Trajectories of Teacher Identity Development Across Institutional Contexts: Constructing a Narrative Approach
by Gail Richmond, Mary M. Juzwik & Michael D. Steele - 2011
Background/Context: Teacher preparation programs are built on knowledge, practices, habits of mind, and professional standards that teacher educators (TEs) intend teachers to possess. Some foundations are explicitly manifest in standards, mission statements, and policies, whereas others are embedded in coursework, field experiences, and social contexts that influence teacher candidates’ (TCs’) developing teacher identities.
Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: This study conceptualizes the process of working with TCs whose identity development trajectories pose troubling problems. We explore the question, How can TEs make informed, responsible, and compassionate decisions about intern identity development? To do so, we offer narrative accounts of three secondary teacher candidates moving along identity trajectories with varying degrees and types of difficulty. Our inquiry traced the construction of first-, second-, and third-person narratives of TCs who experienced “problems” in a large teacher preparation program.
Research Design: This study employed a narrative design. We define narrative as the temporal sequencing of events, told from an interpreted point of view. We use (a) narratives that persons tell about themselves, (b) narratives told to the identified person, and (c) narratives told about the identified person by a third party to a third party to plot TCs’ identity trajectories. The narratives we present focus on TCs as told by, to, or about university staff, mentor teachers, and TCs themselves. We constructed composite narratives about each of three TCs’ identity development using notes from face-to-face meetings, e-mail correspondence, course assignments, memos, TC evaluations, TC journals, and university course observation notes.
Findings/Results: Two of the three narrative accounts represent TCs who ultimately were not successful in completing the program. Kirk’s narratives reveal a TC who was unwilling or unable to integrate second- and third-person narratives into his own identity trajectory. Sally’s narratives portray a TC who constructed varied, sometimes conflicting, first-person narratives in opposition to the second- and third-person narratives constructed by others about her. Suzannah’s narratives detail how ideological differences with a mentor teacher caused conflicts that were ultimately resolved by a change in mentor and the alignment of narratives from different sources.
Conclusions/Recommendations: This narrative approach can help TEs understand TCs’ identity development as they move through the complex terrain of teacher preparation, anticipate issues that may arise, and better support TCs on this journey. We argue that teacher preparation programs, as knowledge communities in which identity is shaped, should do explicit work that frames becoming a teacher as the negotiation among multiple, sometimes conflicting, narratives. We recommend designing opportunities for TCs to examine, reflect on, and integrate narratives from multiple sources.
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