Teacher Identity under Reconstruction: Positional Analysis of Negotiations in an International Teacher Education Programme

April, 2021

Source: Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 46(4)

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The context of this study is an International Teacher Programme (ITP) implemented in Aceh, Indonesia.
The participants in this study are teachers working in private schools under the auspices of the Sukma Foundation and a mission to sustain peace in Aceh through education.
The programme was organized by Tampere University, Finland, and funded by the Sukma Foundation, Indonesia.
In addition to its educational expertise, Finland also played a part in peace negotiations in Aceh in 2005 through the involvement of the former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari as a mediator of the process.
Hence, the collaboration to implement the teacher education programme in Aceh comes together by considering the wider socio-historical and institutional context in this area.
The whole context is assumed to affect the processes related to the programme participants’ professional identity reconstruction investigated in this study.
This study aims to analyse the way teachers from Indonesia reconstruct their positioning in their identity narratives through negotiations in which both the individual plots and positionings may change.
The metaphor of the self as negotiated and dialogical space is used as the basis for the micro-level analysis of identity reconstruction (Akkerman & Meijer, 2011, p. 312).
The authors also aim to highlight the similarity of positionings the participants adopted to create meanings from their international experiences as a group, taking into account the individual, institutional and local contexts of their past and present.
The research questions for the study are the following:
• Concerning their teacher identity, what types of positionings are described by the participants in their narratives about the International Teacher Programme (ITP) experience?
• How does the post-conflict and post-disaster context manifest itself in the positioning processes described?

The study is qualitative, applying narrative methods as a broad methodological approach (Stanley & Temple, 2008).
Narrative methodology was applied in data collection, analyses and interpretations.
The study was carried out in an international teachers' master's degree programme (MDP), arranged as a collaborative venture between the Yayasan Sukma (Sukma Foundation) and Tampere University (TUNI). The schools aim to create a positive learning environment for children to overcome their trauma and contribute to rebuilding the educational system in the region.
Tampere University organized most of the degree programme courses in Bireuen, Aceh, and hosted the participants in Finland for five weeks during the 17-month-long programme.
To support distance learning and online communication between the teachers and the participants, an online platform was also established.
The Sukma Foundation and Tampere University also provided English-language support throughout the programme.
The programme participants were 30 teachers selected from the Sukma Bangsa Schools (SBS).
As teachers, their academic backgrounds and experience varied, as did the school level (elementary, junior and senior high school).
Before their involvement in the programme, they had also held various positions in schools: teacher, head of division, principal, and even school director.

Data Collection Process
The authors used narrative interviews to gather the primary data for this study.
These were conducted close to the end of the programme in 2017.
All 30 participants were invited to participate in the study and 13 volunteered for the interviews.
Hence, they were selected based on their willingness to be respondents.
They represented a diverse mix of educational backgrounds, locations, academic backgrounds, positions, and levels of work experience in the SBS.
Conversationally each interview lasted 40–100 minutes, during which participants were asked to narrate their experiences of the programme.
The interviews were then transcribed verbatim, including emotional expressions such as laughter and crying.

Data Analyses
The analyses followed a narrative methodology to understand the individual plots, positions and common episodes (Polkinghorne, 1995).

Findings and discussion
The first finding suggests a diversity of shared positions and repositioning in various episodes accompanied by changes in the teachers’ understanding of themselves as learners and teachers and their practice.
The second finding described a unique constellation of positions reflecting the post-conflict and post-disaster areas.
Those positions still influence the way the participants in this study narratively reconstruct their identities.
Trent (2011) described the international experience as a boundary experience that may cause discontinuity through oppositional affiliation based on an essentialist view on culture (Rizvi, 2005).
The authors’ findings support the notion that teacher identity construction in the international context is a complex negotiation of temporal, cultural and spatial contexts in dialogical relationships that challenge normality boundaries.
This negotiation may be possible when boundaries are viewed as dialogical phenomena, where socio-cultural differences indicated by boundary may lead to both ‘discontinuity in action or interaction’ and ‘simultaneously suggest the sameness and continuity in the sense that within discontinuity two or more sites are relevant to one another in a particular way’ (Akkerman & Bakker, 2011, p.133).
In this study, discontinuity might be perpetuated by the challenging context from which the participants came.
However, in the authors’ findings, repositioning allows participants to negotiate and connect previous knowledge about themselves and their practice with current knowledge, hence providing continuity in teacher identity (Arvaja, 2016).
By using narrative as a medium for teachers to make sense of their identity during learning in the International Teacher Programme (ITP), the authors gained a processual and relational understanding of identity reconstruction through repositioning along ‘cultural and structural relationship in which they are embedded and by the stories through which they constitute their identities’ (Sommers, 1994, p. 624).
Repositioning is also made possible due to an increase in the narrative capital available for participants to reconstruct their identities, supporting the innovation of the self (Hermans, 2008).
The capital includes resources, such as new positionings available during learning in the ITP.
These positionings include positions, storylines and awareness of the social forces informed by the individual, institutional and cultural scripts (Holstein & Gubrium, 2000).
The ITP provides an opportunity to reflect on these resources, which resulted in their revision and expansion.
As participants reposition themselves, there are simultaneous changes in their perceptions of themselves, their practices and their teachership in a particular context.
By making these narrative resources explicit, teachers are also supported to make changes with practical implications (Søreide, 2006).
In this study, the international teacher programme might be viewed as an opportunity to gradually enlarge narrative capital and support productive negotiation between various positions during learning.
An ITP can also serve as a learning process that supports both the discontinuity-continuity and unity-multiplicity of identity through the negotiation of various positions using narrative construction.
Additionally, findings in this study also highlight the permanence issue of teacher identity concerning its dynamic that will change continuously throughout the teachers' careers.
In conclusion, by exploring the narrative reconstruction of teacher identity in international programmes through positional analysis, the authors found that the possibility for change through negotiation is inclusive, varied, and – in some cases – productive.
It serves as an opportunity to find new positionings and create a new, contextual identity of being a teacher.

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Rizvi, F. (2005). Identity, culture and cosmopolitan futures. Higher Education Policy, 18(4), 331–339.
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Trent, J. (2011). Learning, teaching, and constructing identities: ESL pre-service teacher experiences during a short-term international experience programme. Asia Pacific Journal of Education, 31(2), 177–194. 

Updated: Nov. 22, 2021