Becoming a Teacher: A Comparative Case Study of Preservice Teachers’ Identity Trajectories in Sweden and Denmark

Ilona Rinne, Ulla Lundqvist, Bjørn Friis Johannsen, Ali Yildirim

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Abstract

Becoming a Teacher: A Comparative Case Study of Preservice Teachers’ Identity Trajectories in Sweden and Denmark

The purpose of this study is to investigate how pre-service teachers develop professional identity during teacher education (TE) in Sweden and Denmark. Becoming a teacher is a meaning and decision-making process that revolves around students defining themselves as future teachers (Korthagen, 2004). Professional identity is constituted through self-definition based on personal and psychological values and embedded in socio-historical, institutional and disciplinary practices and contexts (Kamler & Thomson, 2014). It is a vital concern for TE to respond to students´ efforts to explore “the teaching self” (Bullough, 1997, p. 21, cited in Korthagen, 2004). Accordingly, “teacher identity” in this study refers to the description of the professional self that pre-service teachers construct based on their experiences during TE. It is closely related to the meaning and value student teachers attach to TE as well as the decision to stay in the program or later in the profession.

The impact of TE on the meanings and values student teachers attach to the teaching profession is a major concern in many countries. This is particularly critical for Sweden and Denmark where there is a serious teacher shortage due to the large numbers of retiring teachers (Enheten för utredning och lärarutbildning, 2019), and a shortage of students enrolling in TE programs, which is further exacerbated by high drop-out rates (EVA, 2013; Trippestad et al., 2017). Though these challenges create an urgent societal need for scientific clarification of what professional identities pre-service teachers develop, we know very little about how various TE settings, components and processes relate to various aspects of students’ own concepts of becoming a teacher. Accordingly, our research questions are:

- How do pre-service teachers identify as future teachers?
- How do pre-service teachers experience and reflect on the role of teacher
education in their professional identity development?
- How do a Danish and a Swedish teacher education program compare in
supporting pre-service teachers´ development of a professional teacher
identity?

To investigate how pre-service teachers identify themselves as future teachers, we will employ the theory of “positioning” (Harré & van Langenhove, 1999), which provides insight into how individuals use concepts and discourses to “position” themselves and others (Harré & van Langenhove, 1999) in relation to a social reality (Fawns et al., 2005; Gynne, 2016). As a social constructivist perspective (Slocum & van Langenhove, 2004), positioning involves “construction of personal stories that make a person's actions intelligible and relatively determinate as social acts” (Harré & van Langenhove, 1999, p. 17), and informs how individuals take “self-positions,” that is, take a stance in a particular (interview) situation, and “position interactively,” intentionally or unintentionally.

To account for how a student's positioning within the teaching profession evolves and changes across time, and compare across contexts, we employ the concept of trajectories of identification (Lundqvist 2019a; Wortham, 2006). We define “trajectory” as a “chain of positioning events” throughout which an individual, across time and space, enact signs of identities “that more and more participants” come to presuppose as evidence of a local thickening model of identity (Wortham, 2006, p. 47). This concept is helpful because it enables us to trace, in interactional detail and across the contexts of TE and school as workplace, how preservice and, subsequently, in-service teachers’ positionings help construct their learning, personal stances and professional trajectories in not entirely predictable ways (Lundqvist, 2019b). Finally, sense making (Ketelaar et al., 2012) informs this study as an ongoing process of establishing a balance in professional self-definition in the face of new learning experiences and emotions in TE and schools.

Methodology, Methods, Research Instruments or Sources Used
We developed a longitudinal comparative case study design (Yin, 2014) informed through semi-structured interviews to investigate how students position themselves in response to their experiences in teacher education and schools, and how individual development as students’ positioning acts changes from centering on identification as a pre-professional to an early-career professional. During the Autumn of 2019, the first round of interviews in the longitudinal set-up were finished. Eight final-year teacher students were interviewed, who have now finished their studies and started working as teachers. Of these, six students studied in Sweden, two men and four women; and two students studied in Denmark, one man and one woman. In Spring 2021, follow-up interviews will be conducted with these participants working as teachers. Participants were selected to reflect both the gender and minority-status compositions of the teacher programmes they attend. This intention was realized for the Swedish context which is reflected by the number of women who and the variety in ethnic backgrounds that the students brought with them to this sample. In the Danish context, the two students, identify as multigenerational Danish-and white citizens. Interviews are planned to be conducted in the Spring of 2021 with more Danish final year students to broaden the sample, thus capture more aspects of the subject-position variety characteristic of the larger student population.
The interview protocol developed from a pilot study has five focus areas, all addressing professional identity: (1) identity and choice narratives, (2) personal characteristics and self-perceptions, (3) influence from other students, (4) abilities, (5) needs for further development. The last theme also focuses on expectations for the first year in teaching, to thus create a starting point for a slightly modified follow-up interview about their experience as in-service teachers.

The conducted interviews were transcribed and analysed thematically (Braun & Clarke, 2006) focusing on positioning, (beginning) trajectories of identification and sense-making. Important themes that arose in one interview was used to focus analysis of other interviews in an iterative fashion until a stable set of themes were located that could be informed in important ways across the interviews. Especially, we were interested to see if one context could inform the other.

Conclusions, Expected Outcomes or Findings
Thematic analysis of the interview data in the Swedish context provided insight into pre-service teachers´ learning experiences and identity projections, whereas the Danish context allowed insight into an emergent operationalisation of identity types that pre-service teachers accordingly self-identify. Our preliminary findings indicate that pre-service teachers (1) mainly learn the profession from being guided in practice by their supervisors, (2) attach value to the relational aspects in classroom management, (3) see one fundamental aspect of the teaching profession as the ability to balance between professional closeness and distance, (4) see a relation between the ethnic background and their choice of future workplace, (5) view the heavy workload and the risk of burnout as a major concern, that translates into a fear of not being able to cope with future challenges and ultimately stay in the profession, (6) the gendered end ethnic experience play a role in the ways pre-service students identify as future teachers and how they relate to each other during education. These areas will be described and the voices of participants will be included to exemplify critical aspects of identity development at the individual level.

Bringing such various perspectives together in combined analysis of data across the two contexts is valuable in responding to urgent challenges TE programs face today as discussed above. The results may (1) contribute to teacher educators´ and policy makers´ understanding of how TE may support or impede the development of professional teacher identity, (2) offer implications for improving various aspects and components of TE (courses, school practicum, etc.) and strengthening their relations to development of teacher identities to promote motivation in professional practice and to increase retention in both TE and the profession, (3) integrate more nuanced possibilities for student identification, (4) ultimately preventing high dropout rate of minority and male students in TE.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2021
Publication statusPublished - 2021
EventThe European Conference on Educational Research - Geneva University (online), Geneva, Switzerland
Duration: 6 Sep 202110 Sep 2021
https://eera-ecer.de/ecer-2021-geneva/

Conference

ConferenceThe European Conference on Educational Research
LocationGeneva University (online)
Country/TerritorySwitzerland
CityGeneva
Period06/09/2110/09/21
Internet address

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