range of training to existing staff to refresh and renew their pedagogical principles, which will ensure they are kept up to date with the changes in the educational system and children's needs. Also, agreeing with Wyse et al. (2013: 55), teachers must share best practice, investigate pedagogical issues and be lifelong learners. This will set an example to STs to form their own pedagogical principles based on pedagogical ideals and shared teaching practice.



The aim of research has been met: to investigate the lack of enjoyment in the role of a ST. Key findings included un-enjoyment deriving from the segregation of the teaching group, job role and teaching methods. It is also theorised that negative group membership can outweigh any positive emotion and lead to un-enjoyment. Also, the role of a ST has to be met with support but also responsibility, it is important for employers to get this mixture correct to enhance job satisfaction and thus enjoyment. It is also important for employers to be aware that they are employing the correct individual, providing CPD and motivating STs.

This is the first study of this kind known in teaching research, not only has this added to teaching research but it has contributed to the unknown group of STs and findings can be applied to anyone with the same background. This was done through developing theory and knowledge.

In this article, I have reflected on my research experience in an auto-ethnographic approach. This method was at times difficult as the use of 'I' was difficult to put into practice for someone accustomed to academic writing. It was also difficult to express feelings in a 'story-like' way. Not only is the research hugely personal, it is also acknowledged that this method was the best design to get such detailed findings that could be related to any ST from the same background. Some could argue that one person's perspective is hugely biased which limits the research but in fact there were only minor limitations with this research method, an example being the sensitive information so the research could not be second coded. The research method was positive as it has developed my professional knowledge through encouragement of reflective practices, thus made me aspire to be an emerging researcher.

As far as proposing further research in this area is concerned, an array of approaches could be suggested, including an identical study but using a male ST to compare the findings against. Another approach could be to replicate the same study but in a state school and compare findings. An alternative approach would be to compare findings with a qualified teacher; a qualified teacher could also take part longitudinally and then research could identify times of year when enjoyment was perhaps at its highest and lowest. This would give employers an idea as to when their staff needed a boost or a training day. Finally as teachers' enjoyment is not a highly researched area, I recommend more research in this area in general.




I would like to thank Dr Ian Jones for his continued support in the formation of this research. Without the continued insight and knowledge, this project would not have been possible. I am also grateful to Dr Joanne Mayoh for her encouragement to enter the British Conference of Undergraduate Research; without doing so I would not have entered a poster that successfully won or been asked to write this paper.

The anonymous school must be thanked as without them this research would not be possible.

Thanks are also due to my parents for their continued support that thank you cannot suffice.


List of Tables

Table 1: Positive and Negative Contributors to Job Satisfaction



[1] Shrehan Lynch is a final year student studying Sports Development and Coaching Sciences at Bournemouth University. She is hoping to pursue a career within research after completing her post graduate in secondary physical education.

[2] The autoethnographic approach lends itself to naming the researcher in the first person and allows the use of I.



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To cite this paper please use the following details: Lynch, S. (2012), 'Do I really want to be a teacher? Despite the true negatives: An Autoethnography', Reinvention: an International Journal of Undergraduate Research, BCUR/ICUR 2013 Special Issue, Date accessed [insert date]. If you cite this article or use it in any teaching or other related activities please let us know by e-mailing us at Reinventionjournal at warwick dot ac dot uk.