Tracing a Beginning Elementary Teacher’s Development of Identity for Science Teaching

May. 25, 2014

Source: Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 65(3), p. 223–240, 2014
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The purpose of this case study was to document the development of a beginning elementary teacher identity for science teaching at the elementary school. In doing so, this study traces the experiences throughout her life in various contexts and examines how those impacted the development of her identity for science teaching.

The participant was a female beginning elementary teacher, who enrolled in an elementary teacher preparation program in a private university in a Southern European country.
Several kinds of data were collected over a period of 5 years through different sources: interviews, journal entries, drawing assignments, biographical assignments, lesson plans, and classroom observations.


The findings of the data analysis are presented under the following four main themes.

1. Discourse identity: embracing and enacting scientific inquiry
In examining a female beginning elementary teacher’s development of identity for science teaching, it became apparent that toward the end of her university studies, she was enthusiastic about science and was thinking about science teaching in contemporary ways.
In describing her philosophy of science teaching, the beginning elementary teacher emphasized four different approaches that were useful in assessing her evolving identity: (a) the use of a variety of teaching strategies to address all children’s needs, (b) engaging students in argumentation, (c) engaging students in inquiry-based science, and (d) teaching science in informal learning environments.
The analysis of the data showed that reform ideas (i.e., scientific inquiry) featured centrally in the beginning elementary teacher’s science teaching identity.

2. Affinity Identity: The Impact of Relationships and Science Learning Experiences
The relationships and experiences the beginning elementary teacher had as a science learner throughout her life impacted the development of her identity for science teaching. The analysis of the data showed that the participant’s experiences throughout her preparation were filtered through the lens of her past learning experiences in her schooling years (i.e., young, friendly female instructors at university versus middle age, strict male science teachers).
Moreover, it has become evidenced in the analysis of the data that certain experiences appeared to be critical to the development of the beginning elementary teacher’s science teaching identity. The participant had an interest in science as a young girl, which she then started to lose due to the negative experiences she had in elementary school.

3. Nature Identity: Women in Science
The analysis of the data showed that the participant noted negative experiences with strict male science teachers in elementary through high school. She viewed her male science teachers at school as being “weird” and her female instructor at the university as inspiring.

4. Institution Identity: The Role of the Context
The institutional perspective on identity is examined through the lens of situation or context. The analysis of data illustrated that three main contexts impacted participant’s development of identity for science teaching: the context of university, the field experience context, and the first-year-of-teaching context. The experiences she had, as a learner of science at university, appeared to be crucial for participant’s development of identity for science teaching. She enjoyed science in the courses she took at the university, which contrasts the experiences she had in her schooling years as a learner of science.


What we can learn from this case study is that the development of a teacher’s science teaching identity is a complex and multidimensional process, which is influenced by the combination of a great number of experiences situated within various contexts. As revealed in the findings, the participant did not have a strong science identity as a young learner of science. She articulated no enthusiasm about science and was unable to share many critical experiences with science across her schooling years. A shift in her identity occurred when she went to university and gained an interest in science because she was provided with opportunities to think and do science in contemporary ways. Despite the negative experiences she had in her field experience, she maintained her strong identity and interest in science, which she was able to enact during her first year of teaching.

The analysis of the data showed that participant’s developing identity for science teaching was reform minded, placing an emphasis on scientific inquiry. The findings illustrate the impact of the teacher preparation program on participant’s identity development for teaching science in ways that are in line with reform recommendations. Using this case study, the author argues about the important role of teacher preparation in supporting preservice elementary teachers to develop reform-minded science teaching identities.

In terms of policy, the findings call for attention to the ways in which mentor teachers are selected to participate in a field experience program and the kinds (if any) of training they receive to be able to support prospective elementary teachers.
Furthermore, the author has used a combination of two theoretical frameworks to examine the multifaceted and complex nature of the participant’s development of a science teaching identity: identity and narrative. A combination of these two frameworks helped shed light on the role of the various contexts in the development of participant ’s institution identity. There are, the author argues, certain strengths in the intersection of these two approaches to examine teacher identity.

Updated: Oct. 31, 2016