Teacher Identity Development in the First Year of Teacher Education: A Developmental and Social Psychological Perspective

Oct. 01, 2013

Source: Teaching and Teacher Education, Volume 36, (November, 2013), p. 23-32.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article reports on a pilot study that examined the predictors of teacher identity from a developmental perspective.

Specifically, this study had several goals to:
(a) describe the associations between aspects of personal and social identity, generativity, and the development of teacher identity in first year teaching students; and
(b) examine which aspects of personal and social identity, and generativity predict teacher identity after controlling for a number of relevant covariates (such as gender, age, previous experience with children, prior academic achievement, and enrollment status).
A further aim of the study was to discuss the theoretical and research implications of considering professional teacher identity from a developmental and social psychological perspective in light of the results from the present analysis.

The study relied on Erikson’s (1964) theory of identity development and Turner, Oakes, Haslam, and McGarty’s (1994) self-categorization theory.


The participants were 109 students, who enrolled in the first year child and adolescent development course and pursuing a teacher qualification at any level (early childhood, primary, or secondary) at a New Zealand university.
The participants completed an electronic online questionnaire


The results showed that there were significant associations between each of the study variables and teacher identity.
Increased levels of personal and social identities and generativity were all moderately to strongly associated with increased teacher identity.
Furthermore, participants who had become parents and those with previous experience working with children showed higher levels of teacher identity compared with non-parents and those without experience working with children.
In addition, there was a small marginally significant association between age of the participants and teacher identity, with older participants tending toward higher teacher identity.
Furthermore, personal identity development remained a significant predictor of teacher identity after controlling for the other social identities (student and ethnic identity) and generativity, and after including the control variables.
Higher levels of teacher identity were significantly associated with increased personal identity development, higher student identity, becoming a parent, and to a small extent younger age and female gender.

The findings provide some preliminary evidence of the potential utility of adopting such an approach, and point to a number of future research directions that may continue to illuminate the pathways and processes of conceptualizing oneself as a teacher.
To begin, the authors found that among all the key variables, teacher identity was rated the highest over personal identity, student identity, ethnic identity, and generativity.
This suggests that these first year teaching students are either coming to the teacher education program with an early and strong identification as a teacher, or that this identification quickly develops in the first semester of their program.
The current results suggest that previous experience with children, either as a parent or working with children in some other capacity, may be one of these important life-course experiences.


This study suggests that those who have a well-formed sense of personal identity are more likely to be ready to begin the process of forming a professional identity.
The findings also point to the potential value of pursuing an understanding of professional teacher identity as a developmental and social psychological process.

The combination of these two theoretical perspectives has the potential to highlight life-course and cultural experiences that might be distinctive across particular groups of people or geographic regions, but also processes of assimilation and acculturation within teacher education programs that lead to self-categorization regardless of culture or location.
For teacher educators, the present study highlights the need to be cognizant of the following issues.

First, initial teacher education programs have the potential to facilitate or interfere with identity development at both the personal and social level.
Providing an opportunity for individuals to explore their personal identity in conjunction with learning the values and norms associated with the teaching profession can facilitate the self-categorization process leading to a professional identity.
Second, students rely on life-course experiences that inform their early teacher identity.
Therefore, teacher educators may need to sensitively challenge students’ pre-conceived notions of what it means to be a teacher, as many students at entry to a teacher education program may not have taken the time to adequately explore why they want to be a teacher.


Erikson, E. H. (1964). Childhood and society (2nd ed.). Oxford, England: W. W. Norton & Co.

Turner, J. C., Oakes, P. J., Haslam, S. A., & McGarty, C. (1994). Self and collective: cognition and social context. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 20(5), 454-463.

Updated: Oct. 14, 2015