Teacher Identity

There is a strong focus on how external influences shape identity, such as power dimensions and social interactions, rather than the “earlier explanations of identity which tend to focus on structurally deterministic factors such as gender, ethnicity, and race” (Ajayi, 2011, p.88). Clarke (2009) explores the concept of teacher identity and considers how identities evolve as teachers progress through teacher training, and their careers in education. “Teacher identity is based on the core beliefs one has about teaching and being a teacher; beliefs that are continuously formed and reformed through experience” (Breen & Breen, 2014, p. 88). Clarke (2009) examines determinants such as power, morals and behaviours and considers how they influence and shape teacher identity. Furthermore, he questions whether it is important to be aware of teacher identity in education, and whether this awareness is fundamental to the success of teaching and learning.

Britzman (as cited in Clarke, 2009) states that learning to teach stems from finding oneself and developing as a person, as well as scrutinising one’s own approaches and actions over time. This is a view that is shared by Gao Xuesong and Ma Xiuli (as cited in Gilroy, 2017) who suggest that trainee teachers in China, who use metaphorical language to describe their positions, could benefit by examining this language and use it to shape their own perspectives about their place in education. Clarke, in his 2009 journal article entitled ‘The Ethico-politics of Teacher Identity’, responds to research such as this by studying the intrinsic link between identity and teaching. He surmises that, in teaching, practitioners should be acutely aware of how their identity shapes learning environments and affects learners (Clarke, 2009).

Teaching continually shapes identity and therefore teacher identity is “not static but dynamic, shifting, multiple, conflicting and shaped by social interactions in the context of practice over time” (Wenger, 1998, p. 95). Clarke (2009) discusses the factors that influence identity, and states that ethical decisions cannot be independent of “social discourse and cultural convention” (p.189). Foucault’s work on power relationships, and in particular how the amount of power held by people in social situations can have a bearing on identity and subsequent actions, takes into account social discourse (Clarke, 2009).



Ajayi, L. (2011). How ESL Teachers’ Sociocultural Identities Mediate Their Teacher Role Identities in a Diverse Urban School Setting. The Urban Review, 43(5), 654-680. doi:10.1007/s11256-010-0161-y

Breen, J. E., & Breen, P. (2014). Advances in Higher Education and Professional Development: Cases on Teacher Identity, Diversity, and Cognition in Higher Education: IGI Global.

Clarke, M. (2009). The ethico-politics of teacher identity. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 41(2), 185-200. doi:10.1111/j.1469-5812.2008.00420.x

Gilroy, P. (2017). Developing teacher identity through diversity. Journal of Education for Teaching, 43(1), 1-2. doi:10.1080/02607476.2016.1262993

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge, U.K;New York, N.Y;: Cambridge University Press.

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