Do Prospective Mathematics Teachers Teach Who They Say They Are?

Aug. 01, 2014

Source: Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education, Volume 17, No. 4 p. 369-392. (August 2014)

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The purpose of this case study is to investigate the professional mathematics teacher identity (PMTI) of prospective teachers in terms of how the individual perceives her professional identity and how that identity is actualised in the classroom.

The participants were six final year mathematics education students at the University of Pretoria: three female (White, Black, and Indian) and three male (one White and two Black).
Data were collected through a questionnaire, individual semi-structured interviews and class observations.


The participants were required to discuss and describe their own PMTI in terms of three aspects: mathematics specialisation, teaching-and learning specialisation, and caring. Subsequently, they were observed in the classroom, where the actualisation of their PMTI was considered in terms of the same three.

The participants’ perceptions of their own PMTI and the actualisation of that PMTI in the classroom were found not to be congruent.
These prospective teachers demonstrate that while they may certainly be teaching who they are, this is not necessarily who they think they are. They may believe that they are Mathematics Specialists, Teaching-and-learning Specialists, and Carers, but when they are observed at work in the classroom these specialisations are not necessarily, or at least not consistently evident.


These prospective teachers’ perceptions of their own PMTI and the manifestation of that PMTI in the classroom are not consistently congruent. Using the terminology of Argyris and Scho¨n (1974), their espoused theory and theory-in-use are not the same. If we accept that ‘‘we teach who we are’’, it must be with the understanding that this is not necessarily ‘‘who we say or think we are’’.
This study proves that incongruence between perceptions of PMTI and actual PMTI as manifested in classroom practice is a real possibility, in which case research of professional teacher identity which does not include observation of the teacher-in-action is incomplete.

This suggests that it is essential to observe those individuals in the classroom—it is very possible that who they say they are as teachers is not in fact who they actually are in the classroom. The definition of PMTI as given in this study, ‘‘who I am at this moment in this context’’ points to the significance of context: the saying and the doing of ‘‘who I am’’ take place in two different contexts, which is directly linked to what is espoused and what is put into action.

Updated: May. 17, 2016