Multiple Dimensions of Teacher Identity Development from Pre-service to Early Years of Teaching: A Longitudinal Study

Jan. 15, 2017

Source: Journal of Education for Teaching, Vol. 43, No. 1, 84–98, 2017
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study utilises three dimensions of identity construction (multiplicity vs. unity; social vs. individual; discontinuity vs. continuity) to examine how teachers describe their different roles, how they develop dialogical relations among multiplicity.

This study employed a qualitative, longitudinal study design that followed a cohort of five pre-service teachers for four years until they were in their third year teaching.
The participants were four females and one male, of whom four were Caucasians and one Asian American. They completed the Secondary Science Teacher Certificate Programme together at a large Southeastern University in the USA.
Data were collected through three waves of interviews.


The findings showed that all participants’ initial identity positions, except one female, have changed, either slightly or radically, during the course of this study. They experienced disequilibrium among different identity positions during the change, which confirms existing research that disequilibrium is considered essential for changes to occur. However, disequilibrium itself is not enough to propel the change.
This study also showed that these teachers’ multiple identity positions and the conflicts among them are not bounded within the classroom teaching domain or instructional and pedagogical issues.

The results of this study also foreground the significant role of a supportive social environment in teacher identity development. The findings demonstrated that, even when a teacher was reluctant, and fear sometimes prevailed over motivation, support from administrators, colleagues and parents helped the teacher develop more confidence and expertise.

The authors also argue that when pre-service teachers experience disequilibrium, instability and a sense of vulnerability, it is critical for teacher educators to create a safe space where disequilibrium is recognised as an important and necessary step for development, so that pre-service teachers can openly talk about this developmental process and vulnerable feelings and seek help when difficulties arise, instead of suppressing concerns.

Lastly, the longitudinal data of this study shows the importance of moving beyond a snapshot approach and taking, instead, a longer term perspective to fully understand the changing nature of teacher identity.
Capturing the dialogical dynamic or negotiation between two opposing tenets of identity development (multiple vs. unity, social vs. individual and continuity vs. discontinuity) encourages researchers and teacher educators to move beyond dichotomous understandings about teachers’ lives, and to overcome characterising teachers using single and static descriptors. This comprehensive framework adds to the current teacher identity theories and provides a springboard for empirical investigations for future teacher identity research endeavours, while suggesting implications for pre-service teachers, beginning teachers, teacher educators and school administrators.

Updated: Jun. 27, 2017


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