Struggling for a Professional Identity: Two Newly Qualified Language Teachers’ Identity Narratives during the First Years at Work

From Section:
Beginning Teachers
Feb. 24, 2013

Source: Teaching and Teacher Education, Volume 30, February 2013, p. 120-129.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The purpose of this article was to examine how two newly qualified teachers constructed their identity.
This study addresses to the following research questions:
1. How do the two teachers use their identity, their self-stories, in interpreting the experiences they face. and
2. In which ways does their identity develop through the process of making sense of their experiences?

This study is part of a larger longitudinal research project in Finland.
The participants were two female newly qualified teachers.
The two participants were qualified foreign language teachers with a master’s degree in the same language subject and minor studies in education.

The data include the two participants’ essays written before entering full-time teaching and dealing with their goals and ideas related to language teaching as well as four focused in-depth interviews with the two teachers, reflective essays and informal e-mail messages that were collected during their first four years in the profession.


The findings reveal that the participants’ stories display two different experience narratives: a painful and an easy beginning.
Despite the same teacher education programme and the same kind of working environment, these cases represented two clearly different ways of experiencing the induction phase.

One teacher, Taina, experienced her beginning in the profession as very difficult and doubted her ability to continue as a teacher.
She faced a school reality that violently challenged her belief in herself as a subject teacher.
A teacher’s work was composed of factors that she did not connect to her vague understanding of a language teacher.
The work was not primarily constituted of teaching a language but of human interaction.
Therefore, the storytelling process, that she adopts, does not lead to reconstruction of a positive teacher identity, but to development of two separate identities: ideal and forced identity that are in constant conflict.
The victimic stance Taina adopts also severely restricts her agency as a teacher.

Opposed to these experiences, the other teacher Suvi felt that her transition to the profession was much easier with a high level of satisfaction and conviction about her being able to succeed as a teacher.
The ease with which Suvi passed into professional life can be understood from the perspective of her initial teacher identity, which was well suited to the realities of the school and which enabled purposeful agency, continuing professional identity development and orientation from the outset.

This study supports the idea of a violent impact that the induction period can have on teachers’ self-understanding.
Understanding teachers’ induction from the perspective of a possible identity crisis can open up ways of supporting newly qualified teachers in their professional development, both during their teacher studies and during the induction phase.

The author claims that when exploring the two teachers’ initial identities and their different starts in professional life, Suvi’s teacher identity, which was based on educational considerations and a strong preparedness to build a relationship with pupils, was well suited to school realities.
On the other hand subject pedagogical considerations connected to self doubt did not sufficiently prepare a teacher for facing the expectations making up school life.
This seems to suggest that educational perspectives and relational skills should be given adequate attention in initial teacher education.

This article shows that teacher induction can pose a severe risk to an uncertain teacher identity.
This is why also support in the induction phase is crucial in enabling newly qualified teachers to develop their professional identity.

Updated: Dec. 23, 2019
Beginning teachers | Concept formation | Language | Longitudinal studies | Narratives | Professional identity | Teaching experience