Teacher Investment in Learner Identity

Jan. 02, 2009

Source: Teaching and Teacher Education, Volume 25, Issue 1, January 2009, P. 34-41
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

From a sociocultural perspective, teacher identity is constructed in relation to others, including other teachers and students. Drawing on positioning theory and the concept of investment, this study analyzed the case of a secondary English teacher who negotiated his teacher identity in relation to English language learners (ELLs).

Data Collection

Data come from a larger one-year mixed method study of secondary content area teachers of ELLs. Quantitative data on teachers' attitudes and perceptions were gathered through a large-scale survey of 279 high school teachers in a large southeastern U.S. school district that was just beginning to see substantive growth in its ELL enrollment. Qualitative data in the form of case studies were collected on teachers' experiences with ELL inclusion in four secondary content area classrooms. The teacher (identified through the pseudonym Neal) discussed in this report was among the four participants in the qualitative inquiry.


Neal was a young teacher in his mid-20s who had worked with few ELLs in his English language arts classes. He had taught approximately 12 ELLs in his four years of teaching, and during the course of the study Neal taught four ELLs across two classes. Neal, like the great majority of his teaching colleagues at Eaglepoint High School (a pseudonym), was white (approximately 80% of Eaglepoint faculty) and a native speaker of English (99% of faculty). Neal had some beginning conversational ability in Spanish, but he never used Spanish with his Spanish-speaking students as a point of principle. Neal had not participated in any pre-service or in-service training for working with ELLs.

Neal's school site was one of 12 high schools in a large county-wide school district. During the year of the study, 32 students (1.6%) at the high school were identified as non-English language background (NELB).

Findings indicated that the teacher made an investment in ELLs' identity by positioning them as like any other student. The desired return on the teacher's investment was a strengthened self-positioning as a natural and highly competent teacher. The implications of teacher investment in learner identity for teacher practice, learner identity construction, and teacher education are discussed.

Updated: Jan. 05, 2009