Teacher identity

Literature Review

What is Teacher Identity? 

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One of the first steps in becoming a teacher is examining yourself and your own values. This is also true for being able to promote multicultural learning in your classroom. Nieto (2008) states that their [teacher’s] practices may reflect their experiences (p. 4). We grow up in different environments and some may be more or less obviously diverse than others. I think that a lot of the times when people think of multicultural, skin color or language are the first things that pop into their heads. When in fact, there are several kinds of differences. These include gender, religion, abilities, class, etc. Our world is a diverse place and our students have every right to learn all that they can about it. I like to think of diversity in a sense that we all have different life experiences. No person is the same as another or has had the same experiences even though it may seem like it on the outside.

Learning to teach is a complex and ongoing activity in which teachers get engaged along their careers. Teachers are engaged in creating themselves as teachers according to on one hand their self-image as teachers, and on the other according to the practices, rules and the community they belong to. Teachers construct and deconstruct a teacher identity shaped by the dialectical relationship of their own agency and the collective construction of the teacher identity (Ping, 2011). Pre-service teachers construct and deconstruct a teacher identity that is changing and dynamic according to the different learning contexts. Teacher identity is shaped by personal beliefs and motivations, but also by curricula, school based experiences, the community, and roles and tasks teachers have to adopt in their teaching practices. The construction of a teacher identity is conflicting and challenging and while teachers learn to teach, they learn to be teachers.

Joseph and Heading (2010) argues that “teaching is often a complex and skilled practice, which is dependent on teachers’ knowledge and skills, the art of learning how to teach and its process of becoming a teacher, shapes one’s teacher identity. Britzman (2003, p. 31) suggests that construction teaching identity is a “time of formation and transformation, of scrutiny and what one is doing and who one can become.” According to Trent (2010), Britzman (2003), Miller Marsh (2002) and Roberts (2000), “teacher identity is fashioned, refashioned, confronted and adapted to varying perspectives such as those of schools, the students and governments” and conclude that “one’s formation of becoming a teacher impacts on one’s ‘identity-in-discourse’ (where identities are discursive through language) and ‘identity-in-practice’ (action orientated approach to understanding identity) impacts on forming your professional identity.” They go on to say that teaching identity for Wenger (1998) is “an experience in terms of ‘engagement’, ‘imagination’, and ‘alignment.’” Wenger (1998, p.192) points out that “engagement [that] allows us to invest in what we do and in our relation with other people gaining a lived sense of who we are.”

Katsuno (2012) analyzed the cases of 6 teachers from 3 low-performing elementary schools in a northern Japanese administrative region. The author’s main study was to investigate whether and how Japanese teachers’ professional identities shift in the context of heightened testing accountability. Katsuno some teachers kept their professional identities intact. However in order to this, they delimited their professional responsibilities by developing a narrower self-concept (what the teacher wants to do) of what they should and can do. In other words, students’ low achievement was not taken as a reflection of their teacher’s performance by the teachers in the study. Because students in low economic statues do not only deal with financial troubles but also being raised by a single parent; therefore, it is hard to motivate the students to get high scores. However, some teachers felt nervous because he or she thought that the administrators would find fault with their teaching. Furthermore, the teachers, who sustained their professional identities adhered to their educational beliefs and disregarded the outer requirements. For example, some teachers chose not to commit themselves to the end of raising students’ test scores while one of the teachers lost confidence in what they actually wanted to do and what they were required to do. This leads teachers to be in conflict with their self-concept and their assigned identity. Katsuno uses the term “separatism” for a teacher who is separating himself from what he has to do by state mandated rules and the term “dualism” is used for a teacher who holds onto his teaching beliefs but also does what he is required to do. 

Katsuno also states, “one of the conditions for the success of the strategy of dualism is a mutually caring relationship among colleagues.”(p. 6). Strained relationships among colleagues can be caused by not sharing anxieties or concerns and the reason why these feelings are not exchanged is that these conversations might involve comparing teachers with each other and being judged as a teacher in terms of performance. “Responsibilistaion” is also a term Katsuno uses in order to define model of actions that need to be conducted by teachers. Most teachers cannot escape from this responsibilisation. 

Katsuno also talks about “new social identity” which is constructed mainly from educational requirements. Katsuno believe that some teachers, who develop a new identity to do what they are required to do, can reserve their professional selves; therefore, they use strategy called “separatism.” Some teachers reject the new assigned social identity so they hold onto their core beliefs and self-assert. 

Woods and Jeffrey ESL Theory

Woods and Jeffrey (2002) explained four major dilemmas after they studied how English primary school teachers negotiate new identities under the pressure of the National Curriculum and Testing regime in England. This regime caused teachers to abandon or at least modify their value systems in many ways. These dilemmas are: (a) “the creation of a fragmented self, as it became difficult for the individual to retain former values,” (b) “an assault on teacher autonomy,” (c) “a heightened sense of uncertainty about one’s abilities, aims, relationships, and commitment to teaching, “ (d) “ commoditization of personal relationships.” They conclude that some teachers can work with dilemmas, while others find it difficult to negotiate the inconsistencies between their self-concepts and the newly assigned identities. 

Woods and Jeffrey are convinced that some teachers choose to game-play, in other words, put on act to meet expectations, to sustain their professional selves. However, the authors emphasize that this can create more dilemma than relieve the teachers. 

Jenkins (2009) and Kamhi-Stein (2004) reported that many non native teachers of English found themselves deficit because they do not sound like native speakers of English. Medgyes (1983), as a Hungarian teacher of English, is certain that NNESTs are in a perplexing task because they attempt to teach a foreign language that is also a mystery to them. He often touches on the concept of learning a language, “Learning a new language is emphatically more than acquiring a new set of names for the same phenomena. It involves learning to see the world as the speakers of that language habitually see it, as well as learning their culture or, if you like, their whole ‘Weltbild.’” He goes to say that culture and language go hand in hand; therefore, they are not separable. Culture changes, so does the language because culture determines “the behavior of the language. For example, in Turkey students stand up as their teacher comes into the classroom and students call their teacher “My teacher” out of respect. As a teacher in the United States, this also was one of the adjustment issues I experienced. I have to abandon the feelings and attitudes of a typical student and teacher in Turkey so that I do not see my job as a problematic task. Polio and Wilson-Duffy (1998) also reported that NNESTs not only teach a second language and culture in one’s second language but also they do all of this in an unfamiliar setting where they were not educated. These teachers are thrown into this unfamiliar setting and everything is left to them, in other words, they learn through experience. Differences in interactional styles cause a major problem in this context. For example, while Western speakers present their ideas as clearly as possible, other cultures such as Japanese explicit verbal expression is avoided; therefore, the listener in the conversation is responsible for getting the message or the real intent of the speaker and act on it (Clancy, 1986, 1990). Due to these cross-cultural speech style differences, it is highly possible that misunderstandings will occur between the hearer and speaker. Ishiara (2005), who studied the practicum experience of a nonnative English-speaking international student-teacher from Japan in a U.S. language teacher education program, points out, “….while American speakers may perceive Japanese as inarticulate, indecisive, or uncooperative in conversation, Japanese speakers may find Americans too aggressive or self-centered.” Of course every individual’s reactions and attitudes depend on their level of adjustment along with their unique personalities, motivation levels, learning and teaching backgrounds/contexts and individual differences play important roles in this context. As a researcher and the teaching assistant of the practicum, Ishiara helped the student-teacher adjust to the new educational setting by sharing the first language culture and second language culture. 

There is also the issue of non-linguistic barriers, as Medgyes suggests, that NNESTs have to accept. Native command of English will never be achieved by NNESTs because they cannot destroy their errors of appropriateness which result from the non-linguistic barriers. As Medgyes (1983) points out, “….the aggressive teacher plays safe:? He (or she) floods his students with lexical paradigms, very often patently old fashioned and rare, while prohibiting the use of colloquial or, God forbid, slang vocabulary.” Therefore, these particular teachers need to make clear to their students that they are advanced and persistent learners of English. 

While handling multiple tasks as a first year ESL teacher, I also had to deal with new institutional relationships such as with my mentor, mainstream co-teachers and administrators. When I reflected on my feelings that negotiating my role daily in the school was challenging because it was compounded by the cultural issues of the unfamiliar environment. Ishiara’s investigation on an international student teacher, Emi, also confirmed these feelings I had. Emi had hard time as to how to interact with the mentors and perceived herself as “not equal, but lower” because she was a student teacher/mentee.” Emi also thought that in American culture, this is not seen as a suitable perspective to look at the situation. Emi and I agree on the concern we both shared in common: “How much can we say what we have in mind? Is it ok to treat our mentor and administrators as who they are or as our friends? Since these relationships are intricate for us, we end up treating them as superiors, so we stayed passive, distant and reserved according to American culture. This might be also due to the lack of experience in the foreign education system as teachers. To give you an example, politeness strategies in American culture might sound distinctly unlike to another culture’s politeness strategies. Telling employees what to do comes in the form of a suggestion such as, “you might want to…, it could be better if you…, and why don’t you…?” To a foreigner who comes from a hearer-oriented culture, these indirect expressions can be seen as “just suggestions.” So it is up to me as a teacher to perform what is suggested. While in speaker-oriented cultures, the speaker presents their opinions clearly to persuade their audience, in hearer-oriented cultures, the hearer is responsible for extrapolating the speaker’s intent (Clancy, 1986, 1990; Lakoff, 1985; Lebra, 1976; Rose, 1994). Since true intentions do not seem transparent, interpreting them as the way what the speakers’ really intends to say such as, “I need you to do this” becomes a challenging task to a NNEST who might prefer to stay in the safe zone, meaning “I will avoid voicing my opinion because I do not know how I will be interpreted” or they choose to transfer their first language speech styles to the U.S. context. Another reason why most NNESTs preserve their first-language based interaction style is because they desire to sustain their roots and bring it with them wherever they go.  In the case of Emi, Ishiara realized that Emi “unconsciously brought in the Japanese custom of interacting” with older and mentor teachers. This formal communication style caused Emi not to argue for her opinion. With this in mind, Emi noticed that she needed to change or abandon what she was accustomed to do because her behavior seemed to appear inappropriate to her context. Emi wanted to change her image as a foreign teacher and refused to be regarded as overly passive in the U.S. context. Ishiara stated, “Despite her [Emi’s] genuine struggle to adjust to the unfamiliar classroom culture, her first-language discourse style might be misinterpreted as her personality trait.” Ishiara goes on to say, “I suspected that by drawing on her first culture interactional style, Emi might be misunderstood as reserved, unclear, or sometimes even uncommitted by her mentor, supervisor, and campus-wide ITA consultant.”

Emi also had to deal with being observed as she stated during her interview with Ishiara. For instance, Emi felt shy and did not ask for help because she didn’t want to be misunderstood. In my case, I grew up in an age where lesson plans did not involve hands-on learning strategies and technology. The main frustration for me was to having to have students figure out the information that I am trying to teach without presenting the information. Students are supposed to do all the talking, not the teacher. So I had to renew my teaching identity due to the mandatory requirements that the school district, state and nation demand from teachers. I talked to the literacy facilitator of my school district and was suggested that I should observe veteran teachers. Rather than adopting only one partciluar teacher’s strategy, I decided to observe various veteran teachers to create my own teaching strategies that support district’s, state’s and nation’s goals. Within a short period of time, I learned how to teach and approach to teaching in my own way. When it comes to being observed by an administrator, I asked for my mentor’s help. I wanted my mentor’s opinions on my lesson plans, materials and the way I present the lesson. With my mentor’s suggestions, I could make my lesson plans more powerful and could defend the way I teach it to the administrators who did not seem to be confused. For me, my mentor provided me huge help in my process of transitioning to U.S. education context. 

My Experiences in Comparison to Emi’s

Just like Emi in Ishiara’s study, I remained silent whenever the school had meetings. Unless it is my turn to speak, I refused to say whatever I think out loud. However, I was not feeling hesitant when I spoke with my mentor and people that I feel close to at school. If I knew that I would be judged based on the proficiency level of my second language, non-linguistic barriers, my first language communication style differences and pronunciation errors I might make at any time made me feel irritated. I did not speak as much as I wanted to. So I abandoned my first language teacher identity who is more extroverted when it is compared to introverted one in U.S. context. Like Emi, I was constantly looking for the right words to describe and explain whatever it is I am trying to say. Feeling overwhelmed, I had to stay in my own safe zone I created for myself. For Emi, it was frustrating because her first feeling was that she found herself “not being able to quickly adapt to the new classroom culture.” For this reason, NNESTs should receive directive cultural scaffolding as Ishiara was doing to her own participant. Directive cultural scaffolding, I strongly believe, might help NNESTs adjust to the new educational system, leading them to rethink what they have been doing and what needs to be changed and abandoned. As Ishiara argues, this directive cultural scaffolding should be done in private and informally so that NNESTs “do not feel singled out from her peers.” Ishiara point out, “It can be argued that the directive cultural scaffolding might have facilitated a gradual and seamless transition from her interactional style more appropriate in Japanese culture to that more common in U.S. culture” (Ishiara, 2005). I think that directive cultural scaffolding should be offered as a course within TESOL practicum curriculums in the United States for international teachers who come to teach in this context. Or this course can be offered as a course within the first year teaching year by the school who decides to hire international teachers as ESL teachers. 

Adapting culturally appropriate interactional behavior in a foreign  educational setting is crucial for teachers who are in target language setting. It could be simple as asking for help as to how to do a particular task. “Not doing so seemed to have prevented Emi from using the available resources that would allow her how to teach and develop professionally…” (Ishiara, 2005). NNESTs should accept this help without hesitation and respond favorably to it because this will not only help them to grow as professionals but also take a more active role in interpersonal relationships in the school culture. “Cultural scaffolding might be seen as providing an equal distribution of resources due to cultural differences in interactional styles” (Ishiara, 2005). Ishiara concludes that cultural mentoring or coaching between non native speaking teachers with similar cultural backgrounds are necessary and effective for those teachers who need to cope with transferring skills in an effective way and adjusting to an unfamiliar cultural setting. 

The level of confidence also plays an important role for foreign-born NNESTs. Because these teachers have more metalinguistic awareness and are perceived as strong people who teach English grammar due to their lived experiences as English Language Learners (Megyes, 1999). Discouraging comments from people who haven’t taught in their lives and who come from similar cultural backgrounds make me think that teachers like me are not capable of teaching because how can we teach English if our English has deficiencies? When it comes to presenting a lesson in front of an observer who is a native speaker of English, the speaking anxiety level increases most of the time. Always trying to prove not only to our administrators or mainstream teachers that are native speakers of English that we work with but also to ourselves that we are credible teachers and qualified to teach English as a second language. Because we are advanced learners of English, we are in constant search for our errors and as soon as we notice them, we try to correct them by ourselves. 

Medgyes’ perspective. This continuing monitoring the target language we use is what makes us the learner and the teacher of ESOL at the same time. Medgyes talks about a colleague that proposed that “non-native speakers had better not contaminate air still resonant with the voice of a real native speaker. She seemed to entertain the belief that a non-native speaker of English can have no pertinent ideas in the presence of native speaker” (Medgyes, 1983). It is up to the teacher who can choose to solve this issue through total resignation or aggression (Medgyes, 1983). On the other hand, the discouraging comments that NNESTs might receive from their friends day in , day out can be erased by authors who learnt English as a second language and decided to write in English and took their prominent places in the literary world such as “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov (First language: Russian), “Never Let Me Go” by Kazuo Ishiguro (First language: Japanese), “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe (First Language: Igbo), “The Book of Salt” by Monique Truong (First Language: Vietnamese), Joseph Conrad, who was Polish and learned English only as an adult, Phyllis Wheatley who became a well-known poet and “Red Azalea” by Anchee Min. Medgyes argues that NNESTs lack of self-confidence can be shattered by looking at it from a perspective that supports the idea that a NNEST knows “best where the two cultures and, consequently the two languages converge and diverge. More than any native speaker, he is aware of the difficulties his students are likely to encounter and the possible errors they are likely to make. Therefore, he has easier access to the measures and techniques which may facilitate the students’ learning” (p. 6). As Medgyes concludes that NNESTs will never be able to feel free during oral communication and they should accept the fact that the NNESTs’ discourse will be limited to what he learned and “invariably avoid the use of phrases about which he is not entirely sure, thus assuming a flat and inexpressive style”, so “for him ever to have recourse to all the nuances of referential, stylistic, and textual appropriateness is nothing but delusion” (p. 6). 

Medgyes (1992) expressed that it is very difficult to teach a topic that NNESTs cannot relate to due to their cultural background. This makes it harder for them to teach the subject. Then we can conclude that the cultural aspect of language teaching cannot be separated from their teaching identity. Feeling lost in the target culture can be a drawback in NNESTs language teaching; therefore their relationships with students and colleagues will be affected in a negative way. However every teacher is unique in his own way. We do not react the same way. So this tells us that some NNESTs might be willing to learn not only the interactional style of target language but also the cultural background of target language. 

Medgyes (1992) states, “The awareness of differences [between NNESTs and NESTs] in proficiency influences the non-NESTs’ self-perception and teaching attitudes” (354). By simply imitating the use of English that NESTs, in other words, native model, NNESTs might doubt about their teaching abilities of target language; therefore, might lose their confidence in teaching in the end. Medgyes expresses his concern mostly about the fluency, vocabulary, speaking, pronunciation and listening comprehension, which he called “the areas of difficulties”. Finding the right words at the right time with a normal speech rate during instruction, I believe, are the most difficult one to go through every single day. It can make the teacher feel inferior and deficient. Multiple meaning for a word can make it very challenging for NNESTs to deal with. They also make sure that they read the lesson materials careful enough to pronunciate to students. However, I believe that NNESTs are very strict about grammar rules, spelling mistakes in their teaching. Age, experience, gender, aptitude, charisma, motivation, training, etc. also play crucial roles in teaching along with how teachers perceive themselves to be and how they would like to shape themselves. 

Palyfreyman (1993) conducted research on NNESTs and NESTs’ designing a lesson plan. He found that NESTs seem to see learning as a matter of making their students consciously aware placing emphasis on pronunciation and syntax, while NNESTs seem to see learning as a matter of ability to use the target language to mean taking morphological mistakes serious. Concerned with accuracy and formal features of English, NNESTs tend to teach language by isolating it from context. 

Reves and Medgyes (1994) discovered that NNESTs prepare their class more carefully, as they receive professional development, they grow more confident in their teaching ability, they are not concerned with following textbooks as closely, were more careful in assessing their students’ learning capacities. 

Lederer (1981) stated that if all language teachers were native speakers of target language, then students might conclude that in order to be a language teacher, a teacher has to be born and is raised in that country. Therefore, he supports the idea that, “Only non-NESTs can serve as imitable models of the successful learner of English” (Medgyes, 346). Widdowson (1994) also thinks the same way by making a distinction between the role of an instructor and the role of an informant. He considers that NESTs can be the perfect language model (informant), however, the role of  the instructor is a different matter. Widdowson also states that a NEST cannot be a learner model because he did not have to learn English as an international language. Medgyes also points out some points to show why NNESTs are better teachers than NESTs:

  1. “Non-NESTs can teach learning strategies more effectively” (346). Since NNESTs are learners of their target language, they know the leaening strategies of learning a new language;therefore they offer these strategies based on their experiences to their students. 
  2. “Non-NNESTs can provide learners with more information about the English language” (347). Since NNESTs learned the target language consciously, they are better informants when it comes to revealing the English language features. 
  3. “Non-NNESTs are more able to anticipate language difficulties” (347). NNESTs, through the Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis (CAH), can predict errors due to negative and positive transfers by constrasting the native language of students, which they are knowledagble of, with the target language (Larsen-Freeman & Longman, 1991). 
  4. “Non-NNESTs can be more empathetic to the needs and problems of their learners” (347). Since NNESTs are lifelong learners of their target language, they are more sensitive with the progress of language learnig of their students. 
  5. “Only non-NNESTs can benefit from sharing the learner’s mother tongue.” (347). For beginner learners of English, NNESTs can use their students’ mother tongue to explain, for example, what a specific word means. This also helps students, who might be struggling with cultural shock and living in the target language, relate to NNESTs’ experiences and feel more welcoming into the new environment. 

According to Medgyes (1992), the most important professional duty of a NNNEST should be to improve his or her command of English as much as possible because the ideal NNEST is the one who has reached the level of near native fluency in target language. In order to avoid fossilization, in which the learner of a target language stays in the dimension where language learned so far becomes their English and does not improve anymore, NNESTs should teach in an target language speaking country for a long time. This will not only help them learn the culture of language being used but also staying in the target language by exchanging and sharing ideas with their colleagues and students by not allowing themselves to become more critical about their language abilities even though they might become more aware of their deficiencies due to frequent contact with NESTs. 

As Medgyes suggests, the higher the proficiency level of English of NNESTs, the less self-conscious and insecure about their own language ability to be able to use it in order to teach. This might help them assume a more favorable self-perception. However, there is not only one variable in learning to teach. Lederer (1981) emphasizes the importance of acquiring the culture of target language is only possible by being directly exposed to it. So we can say that the environment in which the language is being used and taught, since it will be imitated by NNESTs, is a big part of language teaching identity. 

Other Perspectives:

Graham and Phelps (2003) believed that developing a teacher identity can be only effective if the practice is enhanced through metacognitive and reflective learning processes. The authors take the question “ Who am I?” and made a link to the question “What do I have to do?” suggesting that teacher education course students in Australia should perceive themselves as lifelong learners followed by understanding their own values, attitudes and beliefs. They recommend that through reflection, teachers can obtain information regarding outcomes and effectiveness of selected strategies but teachers are only evlautaed on their performances excluding the complex processes of problem-solving, decision-making, collaboration, critical thinking. Ignoring this complex process means that that ignoring the what today’s teacher must have. The authors express, “It is entirely incongruent that the process of learning to ‘be a teacher’ gets reduced to passing tests.” Metacognitive or Static knowledge is referred to knowledge one has accumulated such as task, self and strategy variables. Teacher education programs should foster “a more crtically sel-fonscious understanding of ‘being a teacher’”. 

Ertmer and Newby (1996) proposed that reflection helps teachers explore and discover and discussed the concept of “expert learner”:

“expert learners use the knowledge they have gained of themselves as learners, of task requirements, and of specific strategy use to deliberately select, control and monitor strategies needed to achieve desired learning goals’ (p.1). 

In this case, we can conclude that expert learners are self-directed and goal oriented because they are aware of the skills and attitudes they possess or do not possess. However, they know how to use strategies or know how to acquire them. Knowing what works for them and what doesn’t for them, they try to look for strategies to learn it. Therefore, being a teacher requires being an expert learner. 

Walshaw and Savell (2001) analyze preservice math teachers in New Zealand and how teaching practicum plays a role in making of a teacher. They believe that forming a teaching identity is a complex process which includes constant social interaction, negotiation, consent, circumstances along with power and desire. For authors, teaching identity is multiple and changeable. The authors argue, “Personal understanding of teacher identity emerge from specific contexts” and making of a teacher identity is a site of negotiaton and “developed in response to other identities which are sometimes held in opposition.”

Zevenbergen ( look s at teacher identity from a Bourdieuian perspective. The author discusses the gap between theory and practice. What teachers learn during theor education courses are not implemented in the “real world of the classroom.” The only course in education programs that can give the experience of this real world is the practicum. According to Bourdieu (1979), ‘habitus’ is composed of:

[s]ystems of durable, transposable dispositions, structured structures predisposed to function as structuring structures, that is, as principles which generate and organize practices and representations that can be objectively adapted to their outcomes without presupposing a conscious aiming at ends or an express mastery of the operations necessary in order to attain them.

For Bourdieu habitus or identity changes over time and produces individual and group practices. According to Zevenbergen, preservice teachers have primary and secondary habitus. Primary habitus constitutes schooling within the field. Whereas secondary habitus constitutes the practice in the real classroom setting. The ‘known’ and the ‘being’ has a complex relationship in this context where there can be irresitability to change. However, Zevenbergen refers to Bourdieu’s (1983) term ‘capital’ which results from the habitus: ‘Social capital is the ‘the aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition’ (Bourdieu 1983: 249). In this case, teachers who have dispositions that are valued by institutions wil be “more likely to obtain jobs within schools.” Zevenberger concludes, “….there is considerable pressure on the graduate to conform to the practices within the field if she is to obtain a position within that field….As such, the developing identity of the graduate teacher is strongly influenced by both the adjective and subjective structuring practices within that field.” (p. 618).

Simon (1995) offers the notion of image-text to refer to how teachers uses text as a tool to describe their beliefs. For example, if I say, “I am a Turkish, white, female teacher who work in a public school in the United States. Most teachers who were born in this country and raised here do not know anything about English grammar; therefore, they cannot explain it to the students.” With this statement I am performing my own bilingual identity as a teacher. However, if I bring this text with me to my classroom, how students will perceive this is a question, which is more concerned with students’ identities. Morgan (2004) concludes that “[teachers] we need to present ourselves – our image-texts – in ways that are unthreatening and respectful, indeed, similar to other ‘texts’ we bring to class: always open to critical analysis and reinterpretation.” (p. 184) This is because as we form our teaching identities, we need to keep reminding ourselves that our students are construct and reconstruct themselves as well. Our behaviors, interactions with other teachers in front of students are subconsciously or consciously are being watched leading them to a meaning-making process in terms of the social setting in which we all share. 

Cardelle-Elawar (2007) studied three different teachers from three different cultures and found that these teachers “used a dialogic retrospection process to identify and define their motivations to be teachers.” The study required participants to interview each other by asking a series of questions related to their experience becoming teachers and what keeps them teaching. This study gave these three teachers the opportunity to self-discover themselves, therefore self-transform and self-evaluate their beliefs in their teaching environment. This self-evaluation “help teachers become self-regulated learners in their classroom activities and in their adjustment to change (Cardelle-Elawar, 2007; Boerkaerts & Cascallar, 2006; Cascallar, Boekaerts, & Costigan, 2006). The participants in Cardelle-Elawar’s study reflected on different ways of knowing and discussed the reasons why they decided to become teachers. The result of this study concluded that these teachers’ identity was highly shaped by motivation and systematic reflective approach is required for teachers’ professional development and growth in their instructional practices. The study also showed that intentional goal orientation and resistance to barriers that need to be overcome to succeed in their chosen career are also essential to keep on teaching and successful performance in the classroom. 

Joseph & Heading (2010) studied one pre-service teacher’s experience of teaching music and how he moved from student identity to teacher identity. The study found that “teaching is a highly skilled and complex profession” and self-reflection as a way to improve one’s own teaching even though it might be difficult to be critical of themselves or others. The authors conclude,

“learning to teach is a process that continues throughout a teacher’s career and that no matter what we do in our teacher education programs and no matter how well we do it, at best we can only prepare teachers to begin teaching” (Conckling & Henry, 1999, p.22). 

Asato (2008) studied non native English speaking teacher’s self-perceptions in the context of EFL and ESL and found that two participants had striking difference in terms of their confidence level as a professional. While one of the participants had a negative attitude towards her pronunciation which provokes her inferiority complex; the other one maintained her confidence although she was faced with numerous challenges. This might result from the number of years in teaching profession. The latter participant has a longer teaching experience than the first one who lived for a year in the US as an exchange student and had one year of teaching experience. Additionally the participant with a more confident outlook on her teaching studied and worked in the US. The study concluded that non-native English teachers are well aware of their advantages as multilingual and language learner and success of teaching depends on a variety of factors such as “learner, institution, educational goals, material, context, etc. “

Olsen (2008) centers his study’s focus on the analysis around the reasons for entry as the entrance into teacher identity and shows teacher identity as dynamic, holistic interaction among multiple parts: 

Olsen studied six secondary English teachers who recently graduated from the same university teacher education program in the US. Olsen mentions that “teachers are forever “becoming”” and suggests that “methodologies like teacher interview/analysis, ethnography, narrative analysis, and action research-along with critical, holistic modes of analysis that foreground identity studies-should continue to deepen our understanding of how teachers actually develop, and how who one is as a person has a lot to do with who one is as a teacher.” (p.39)

Identity and Teaching Practice

Identity has been described and defined in various ways. These include: 

  • “How a person understands his or her relationship to the world” (Norton, 2000, 5);
  • “A constant ongoing negotiation of how we relate to the world” (Pennycook, 2001, 149)
  • “Relational, constructed and altered by how I see others and how they see me in our shared experiences and negotiated interactions” (Johnson, 2003, 788);
  • Being recognized as a certain ‘kind of person’ … connected not to internal states but to performances in society” (Gee, 2000-01, 99) 

Since this study will explore bilingual participants as ESL teachers who come from various ethnic backgrounds, it is worth mentioning ‘cultural identity’. As Olsen (2008) defines, [Cultural Identity] …treats individuals as mostly shaped or constructed via cultural markers and social positionings.” Olsen also states, “It is inside this frame that identity politics emerged, in the early 1970s, as a way to describe how people work to acquire additional power or representation for themselves and the social groups to which they belong.” (p. 4) 

I think it may also help to think of identity as a process, rather than an end state. Identity building is a process. It is constantly negotiated, choices are made. Mirja (2013) points out the necessity of teachers’ continually reflecting on their past experiences and their identity because then you will be aware of the whys and hows of your life in the classroom. You will know why you do what you do. Below, you’ll see a diagram representing how Mirja presented this idea. 

Mirja explained that each of these three parts of us overlap and impact the other; our job is to be aware of it and reflect on how the interplay affects our decisions, actions, and reactions as teachers.  Mirja shared an old Finnish saying: “Teachers teach through personality.” I agree that what I do in the classroom, what I believe about teaching and learning, and how I act and react towards students stems from my beliefs and values. I think that novice teachers in teacher education programs in the United States, as well as veteran teachers entrenched in their jobs would benefit from stepping back from the day-to-day hurry and the countless decisions we make in a snap all day long to reflect on these types of questions. Answering hard questions about our own identities will probably help us make better decisions, be able to defend and justify those decisions, and tell us what messages we’re sending our students.

For example, I value honesty so I build a classroom community in which I model telling the truth and we practice it.  I value hard work, something I learned from my mother just by watching her, so I teach my students about perseverance and applaud them when they keep at it.  I believe that life and learning should be fun, so I create learning situations that are meaningful and engaging–and still full of learning–to kids even if it may look like chaos to the outside observer. I’ve experienced being left out because I was different so I do my best to make sure that every child feels included, valued, respected and successful. I’ve experienced the insecurity and riskiness of voicing what you believe, so I try to create a safe environment where children can let all of their many voices be heard. These parts of my identity, and so much more, drive my decisions and pedagogy as a teacher. I know why I do what I do because I know who I am. We are constantly evolving, sometimes on a large scale but oftentimes on a small scale. So important to continuously examine yourself as an educator to develop a sense of awareness of your thoughts, opinions, biases, values, etc. because it has such an impact on a child’s learning (academically and socially) in the classroom. I believe that we teach who we are. 

TABLE 1. Teacher identity in relation to the literature


In my view point, identity of a teacher takes birth: by the efforts of teacher himself/ herself; by the other stakeholders: current students, alumni and the administration (level of autonomy, support structure) and the colleagues and the professional network.

Awareness and intercultural competence. 

Awareness can be seen as a continuous process intertwined with other dimensions in developing intercultural competence. In this study I will emphasize this form of awareness and combine it with pedagogical capacity-building in a multiculturally-oriented teacher identity. 

Dimensions of intercultural competence. Jokikokko et. al. (2002, p. 88) summarizes five basic elements of cultural awareness as follows:

  • Knowledge of one’s cultural background, including codes that guide and restrict one’s thinking, beliefs and action
  • Knowledge of other cultures and people, using their historically, culturally and geographically constructed values, norms, thinking and behavioral patterns as guides, while also avoiding stereotyping
  • Identification of prejudices, attitudes, assumptions and unjust practices on both individual and institutional levels
  • Social and political knowledge of societal differences and their influences
  • Knowledge and understanding of global perspectives.

Teachers’multicultural identity. Teacher identity can be understood as a reflexive project of the self (Giddens, 1991) and thus as self-development. Barker (2000, p.167) describes that this self-project as ‘something that we create, something always in process, a moving towards rather than an arrival.’ This builds on the conceptions of the past and present as well as of the future that is anticipated or hoped for. The cultural diversification of societies and educational institutions creates tension in the self-development of higher education teachers. As Talib (2002, p 131) points out, ‘the development of teachers’ own multicultural identity is a prerequisite for understanding other cultures and their difference.’ Teachers with a multilingual or multicultural background, or experience of another culture, have a major advantage in developing a multicultural orientation in their identity. The expected outcomes of education and learning about another culture have much in common. Both provide ‘cultural capital’ in which the conscious refinement of human qualities is a constitutive component. As Talib (2002) says: 

Society needs people that have inner strength to endure challenges and failures. The characteristics of a civilized person are broad-mindedness, tolerance and the ability to consider the issues from several perspectives. However, the most important characteristic is … humility that can be seen as self-respect and respect of others (p 141-142). 

It has been argued that a higher education teacher working in an ideal traditional university produces cultural capital, by cultivating civilization and qualities of multicultural identity in all its members, both teachers and students. However, critics suggest that the everyday practices of educational institutions may well be problematic regarding the best possible realization of such ideals.

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