Profiles and Change in Beginning Teachers’ Professional Identity Tensions

Jul. 01, 2013

Source: Teaching and Teacher Education, Volume 34 (July, 2013), p. 86-97.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study attempts to profile beginning teachers according to their professional identity tensions.
These profiles regards beginning teachers' changing role from student to teacher, their care for students and their orientations towards learning to teach The study addresses to the following research questions:
1. What sort of profiles in beginning teachers’ professional identity tensions can be found?
2.To what extent are professional identity tensions, as represented in these profiles, subject to change?

The participants were 373 beginning teachers in the Netherlands, who completed a questionnaire, which was based on the list of 13 tensions derived from both the literature study and interviews.
Forty two of these teachers completed the questionnaire twice.


The findings showed that professional identity tensions were classified into three themes:
(1) the changing role from being a student to becoming a teacher,
(2) conflicts between desired and actual support given to students, and
(3) conflicting conceptions of learning to teach.

The cluster analysis of these tensions revealed that the participants could be classified into six different profiles, namely: teachers struggling with (views of) significant others, teachers with care-related tensions, teachers with responsibility-related tensions, moderately tense teachers, tension-free teachers, and troubled teachers.

It was found that teachers struggling with (views of) significant others mainly experienced tensions around conflicting orientations regarding learning to teach.
Since these teachers did not (easily) adapt to others’ orientations regarding learning to teach, but strongly adhered to their own orientations, it seems likely that they put a high value on their own agency.
These teachers seemed to want to feel in control of the choices they made in their work, which were based on their own interest and motivations.
However, they felt limited in experiencing agency by the conflicting orientations of others regarding learning to teach.

Teachers with care-related tensions mainly experienced tensions around the desired and actual support they give their students.
The fact that these teachers wanted to do a good job in fulfilling their students’ or pupils’ needs, but had a hard time accepting that they were not always capable of doing so, is in congruence with the literature on dilemmas that have to do with the caring role of teachers.

Moderately tense teachers experienced tensions across all three themes - ‘the changing role from being a student to becoming a teacher’, ‘conflicts between desired and actual support given to students’, and ‘conflicting conceptions of learning to teach’.
None of these three themes was experienced to a high extent and none clearly stood out.
Teachers with responsibility-related tensions were mainly concerned about the changing role from being a student to becoming a teacher.

Tension-free teachers and troubled teachers were, in fact, contrary profiles: a relatively large number of tension-free teachers did not experience any or very few professional identity tensions, whereas a few troubled teachers experienced many tensions across all three themes.
Beginning teachers who could be profiled as tension-free teachers possibly did not, in the first place, perceive the teaching profession as a profession for life.
They may not plan on having a long career as a teacher, if, for example, they become disaffected with their choice.
Furthermore, 30 of the 42 beginning teachers who completed the questionnaire twice changed profiles after the transition period from student teacher to in-practice teacher.
The authors found that the number of tensions that beginning teachers experienced in the second period was lower than in the first period.

Compared with their final year as a student teacher, first-year in-practice teachers experienced fewer tensions regarding ‘the changing role from being a student to becoming a teacher’ and ‘conflicts between desired and actual support given to students’.
However, 'tensions that concerned ‘conflicting conceptions on learning to teach’ appeared to be rather persistent.
The authors argue that many beginning teachers change profiles when they make the transition from being a student teacher to their first year as an in-practice teacher.
This shows that the themes reflected by the tensions are not stable at the beginning of the teaching career.
The results of this study provide empirical support for the fact that professional identity tensions may be subject to change and thus may be affected by the support and other activities provided by teacher educators or mentors in schools.

Implications for practice

Profiles thus may serve as a tool for resolving professional identity tensions.
The authors believe the profiles in this study could help teacher educators to recognise their student teachers’ tensions.
It also makes it possible for teacher educators to use profiles as a reflection tool for their student teachers.
Profiles can stimulate associations and links that beginning teachers have with certain tensions
The profiles, themes, and tensions provide a language for such reflection.
Furthermore, beginning teachers can be encouraged to discuss their own tensions with teacher educators or peers in consultation or reflection sessions.

Updated: Mar. 16, 2015