'That's not Treating you as a Professional': Teachers Constructing Complex Professional Identities through Talk

Apr. 15, 2008

Source: Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, Volume 14, Issue 2
April 2008 , pages 79 – 93

Public debates about the role of teachers and teacher performance place teachers at the center of a range of national and local discourses. The notion of teacher professional identity, therefore, framed in a variety of ways, engages people across social contexts, whether as educators, parents, students, taxpayers, voters or consumers of news and popular media. These highly contested discourses about teachers' roles and responsibilities constitute an important context for research on teachers and teaching, as researchers and educators ask how changes to the teaching profession affect teacher professional identity.

This article investigates the identity talk of three mid-career teachers in an urban, public school in the USA, to better understand how the teachers used language to accomplish complex professional identities. Research approaches to teacher identity often focus on teacher narrative as a key tool in identity formation. The analysis presented here extends our understanding of language as a resource in teacher identity construction by using discourse analysis to investigate how speakers use implicit meaning to accomplish the role identity of teacher. The analytical lens draws on an interdisciplinary framework that combines a sociological approach to teacher as a role identity with an investigation of language as a cultural practice, grounded in the ethnography of communication.

The analysis focuses on how teachers use specific discourse strategies - reported speech, mimicked speech, pronoun shifts, oppositional portraits, and juxtaposition of explicit claims - to construct implicit identity claims that, while they are not stated directly, are central to accomplishing teacher as a role identity. The analysis presented here focuses on the particular implicit role claim of teacher as collaborator. Findings show that, in their identity talk, the teachers strategically positioned themselves in relation to others and to institutional practices, actively negotiating competing discourses about teacher identity by engaging in a counter discourse emphasizing teachers' professional role as

knowledge producers rather than information deliverers, collaborative, rather than isolated, and as agents of change engaged in critical analysis to plan action. Awareness of how these counter discourses operate in the teachers' conversation helps us better understand the cultural significance of identity talk as a site for the negotiation of the significances for the role identity of teacher. In addition, the notions of role identity and implicit identity claims offer an accessible way to talk about the complexity of teacher identity, which can be helpful for increasing awareness of the importance of teacher identity in teacher education and professional development, and in bringing teachers' voices more prominently into the debates over education.

Updated: Nov. 23, 2008