The Development of Student Teachers’ Professional Identity

Feb. 28, 2010

Source: European Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 33, No. 1,
February 2010, 3–18.

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study investigates the short-term evolutions in student teachers’ perception of their professional identity and the effect of teacher education ‘milestones’ on this perception.

Research questions

This study focuses mainly on these research questions:
(1) Which professional identity profiles prevail in first-, second- and third-year students in a teacher preparation programme based on their perceptions of self-efficacy, their professional orientation and task orientation, and their commitment to teaching?

(2) Do first-year students’ perceptions of themselves as teachers – based on the above-mentioned indicators – evolve in the first six months of teacher education (this is before they have experience with teaching practice)?

(3) Are there shifts in students’ perceptions of themselves as teachers – based on the above-mentioned indicators – after workplace experience?

(4) Do personal variables such as gender, parents or other relatives in the teaching profession, subjects of teaching or experience with ‘working with children’ make a difference?


The study was carried out in the context of a three-year teaching programme in Flanders (Belgium) for lower secondary education teachers.

The study population consisted of students from three course years in the bachelor course for secondary school teachers teaching ‘general academic subjects’ (language, biology, history, mathematics, etc).
64 participants were first-year students who were enrolled for the first time to the program and who had no previous work placement experience. 61 participants were second-year students were involved because they had already gained work placement experience and 32 participants were third-year students.

Research Tools
Questionnaires were filled out by first-year, second-year and third-year students from two colleges. The questionnaire included four scales: commitment to teaching, professional orientation, task orientation and self-efficacy.


In the first five months of the first-year course, a shift in students’ task orientation was observed: students developed a more pupil-oriented approach in teaching. Self-confidence and commitment increased. Another shift occurred after workplace experience. Self-efficacy was affected, especially the sense of efficacy in classroom management.

At the same time the focus on discipline and transferring knowledge, typical for a content-oriented approach, decreased even further. Students with work placement experience developed a more ‘realistic’ view of learning and teaching compared to students without this experience. Finally, a further important difference in professional identity is based on students’ gender: while male students tend to attach more importance to discipline in the classroom, their female counterparts focus more on student involvement.

In conclusion, the authors suggest to build on students emerging professional identities from the beginning, inviting them to explore and articulate their perceptions, creating opportunities to experience the complexity of practice and providing systematic support.

Updated: Jul. 20, 2010