From the imagined to the practiced: A case study on novice EFL teachers’ professional identity change in China

Apr. 20, 2013

Source: Teaching and Teacher Education, Volume 31, (April, 2013), p. 79-86.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article examines the change of four novice EFL teachers’ professional identities in the first years of teaching in K-12 schools in China.

The current study adopted a qualitative approach.
Data were collected from variety of data sources, i.e., individual interviews with the participants, journal protocols written by the participants relating their reflections on their teaching and life as EFL teachers, and observations on their classroom teaching.
The participants were four female fourth-year undergraduate students in a B.A. program for EFL teacher education at a university in Beijing, China.


The professional identities of the participants underwent notable changes in the first three years of their teacher careers.
In the pre-service stage, their professional identities, namely the imagined identities, were mainly cue-based and exemplar-based.
The major sources of these imagined identities seemed to be their learning experiences either as EFL learners or as pre-service EFL teachers in the teacher education program.

Afterward, when they became inservice and officially acquired the teacher role, the imagined identities soon fell apart in all cases except one.
New practiced identities were constructed, which were more rule-based or schema-based. The author argues that institutional rules, which were the immediate source of rule-based identity formation, and, authentic, dynamic educational contexts, which were of vital importance in the formation of schema-based identities, abounded in the life world of novice EFL teachers.

However, teacher education programs seemed unable to reproduce environments similar to those novice EFL teachers face when they become in-service.
The rule-based practiced identities were not equally flexible: they were institutionally formulated and thus rather behavior- or task-specific.
Therefore, they would not be likely to transfer to other situations, even though these situations were similar or relevant.

The findings also revealed that agency also contributed considerably to the identity change in novice EFL teachers. In sum, the findings suggest that
(1) novice teachers’ cue-based or exemplar-based imagined identities may change into rule-based or schema-based practiced identities as mediated by the mixed influences of the institutional contexts of school and the dynamic educational contexts; and that
(2) the institutional pressures seem to cause the imagined identities to be negatively replaced, but the teacher’s perseverance and agency in seeking opportunities of professional development may ultimately determine the positive evolution of the imagined identities.


Based on the findings, some implications may be discerned.
First, EFL teacher educators may need to intentionally provide more opportunities for pre-service teachers to understand the teaching profession from a more realistic perspective rather than purely based on imagination.
Second, perseverance and agency should be further emphasized by teacher trainers and administrators in novice teachers’ development so that the direction of the change of their professional identities can be more effectively and positively guided.

Updated: Feb. 08, 2015