Constructing A Critical Professional Identity Among Teacher Candidates During Service-Learning

Sep. 01, 2013

Source: Professional Development in Education, Vol. 40, Issue 3, p. 1-19. 2013
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article aims to examine the process of critical professional identity development as it was perceived by the teacher candidates who participated in the service-learning programme.

This article is based on a case study of a service-learning programme held in a teachers’ training college in Israel.
The programme was held in a teacher education college in Israel over a four-year period, 2005–2008.
The programme included three-hour-long weekly sessions in a community centre, an academic course and teacher candidates’ action research.
Each teacher candidate took part in 30 weekly sessions, including home visits, and worked with at least one child; some worked with a group of children.

The participants were 18 teacher candidates participated in the programme.
The ages of the participants ranged from 25 to 36; they came from different socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, characteristic of Israeli society in general.
The development of a critical professional identity is examined in relation to the post-structural perspective of service-learning, to the post-modern theories of identity development and to the critical pedagogy approach.


This study presents three main processes that took place in the development of a critical professional identity among teacher candidates during service-learning.
These processes included the following:
(1) Deconstructing stereotypes through engagement with the ‘other’.
(2) Coping with difficulties, dilemmas or conflicts that arise from dialogue with the ‘other’.
(3) Shifting from a hegemonic professional perception to a dialogic one.

The study also suggests various practices that are beneficial to those processes, such as visiting the ‘other’s’ neighbourhood; visiting the ‘other’s’ home to become acquainted with the family; documenting meaningful events in a field journal; identifying and confronting problematic events; coping with difficulties, dilemmas and conflicts that emerged during dialogue with the ‘other’; conducting action research to deal with meaningful events that came up during community experiences and examining their contribution to teacher candidates’ professional development; and presenting the main conclusions of the action research at the culminating conference for programme graduates.

The teacher candidates perceive their critical professional identity development as a lengthy process that includes their encounters with the ‘other’ and learning through their community-service experiences.
The process of development is gradual and includes physical border-crossing by entering the ‘other’s’ ‘territory’, cultural and social border-crossing by authentic and direct observation of the reality in which the ‘other’ lives and encounters with the ‘other’s’ family and home culture. As time goes by, teacher candidates visit their student’s homes, thus strengthening their acquaintances with them, their families and their cultures.
These encounters provide new insights into the reality of the ‘other’ and the reality of all those who live in poverty.

This exposure to the ‘other’s’ reality encourages the teacher candidates to examine their values, perceptions and practices.
It also encourages them to raise questions regarding ‘webs of interlocution’, while requiring them to re-dispose themselves in relation to disadvantaged populations.
These processes arouse empathy in the teacher candidates and aid them in exchanging their sense of alienation for a sense of belonging.

Strengthening their acquaintance with the ‘other’ and his family requires teacher candidates to confront stereotypes and to examine conflicting values, norms and lifestyles.
Thus, contradictions may arise between the values representing the child’s home culture and the teacher candidate’s own values.
Their identities develop both through accommodating the commitments and values by which they were educated and through the conflicts and tensions existing between them and those of the ‘other’.

The development of a critical professional identity includes a deconstruction of the traditional–hegemonic perception and a reconstruction of the dialogic perception.
The teacher candidates begin their community service with a traditional–hegemonic professional perception.
This is expressed through their attitude toward knowledge of the ‘Great Narratives’, the centrality of the teacher in the teaching process and their often patronising attitude toward the disadvantaged population’s cultures.
During service-learning, however, they develop a dialogic perception.
The teacher candidates understand that they are learning from the children, just as the children are learning from them.
This realisation transforms the children into meaningful figures in the teacher candidates’ view.

The authors conclude that educators having a critical professional identity are expected to challenge the existing social order, to question the existing power relations in society, and to split the institutional forces that intensify and perpetuate social gaps.

Updated: Jun. 08, 2015