Imagining, Becoming, and Being a Teacher: How Professional History Mediates Teacher Educator Identity

Aug. 01, 2011

Source: Studying Teacher Education, Vol. 7, No. 2, August 2011, 121–129.
(reviewed by the Portal Team)

The context of this self-study is a professional development project involving primary-grade teachers in one public school and two university teacher educators.
The authors had worked together with these teachers in a year-long project to create curriculum plans and materials for integrated literacy and social studies instruction.
Their common goal was to enhance student learning in both curricular areas.

The authors thought their experiences as teachers grounded and strengthened their work as teacher educators.
The authors began to realize that their connections to the classroom were not apparent to the teachers.
In their eyes, the authors' membership in the culture of public schools had been abandoned when they moved to the university.
To them, the authors were outsiders – citizens of a different community of practice.
The authors' growing awareness of the teachers’ apparent views of them led them to wonder about the teacher within each of them – their professional identities– and how these were shaped by their teaching histories.

Examining their Professional Histories
The authors are two teacher educators who are both former public school elementary-grade teachers.
The aim of this self-study was to illuminate their understanding of their own professional identities as teachers.
The authors looked for insights about how their teacher identity may have been shaped throughout their individual histories.
The question that framed this self-study was, “How is the professional identity of teacher educators mediated by their prior experience as teachers?”

The authors independently created retrospective narratives of their teaching histories, recording key events in their development as teachers and teacher educators.
They read and reread these narratives, identified categories and perspectives that cut across them, coded the data, and formulated a descriptive picture of their experiences.
The authors also shared their analysis with a critical friend at several stages of the analysis. The process revealed stories of imagining themselves as teachers, becoming teachers, and being teachers.

Conclusion: Extending their self-understanding

Analysis of their narratives revealed that fundamental aspects of their teacher identity have remained constant as their careers have evolved.
Regardless of the setting, the age of their students, or the expanded expectations of the university to engage in research and professional service, the authors are, first and foremost, teachers.

In particular, both of the authors grew comfortable with the idea that one who assumes the role of teacher has an obligation to those he or she teaches, both collectively and individually.
The authors discovered the rewarding feelings of being a teacher when learning takes place. Most importantly, both of them felt called to teach.
These aspects of their identity have not been abandoned.
Rather, they remain central to their professional identity.

Their formative experiences are quite likely common to other teachers.
Their desire and inclination to teach others from an early age places them in the mainstream with many other teachers.

The most critical juncture in their narratives, then, lies in their account of becoming and being teacher educators.
It is, after all, the apparent contrast between the lives of teachers and the lives of teacher educators that ignited their inquiry about the mediating influence of prior experience on the ongoing development of their professional identities.

Their narratives about becoming teachers remind them of the particular obligation the authors have as teacher educators because of their potential to influence those who will teach others. Likewise, examining their experiences as classroom teachers has deepened their understanding of the relationship between teachers and learners.
Even though the authors recall different events in their lives as teachers, it is their stories about the children and their visions of what is possible that provide the essence of our identity as teachers.
Their stories of learning to teach became compelling reminders of the powerful influence of teacher educators, for good or ill, on the novice teachers with whom they work.
Like the authors, the teacher candidates they teach have chosen to be teachers, and they are reminded of their responsibility to encourage, challenge, question and correct, but to do so empathetically.

This self-study demonstrates that in their future work, they can expect to encounter classroom teachers who are likely to focus on differences in context and make judgments about their identity as teachers.
Ultimately, the purpose of this self-study was to enhance the authors' future relationships with classroom teachers, with a goal of making deeper connections with them.

Updated: Jan. 08, 2014