Career on the Cusp:The Professional Identity of Teacher Educators
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This thesis aims to take a step or two towards a theoretical model of where teacher education ‘stands’ as a social practice, a career, a discipline, and a profession. It does this through the specific lens of ‘professional identity’, a concept often referred to in the teaching and teacher education literature but one that is also often ill-defined and seldom made the empirical focus of the studies reported. Taking as its starting point a definition of professional identity as ‘the valued professional self’, the thesis recounts the findings of a phenomenological study of the professional self-image and identities of nine preservice teacher educators from six different institutions in Aotearoa New Zealand. The research involved a grounded analysis of the transcripts of some 39 extended interviews with the teacher educators, conducted over a five-year period. The period during which the thesis was written has been one of considerable educational change in New Zealand, and one little short of an upheaval in relation to the institutional structuring of teacher education nation-wide. During the period of the study colleges of education with a century and a half of history as independent, stand-alone and specialist institutions, have gone through a complex process of merging with their local universities, while neo-liberal reforms of all tertiary institutions have placed particular strains and constraints on the pedagogical structures and processes that are typically implemented in teacher education programmes. Being on the brink of a new era in teacher education has thus brought teacher educators’ identity - their place in the educational world and what it is that they and their field fundamentally ‘stand for’ - both into relief, and for some, into question. The teacher educators in the study followed a path into teacher education typical in New Zealand but perhaps increasingly untypical in many other countries - from practitioner to academic - and in one sense it is an account of how they severally and collectively have come to terms with their own identities as professionals during that journey and at a time of considerable institutional turmoil. But the research also attempts to get beyond their individual stories to address broader issues of how one might best ‘get at’ a professional identity in the first place, as a matter of interview analysis and method, whether or not there are some distinctive but common elements that might distinguish the professional identity of the particular group we call teacher educators, and if there are, then what those distinctive characteristics might be. The research studied the teacher educators’ professional identities through several related lenses or perspectives that taken together might be seen as constituting or covering the key facets of the phenomenon we call a professional identity. It interrogates their storied accounts of how and why they became teacher educators: their professional motivations, goals and career histories. It also examines through a snapshot in time what they saw as the occupational scope of their jobs and the various roles they undertook, and the relative emphasis or value priority given by individuals to each job or role. Through a third lens, it describes and theorises the particular knowledge base(s), pedagogies and professional expertise they felt they needed to do the job effectively, and what they saw as teacher educators’ distinctive ‘expertise’. Using metaphor analysis, it also explores the emotionalities associated with the various personae they found themselves ‘being’ as teacher educators - the highs and things that gave them ‘heart’, along with the tensions, incongruities and dilemmas associated with ‘being’ teacher educators. A final perspective explores their sense of collective identity as a professional community and the various other professional groups with whom they felt more, or less, collective affinity. The thesis concludes by proposing a conceptual model of teacher educators’ professional identity as an identity that overlaps with that of teachers in schools as well as with that of academics in other fields, but which is nevertheless distinguishable from both these. In particular, it is simultaneously more multifaceted in scope than the former and more performative in nature than the latter. The study suggests that teacher educators’ professional identity may be particularly characterised by the comprehensiveness of its specialist expertise, by a strong sense of ethical commitment and other-centredness, by a conception of teacher education as the embodied enactment of its own knowledge-base and expertise, and, ultimately, by an abiding ambivalence about teacher educators’ and teacher education’s place in the world - the professional discomfort that characterises working across ‘the spaces in between’.