Table of Contents
- Teacher Identity
Everyone has their own view of what teachers’ roles are. This usually is reflected by the experience the people had with the teachers in their own lives. Susan Capel views what teachers do as something that is socially and culturally constructed and vary from one culture, one era and one group of society to another (2013:9).
In my own experience that I had of education in Lithuania, I have always enjoyed schooling and was inspired by my primary and secondary teachers to pursue a career in teaching. The identity I had developed as a teacher was partially formed by the influence of my primary teacher who was known by her nurturing nature and warm personality. Another teacher that has influenced my decision to become a teacher of biology was my own biology teacher who had an extensive subject knowledge and great interest in nature (plants in particular), she even learned Latin language in order to have a comprehensive understanding of this subject. The passion and great knowledge my teachers shared with me have instilled the ambition in me to aim and become the best teacher I can be. Gonchar, M. (2013) shares the story about Jeffrey Wright, who uses wacky experiments to teach children about the universe, but it is his own personal story that teaches them the true meaning of life. I always believed that the foundation of children’s achievements lies in the caring and nurturing environment created by adults who develop attachment and form relationships with the students they work. When talking about the attachment, Christi Bergin talked how decades of research have shown that security of attachment is linked to a remarkable array of child outcomes over long periods of time, including success at school (2009:146).
Before starting my SCITT (School Centred Initial Teacher Training), I worked as a Teaching Assistant (TA) in various primary schools and as a Learning Support Assistant (LSA) in a secondary school that I am training to be a teacher now. During my career as a support staff, I had a very strong identity already and I have always been confident that my strengths as an LSA will add a lot of value to my new role as a Teacher. After so many years working in schools, I felt ready to have my own classroom with my own personalised rules and approach where I can nurture the children to be ready for life, not just exams. Usman Kothia, the SENCO, mentioned that both formal and informal lesson observations have shown that I create a positive and calm environment based on mutual respect as well as the use of meticulous differentiation strategies which enable learners to learn effectively (Appendix A).
My continuous professional development and the change from Primary to Secondary sector had an impact on my identity which is now changing again. Having worked with 4-5 year olds for many years, helped me to shape my personality and identity as a professional which has been very positive, child-centred and very empathetic towards the young pupils. The use of language and style of teaching was very different from the one I had to develop when working in a Secondary school. The positive form of language that is used correctly with the younger students will have a huge impact on their development as individuals throughout their life. As Piasta et al (2012) suggests that the language techniques teachers use, belong to two main categories: communication-facilitating strategies to promote children's participation in conversations (e.g., using a slow pace to encourage children to talk, using open-ended questions to cue child responses) and language-developing strategies to provide advanced language models to children during conversations (e.g., providing recasts, expansions, and models of diverse vocabulary).
What is teacher identity and when have I started developing my identity is the question I keep asking myself because I believe that this identity started forming since my first day of working in school when witnessing other teachers having their way of working. Over the time I understood that identity is not something that is created over the night or over the period of years, it can sometimes take the lifetime to develop into something noticeable and have an impact on someone’s life. Zembylas suggests that an assumed teacher identity is expressed and held in various places like ‘classrooms and schools, the site thoughts, attitudes, emotions, beliefs and values.’ (2003:107). Therefore, the identity can also change depending on all those factors. Also, when there is a huge change in circumstances, the teachers do feel like having a loss in identity like I felt when starting my new teaching placement but according to Zembylas, this is because of the previous assumption of the identity which might have been influenced by other factors.
In a secondary school setting, I had developed different approaches that were influenced by the school teachers around me. This has prepared me to be a lot better at behaviour management and dealing with the different kind of issues that students face in high schools. Even though this change enabled me to have different strategies and opportunities for personal development, I kept some things the same and stayed that kind of teacher that can always be approachable, supportive and focused on the children’s needs the most. As described by Palmer (1997:9), teacher’s identity is more like a personal concept that changes from time to time like ‘an evolving nexus’ which is influenced by the teacher’s genetics, culture and personal life experiences. Throughout these months of teacher training, I feel that I have been challenged with my progression from a TA to teacher by feeling unnecessary pressure of workload which has become very demanding and unbearable at times. This progression had a great impact on my identity too because I feel that I am not performing as good as I could if I was not under that much pressure. Nevertheless, the experience of gaining more authority has given me a lot more power to decide what I can do with my class and how I want the things to be set up and if the things do not go well, I know that I need to change something. Although I am still dependent on the authority of my mentor and the regular practice of the school, I know that I am developing into a teacher now. As Cattley highlights the importance of cultural and social norms, I feel that I fit in with the ‘socially constructed identity’ of a teacher which has its limitations of following the set of professionalism rules and guidelines created by those in management positions in school. I always find professionalism questionable as what some things will appear to be professional to some, won’t be to others. Palmer, who focuses more on what influence individuals around us have on our identities, makes it more personal because identity formation is a long everchanging process which is affected by our life and work colleagues. Knowing that I will be coming out of my comfort zone and leaving the environment where I feel safe and confident within myself, it can be very frightening at times because of the challenges awaiting in my second placement. This is where my identity as a teacher will change once more and it is evident that teacher’s identity is not a fixed notion and is defined by Akkerman&Meijer (2011:310) as a ‘fluid shifting from moment to moment’. As a science teacher, I can relate to the particle movement in liquids and how the change of the container, can change the shape of a liquid. If you place a liquid in a different container, it will take the shape of that container. It is the same with individuals when they change the environment and schools, they identity changes to adapt to the culture and values of that school environment which can be difficult if it doesn’t reflect your own values and beliefs.
The role of the educator
I take my role as an educator very seriously and so did the schools I’ve been working for because even my accent or the way of thinking has always been criticised and commented on till this day. During so many years of working at schools, I have learnt to live by the rules and not to get offended. This is because I have realised that every school and every teacher I worked with, could only truly connect with me and build good working relationships if I followed their protocol of working. Therefore, the school environment and mentor play the most crucial role in trainee teacher’s training year. Walkington (2005) supports the importance of mentors by describing the effectiveness of mentors when developing teacher’s identity. When I mirrored my mentor’s approaches and practice, I learned to find my own identity, recognise my strengths and find the teacher in me, that is different to stealing someone’s identity and being somebody else. Nevertheless, the teachers are considered to be in a profession that is measured on performance, which could be compared to performance of an actor on the stage and it doesn’t necessary reveal the real personality of an actor as they only give out as much as they want others to know about them. Having and outstanding and supportive mentor didn’t just mean that I had an opportunity to learn new strategies and outstanding practice but also find myself by trying new strategies out and finding out what style of teaching works best for me. If not being able to fit in within the working environment, will usually mean that your professional role is compromised, and you will end up having dual identities: one in school and the other one when outside of the school. Professionalism plays a crucial role inside and outside the schools as Evans (2011) described three components of teacher professionalism: behavioural professionalism (associated with what teachers do), attitudinal professionalism (associated with their motivation and job satisfaction) and intellectual professionalism (the knowledge and understanding teachers have of knowledge structures).
When working in schools, I don’t just think about the role as a member of staff without thinking about the role of an educator and the role model for the pupils. The areas of criticism and constant attention of others try to develop into my strengths. For example, my ethnicity and accent always stands out, therefore, I try to teach my secondary school pupils that having an accent is an advantage when teaching about the famous foreign scientist like Mendeleev etc.
Reflection as a solution
As trainee teachers, we are encouraged to reflect on our experience on daily and weekly bases as I remember the words of my deputy teacher saying that the best teachers are the reflective teachers. This concept of reflection is also supported by Walkington (2005) who said that reflection on one’s own perceptions, beliefs, experiences and practices is core activity for all teachers – pre-service and in-service, in schools and universities (2005:59). When I reflect, I take a step back and analyse my own performance, re-think why and how I have
I still remember the first day when I started teaching in front of the class which was opposite to my previous experience me being at the back of the class or working with the small groups of students. I felt very nervous but soon after I felt a great empowerment to be in control and perform in front of everyone being in the centre of attention. Felt like being on the stage, therefore, I agree with Alsup (2006) that trainee teachers are already ‘self-actualised’ and prepared to assume the teacher identity before even becoming the full-time teachers (2016:15). Since I have started my teacher training in Biology, I have developed a great subject knowledge and through this process been sharing my achievements with the students. I am a very strong believer in practical, hands-on learning. Therefore, as Bruner’s theory of learning (1966) highlights that pupils must go through three stages: concrete, pictorial and symbolic. Which means that it is crucial to differentiate to meet every student’s needs and enable them to achieve the best potential whilst creating personalised learning. The same theory could be applied to the teachers creating they own teacher identity.