Metaphorically drawing the transition into teaching: What early career teachers reveal about identity, resilience and agency

February 2022

Source: Teaching and Teacher Education Volume 110

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article examines the transition experiences of four successful early career teachers who concluded their Initial Teacher Education (ITE) programme with a strong sense of teacher identity.
In doing so, this research sought to investigate the following research question: how do teachers who enter the teaching profession with a strong sense of teacher identity experience their transition into the first year of teaching?
Metaphorical drawings and narratives were used to gain a deeper and more nuanced understanding of how teacher identity shaped responses during this important transition period.
In doing so, this article reveals how resilience emerged as a crucial link in the relationship between teacher identity and agency.
This shows that teacher identity, resilience and agency worked in tandem to shape how these four early career teachers responded to pressures encountered during their transition into the teaching profession.


Background to the study
This research formed part of a longitudinal study that examined the development of teacher identity in eight pre-service (primary) teachers who experienced a three-year Collaborative University School Partnership (CUSP) programme at the University of Waikato in Hamilton, New Zealand.
This article reports on phase two of this study, which sought to understand the experiences of preservice teachers as they transitioned into their first year of teaching.
While all eight pre-service teachers from phase one of the study were invited, only four participated in phase two of this study due to one relocating overseas, one returning to complete additional study, and two whose school of employment declined to participate in this research.

Research design
A longitudinal multiple case study design (Leonard-Barton, 1990) was used to examine how teacher identity shaped transition experiences in four early career teachers throughout their first year of teaching.
Each early career teacher provided a bounded case to examine the relationship between teacher identity, agency and resilience during this transition period.
While this paper focuses on phase two of this research (pre-service teachers’ transition experiences), it draws on data gathered during phase one of this research (identity development in pre-service teachers) to provide a comprehensive understanding of identity development in each “case” during this transition period.
Data included three semi-structured interviews with each of the four early career teachers (12 interviews in total), which took place -
1) immediately before commencing their teaching position,
2) after their first 10 weeks of teaching, and
3) after their first 36 weeks of teaching.
These time periods were chosen to understand each early career teachers' transition experiences at critical periods throughout the first year of teaching.
Each early career teacher was asked to draw and narrate a metaphor to illustrate their transitional experiences at the beginning of each of these interviews.
Interview questions aimed to elicit further narration, explanation and justification of their metaphoric drawings.
The intent, which was made clear to the participants in the initial information letter, was to gain deeper insight into the subtle nuances of their teacher identity and how this shaped their responses during this transition period.
For example, questions asked during one participant's second interview included:
why did you use a submarine to illustrate your teaching experiences your first 10 weeks of teaching?
What does the submarine represent? Who is inside the submarine? What can you see from inside the submarine?
These follow-up questions differed between each early career teacher to respond to the unique specificities of each participant's metaphoric drawings.

Data analysis
An analysis of metaphoric narratives, interview data and metaphoric drawings was undertaken to examine the relationship between identity, agency and resilience in each early career teachers' transition experiences.
Reed (2009) used thematic analysis to identify underlying themes in the narratives that accompanied metaphoric drawings in her research.
While Reed’s (2009) work offered little detail in terms of an analytic process, her conceptual design was extended in this research through two phases of analysis.
The first phase analysed data from each of the three semi structured interviews (0 weeks,10 weeks and 36 weeks of teaching), where each participant provided metaphoric narratives to accompany their metaphoric drawings at the beginning of the interview.
Thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006) was used to analyse emerging themes from these metaphoric narratives.
Phase two of this analysis employed legitimate peripheral participation (Lave & Wenger, 1991) as a theoretical tool to analyse data.
This enabled the relationship between identity, agency and resilience to be analysed within each time period (e.g., 0 weeks, 10 weeks and 36 weeks of teaching), and across the three time periods to provide a comprehensive understanding of this triadic relationship throughout this critical transition period.

Findings and discussion
James, Lotte, Jade and Sarah commenced their first teaching position with a strong sense of teacher identity.
Their metaphoric drawings and narratives revealed how this evoked a visionary foresight, enabling each teacher to “see past” their current pressures, challenges and fluctuating confidence, and “look forward” towards the transforming vision they held of their future teaching self.
Each early career teacher illustrated this ability to look towards the vision of their future teacher self in different ways in their metaphoric drawings (e.g., a periscope, a path, a window). This vision was grounded in an understanding of who they are and the type of learning environment they wanted to create for students.
They also recognised that achieving this vision required transformation to respond to their rapidly changing conceptions of self as they entered the teaching profession.
Recent interest in identity-agency has unveiled the importance of this type of agency in mediating an individual's experiences within their wider environment, requiring them to either depend, negotiate or transform their teacher self (Ruohotie-Lyhty, 2018).
This was evident in this study as James, Lotte, Jade and Sarah each transformed their personal image of teaching to align with their newfound understandings of the realities of teachers' work.
Metaphorically, this was depicted as visiting “the unvisited shops in the shopping mall”, engaging with the “underwater question marks”, and extending beyond the “parameters of the practicum box”.
This is where legitimate peripheral participation, as a theoretical tool, provides a useful lens to make sense of their transforming and reconstructed identities (Cobb, 2020; Lave & Wenger, 1991).
Upon entering their new learning communities, each early career teacher appeared to encounter individual and collective identities that differed from their own.
Rather than perceiving these conflicting identities as a threat, each early career teacher's strong sense of teacher self appeared to embrace this difference as a learning opportunity.
This “cognitive retooling” (Tsui & Law, 2007, p. 1290) seemed to create an openness, willingness and capacity to learn and transform their own vision of self that better reflected the realities within their new community of practice.
Legitimate peripheral participation, therefore, reminds us to place learning at the centre of these transitional spaces and consider how early career teachers respond to challenge by reconstructing conceptions of self through the brokering of new learning.
When taking a longitudinal view of James, Lotte, Jade and Sarah's identity development, this finding is not surprising, given that each of these early career teachers had developed a strong sense of teacher identity throughout their ITE programme (see Cobb et al., 2018; Harlow & Cobb, 2014).
The development of teacher identity in their ITE programme appeared to provide a robust foundation to become “identity brokers” (Cobb et al., 2018), reaffirming Ruohotie-Lyhty’s (2013) earlier assertion that ITE provides an essential platform for identity development.
However, while teacher identity provided each teacher with the ability to look towards their future teaching self, it was resilience that enabled them to access the necessary resources and support amidst pressure, challenge and fluctuating confidence to achieve a positive outcome.
Resilience gave James, Lotte, Jade and Sarah the ability to “keep their head above water”, “stay on the path”, “provide a protective submarine while underwater” and a “window to look through”.
For James, Lotte, Jade and Sarah, resilience acted as a mediator between identity and agency, particularly during this period of immense challenge, pressure and change.
Resilience provided each early career teacher with the ability to access the necessary tools to transform their vision of their teacher self and positively adapt to the complex and challenging realities of teaching.
These findings suggest that identity-resilience-agency is a triadic relationship that works in concert to orchestrate positive adaptation to pressure and challenge.
While Ruohotie-Lyhty (2018) maintains that defending, negotiating or transforming identities depends on teachers' ability to mediate conflict between internal self and external influences, this study goes further to suggest that resilience holds a key to this conflict mediation.
This identity-resilience-agency triadic relationship may also explain why some early career teachers leave the profession during the initial years of teaching, while others experience a more successful transition.
While previous research has pointed to factors that contribute to the competing demands and pressures during this induction phase, such as workload (House of Commons, 2017), working conditions (Borman & Maritza Dowling, 2008) and school culture (Patrick et al., 2010), this research adds to our understanding of why some teachers rise above these challenges to make an effective transition into the teaching profession.
Like Ruohotie-Lyhty (2013), this research also found that the demands and pressures of teaching still rested on the shoulders of associate teachers, which sheltered James, Lotte, Jade and Sarah from the realities of workload, competing demands and pressure.
However, unlike Le Maistre and Pare's (2010) suggestion that ITE needs to provide pre-service teachers with a realistic understanding of teachers' work, this research suggests that these early career teachers were aware of these elements, they just hadn't had the opportunity to “visit those stores” or take full responsibility in a way that would enable them to “extend beyond the limits of the practicum requirements”.
Adding more challenge, stress and demand to the practicum experience may not be either possible or necessary to sufficiently prepare pre-service teachers for this critical induction period.
Rather, as James, Lotte, Jade and Sarah have shown, working to strengthen teacher identity during this preservice period may provide a much more effective foundation to activate both resilience and agency during this transitional period.

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Updated: May. 02, 2022