Preservice teachers learning to teach and developing teacher identity in a teacher residency

September 2021

Source: Teaching Education, 32:3, 269-285

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study aims to contribute to existing teacher education literature by studying a group of preservice teachers who participated in a year-long teacher residency program and examining the impact of the residency teaching and learning experiences on their teacher identity construction.
This study aimed to answer the following two research questions:
How did a group of preservice teachers participating in a year-long teacher residency describe their teacher identity development in the residency?
What aspects of the residency were found as important in facilitating the participants’ identity development as teachers?


Research context
This qualitative study was part of a larger project that examined the development and implementation of a state-mandated policy that required a year-long residency component for all university-based teacher education programs in the state of Louisiana, United States.
The program studied in this project was located in Southern State University (pseudonym, SSU hereafter), a mid-sized public university in northeast Louisiana, and three surrounding school districts that partnered with SSU in the residency by placing SSU undergraduate preservice teachers, called residents, in their schools for two consecutive semesters to fulfill the year-long residency requirement.
Data reported in this article were collected during the 2017–2018 school year where SSU participated in a pilot before the residency requirement officially took effect in Fall 2018.

Participants of this study were five SSU residents, who were conducting their residency teaching at four different public elementary schools at the time of this study.
They all volunteered to participate and gave informed consent before data collection.
Purposeful and snowball sampling strategies were used to select and recruit potential participants with diverse professional backgrounds in terms of grade level, subject area, and school type (Creswell & Poth, 2017).
The final sample was also representative of the demographic composition of the program.

Data collection and analysis
Qualitative data were collected through classroom observations, in-depth interviews, and document and artifact analysis.
Three to four observations were conducted for each participant throughout the residency year during their co-teaching/planning with their mentors.
Field notes were taken to capture how residents enacted their teacher identity in teaching and related activities, such as classroom management and interactions with students and their mentors.
The author conducted individual, semi-structured interviews with each participant towards the end of the residency year.
They were asked to reflect on their residency experiences and describe their sense of teacher identity experienced by themselves and perceived by their mentors and students.
Relevant documents and materials, including resident lesson plans, reflection journals, mentor training materials, and observation and evaluation rubrics, were also examined.
Data collected from multiple sources were triangulated in order to improve the consistency and trustworthiness of the results (Creswell & Poth, 2017).
Data analysis went through the entire data collection process and a constant comparative approach was used to analyze the collected data in an ongoing way (Corbin & Strauss, 2015).
The codes and themes were developed and modified iteratively throughout the data collection and analysis process: adding and revising codes when new content was coded, merging overlapping ones, and eliminating redundant and ambiguous ones.

Findings and discussion
Previous research has suggested that teacher identity development is a continuous and evolving process (Hong et al., 2017; Yuan & Mak, 2018).
Participants in this study similarly experienced an ongoing identity construction and negotiation from one that was closer to ‘student’ or ‘student teacher’ in the beginning of the residency to one as ‘student teacher’ or ‘teacher’ when completing the residency year.
Their identity in the residency can be best described as ‘teacher-in-becoming’ because while they were teaching and assuming other responsibilities as teachers at school, they were still in the process of learning about teaching and figuring out what it meant to be a teacher.
The residency as an in-between, ‘third space’ (Bhabha, 1994) enabled the residents to cross boundaries between university and school (Zeichner et al., 2015) and facilitated their identity shift from primarily located in the university space to increasingly connected with the professional, school community.
Teacher identity development is also a social process that is situated in teacher community of practice and in relation to other members in the teacher and school communities (Holland et al., 1998; Lave & Wenger, 1991; Ruohotie-Lyhty & Moate, 2016).
The residency as a hybrid, in-between space acknowledged and fostered the participants’ ‘teacher-inbecoming’ status and constituted the social contexts for them to establish relationships with and gain legitimacy among key members in the school community (Wenger, 1998).
Unlike student teachers in shorter student teaching practicum (Johnston, 2016), residents in the year-long residency had abundant opportunities to take part in a wide range of school activities and maintain sustained relationships with fellow teachers, students, parents and other members in the school community.
It was through their legitimate peripheral participation in teaching and other school activities and relation-building in the residency that preservice teachers were socialized into the teaching profession and school community (Cobb et al., 2018; Lave & Wenger, 1991) and progressed towards a clearer and fuller sense of teacher identity.
The residents’ teacher identity is likely to be fluid and under constant re-construction over time as revealed from this analysis and as documented in the literature (Hong et al., 2017; Nickel & Zimmer, 2019).
Therefore, it could be the case that some residents may not identify themselves as teachers upon graduation or carry with them the ‘teacher-in-becoming’ identity until much further in their teaching career.
What this article attempted to show was that the year-long residency as a ‘third space’ made it possible for the residents to experience what it felt like to be a teacher for an entire school year in a school setting while continuing learning to teach in situated contexts, mediated by the intermediate ‘teacher-in-becoming’ identity.
In this sense, the residency served as a hybrid, in-between space connecting university and school for the residents to make the professional transition from being a student (teacher) to a teacher so that a more clarified and stronger teacher identity could be achieved, which was indeed observed among participants in this study.
Similar to the residents’ teaching and learning in the residency, their ‘teacher-in-becoming’ identity in this ‘third space’ was also explorative and generative.

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Updated: Jan. 10, 2022