“I'm beginning to feel more like a teacher”: Aspects of personal and social identity that predict professional identity development in teacher education students

Year: 2012

Author: Besley, Susan, Friesen, Myron

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Background: A rapidly growing domain within the teacher education literature is the investigation of a teachers' professional identity. The majority of research in this domain has investigated this topic from a sociological perspective which has relied on small-scale qualitative research. In contrast, the present study extends the theoretical and methodological scope of research in this area by examining professional identity from developmental and social psychological perspectives. The specific aims of the study were to (i) investigate the associations between aspects of personal identity, social identity and generativity in the early development of teacher professional identity in first- and second-year teacher education students and (ii) to examine which identity constructs predict emerging teacher identity after controlling for several covariates.  A further aim of the study was to discuss the theoretical implications of integrating developmental and social psychological perspectives on teacher professional identity along side the work that has focused on more sociological and educational perspectives.


Methods: The present study analyses data from the first two waves of a longitudinal project that first recruited student teachers in 2010 in the first semester of their first year of an undergraduate teacher education programme in Christchurch, New Zealand. Fifty-eight students (Time 1 M age=28.91; SD=10.70; female=94%) participated in both waves of data collection (May-June 2010 and November-December 2011). Participation involved completing an electronic web-based survey which measured Eriksonian constructs of personal identity and generativity, along side social identity constructs such as ethnic identity, student identity, and teacher professional identity. Additional covariates included age and engagement with course work at both time 1 and time 2, previous experience working with children at time 1, and evaluations of course work and teaching practice at time 2.


Results: Analyses of group differences across the cohort based on enrolment status (distance or campus base) and qualification (early childhood or primary teaching) revealed no significant group differences. Multiple regression analyses at Time 1 revealed that three variables (student identity, generativity, and participants' age) significantly predicted early professional identity (R2=48%). Similar analyses at Time 2, showed that a different three variables (professional identity at Time 1, personal identity, and teaching practice evaluation) significantly predicted professional identity at Time 2 (R2=56%).

Implications: The results of this study are considered in light of the developmental changes that take place in teacher professional identity as students progress through their teacher education programme, and social psychological theories of self-categorization and social identities.