The change in pre-service primary teachers’ possible selves in relation to science teaching


Source: European Journal of Teacher Education, 45:1, 43-59

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this study, the authors examine primary school teachers’ (PSTs’) future-oriented teacher identity development in science education context and via the construct of possible selves (Markus and Nurius 1986).
While it is known that possible selves are dynamic and changeable, most examinations of teachers’ or PSTs’ possible selves have been investigated from a more static viewpoint, i.e. at one point in time.
Therefore, this study contributes to the body of knowledge by examining PSTs’ possible selves at three time points throughout their teacher preparation: before and after the environmental studies course and after the teaching practicum.
This approach will account for the process of identity development and the ways science teacher education may stimulate this process.
The guiding research questions are:
1) What are pre-service primary school teachers’ hoped-for and feared science teacher possible selves? and
2) What kind of changes in pre-service primary teachers’ possible selves can be observed at different points in time, i.e. as a response to the environmental science course and teaching practice?


Data collection
The context of this study was the primary teacher education unit in one Finnish university.
In this context, the PSTs go through a 5-year primary school teacher education programme from which they graduate as primary teachers (with a Master’s of Education degree), teaching grades 1–6 to students between the ages of 7 and 12 years old.
The participants in this study were three (3) first-year PSTs who were chosen from a wider sample of 41 PSTs.
The authors decided to invite to the interview (Int1) 11 students with the most differing backgrounds related to biology and geography teaching and learning, i.e. those that reported the most positive, negative and neutral memories in the first questionnaire (Q1).
These 11 PSTs also responded to Q2 and were interviewed after the course (Int2).
Two years after the science method course, they conducted another interview to account for the possible changes that PSTs might have undergone as a result of teaching practicum.
At that point, three PSTs responded to the invitation to the third interview (Int3). Coincidentally, these participants also represented the negative, neutral and positive memories about biology and geography for Int2 and Int3.
Their interview procedure was an open-ended thematic interview (Cohen, Manion, and Morrison 2002).
During the interviews, participants were not directly asked about their possible selves; instead, they were encouraged to tell about their beliefs and experiences, also regarding their future, as freely as they wanted (cf. Hamman et al. 2010; Markus and Nurius 1986; Oyserman et al. 2004).

Data analysis
The authors chose narrative analysis for the method of this study, since identity has been understood to be constructed through stories individuals tell about their lives (Beijaard, Meijer, and Verloop 2004; Polkinghorne 1995).
They also build on Clandinin and Connelly (2000, 20) who define narrative research as ‘a way of understanding experience’.

Findings and discussion
In this paper, the authors addressed three pre-service primary teachers’ possible selves in the context of science teaching and how they changed during the science method course and teaching practicum.
In PSTs’ narratives, they identified general, collective and specific hoped-for and feared possible selves.
In addition, their findings displayed the changes in the possible selves that pertain to their cognitive and affective dimensions and occurred throughout the different stages of teacher education.
PSTs articulated general and collective hoped-for possible selves of being inspiring and knowledgeable science teachers.
Being an inspiring teacher represented the wish to be able to change one’s own reluctant beliefs, the wish to be as the ideal teacher from one’s own school years and, lastly, the wish to awaken students’ curiosity towards science itself.
On the other hand, being a knowledgeable teacher was manifested as being an expert, as being knowledgeable in the eyes of students and as being inquiry-oriented.
These possible selves are quite general and may not necessarily motivate the change in actions (Oyserman et al. 2004).
However, these general possible selves carried a great personal significance for PSTs’ identity development.
In addition, their findings suggest that PSTs’ possible selves were well balanced: PSTs were able to articulate what they hoped for and strive towards, but also what they fear and want to avoid.
This suggests that motivation for pursuing the hoped-for selves and avoiding the feared selves is, after all, likely to occur (Markus and Nurius 1986; Oyserman and Markus 1990).
The authors believe that the well-balanced possible selves represented in their findings are enduring and are, thus, likely to be strived for, despite the temporal distance and that these general possible selves do not necessarily require PSTs’ change instantly (cf. Henry 2015; Oyserman and James 2011).
PSTs also articulated more specific hoped-for and feared possible selves.
These too were well balanced and appeared as the opposites.
For example, the hoped-for self of shaking off prejudiced beliefs was balanced against the feared self of passing on own prejudice, the hoped-for self of maintaining your own personality was balanced against the fear of performing a role and the hoped-for selves of being inquiry-oriented and a scientific role model were balanced against the fear of being a knowledge-transmitting teacher.
These specific possible selves are congruent with the PSTs’ current identities (cf. Higgins 1987; Oyserman and James 2011), and are also decisive, meaning that they have a strong self-development orientation (Lutovac and Kaasila 2014).
Therefore, it can be concluded that PSTs in this study knew what needed to be changed and done to achieve their possible selves, showing the direction for the development of their teacher identity in the context of science teaching.
The authors’ findings contribute significantly to the understanding of the changes in PSTs’ possible selves in the context of science teaching, as well as more broadly.
They consider these changes as essential for understanding and assisting the processes of teacher identity development and teacher change during teacher preparation (see, e.g. Kaasila and Lauriala 2010; Korthagen 2017; Tam 2015).
The findings of this study demonstrated that the change can occur in both cognitive and affective dimensions of possible selves (Hong and Greene 2011), and that the change in possible selves can be characterised as upward or downward (Henry 2015).
The changes identified in this study, therefore, are significant as they highlight that the learning experiences, such as the science method course and the practicum, have the power to revise PSTs’ possible selves (Henry 2015; Ibarra 1999).
This finding challenges Hong and Greene (2011) observation regarding the limited influence of teacher education on student teachers’ possible selves compared to long-lasting memories from school.
The authors hence argue that teacher education, including science method courses and practicums, may have a significant influence on how PSTs learn to assess their own needs and development in the context of science teaching.
The findings of the study also highlight the change in the affective dimension of possible selves.
During the science method course, the hoped-for self of shaking off prejudiced beliefs was changed to passing on a positive attitude.
Furthermore, the wish to pass on a positive attitude changed to the desire to be inspiring and pass on interest during the teaching practicum.
These changes in the affective hoped-for selves were balanced against changes in the feared selves, including the change from accidentally passing on the attitude to others to the fear of depreciate these subjects.
The authors’ findings indicate the significance of possible selves for research on pre-service primary teachers’ identity development in the context of science teaching and, especially for assisting this process.
Moreover, the findings have demonstrated that the changes can occur as a result of a single course and teaching practicum and that the process of change is not necessarily linear and steady, which makes the examination of possible selves at different time points especially important.
That said, they acknowledge that this is a small-scale study and its findings cannot be generalised.
Based on their experiences as teacher educators, however, they see that the cases addressed here are rather typical (Patton 1990), which means that teacher educators can identify similar PSTs and the changes they undergo in their possible selves in their courses.
In addition, the PSTs’ narratives in this study provide a profuse description regarding their possible selves and the changes in this process, thus allowing teacher educators to evaluate themselves how trustworthy these narratives are.

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Updated: Jul. 12, 2022