Developing your identity as a new teacher
We often hear of frustrations from student teachers when they feel a lack of ownership of their classes, or they have to conform to standards or practice dictated by their tutors and mentors rather than having the freedom to be themselves. Transitioning from training to a newly qualified teacher removes many of these shackles but it can be a difficult process to navigate. Reflection in this area will help as you begin this next stage of your career. In this article, lead educator, Ellie Overland, explores some of the questions for you to think about as you begin to rethink your teacher identity.
Your teacher identity is dynamic and will continue to change throughout your career but one of the biggest changes is in the move from student teacher to being qualified. Next time you are introduced to someone new and they ask what you do you will be able to say with confidence that you are a teacher. No longer training, you are now a full member of one of the most noble of professions, but how you talk about the profession, the type of teacher you are and your passions reveals a lot about your professional identity. I once had to berate a colleague who introduced herself at a party as only a teacher – we clearly had quite different views as to the status of the profession! Your own experiences of education and the teachers you have met will shape your view of the profession and your role as a teacher. Before you read on, just write down the first three things that come into your head when you describe your new job.
Now you have done that, read it back to yourself. Did you mention children or age groups? Did you mentions subjects or topics? The type of school you will teach in? Were there aspects of the role that you mentioned such as behaviour or marking? These snippets can provide a window into your identity as a teacher. Research suggests a more detailed exploration of your own beliefs and understanding of the profession can support the development of your teacher identity and lead to greater success in the classroom.1
At the start of my career, I remember a being given constant advice ‘don’t smile until Christmas’. Looking back this was not useful for me at all; the notion that by being strict and hard faced would somehow instil effective classroom management. I am naturally quite a smiley person. Years of practice have taught me that building positive relationships with my pupils and encouraging them works far more effectively for me than being stern faced. Don’t get me wrong – I have a ‘teacher look’ and I’m not afraid to use it, and I will always conform to school behaviour policies but I find there has to be a freedom to build an energy and a sense of joy at being in the classroom. I have moved schools several times and, on each occasion, I have needed to explore the new policies and think how I will fit my style and personality to the ethos, policy and procedures of the school.
Knowing how much to ‘give’ of yourself in the classroom is part of the challenge of establishing your own identity in the classroom. Friesen and Besley (2013)2 explain that teachers who are more likely to have a well-formed sense of personal identity are more likely to be ready to form their professional identity. Do you have a clear understanding or your own passions and beliefs? How do these align with your views and understanding of education? Do you like innovation and change? Are you passionate about particular subjects or causes? What do you believe the purpose of school to be? This is a very personal and inward exploration, but once you have explored these types of questions, you can consider how this starts to manifest in you as a teacher. Are there certain aspects of yourself you wish to keep hidden. How do you want others to perceive you as a teacher. When children go home and describe their new teacher, what do you want them to say about you?
Once you have started to explore your new teacher identity it can help to secure you finding the best support and development opportunities. Teacher identity is individual with no right or wrong way to be, but it is important for professional development to suit it and personalised approaches are most effective.3 Over the next two weeks you will identify ways of working with colleagues and identifying professional development opportunities. Ensuring these align with your own identity can help maximise the impact.
- Hong, J., Greene, B. and Lowery, J. Multiple dimensions of teacher identity development from pre-service to early years of teaching: A longitudinal study. Journal of Education for Teaching. 2017;43(1):84-98.
- Friesen, M.D. and Besley, S.C. Teacher identity development in the first year of teacher education: A developmental and social psychological perspective. Teaching and Teacher Education. 2013;36:23-32.
- Noonan, J. An affinity for learning: Teacher identity and powerful professional development. Journal of teacher education. 2019;70(5):526-537.