A Study of the Perceptions among Irish Primary Teachers of the Development of their Teaching Identity after their First Year in Teaching
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Embargo until 1 March 2015.
Reason for embargo
To allow for the publication of papers from the thesis.
This thesis reports the findings of research conducted with Irish primary teachers who had recently completed probation. The study employed semi-structured interviews to examine the teachers’ perceptions of beneficial influences on the development of their teaching identity. The principals of the two schools involved were also interviewed. The interviews were designed to allow me to explore influences that had been identified in the literature as important in the formation of teacher identity. In the interviews, themes that have been identified in the literature on teacher identity were explored with participants. The teachers identified incidents and persons whom they perceived as having inspired them to become teachers. Their perceptions of how their interactions with pupils and parents had influenced their identities were examined, as were their experiences of school cultures and of working in collaboration with colleagues. Finally, their awareness of theoretical literature as a tool to help their further development was examined. The findings of the study confirm that teachers’ identities are formed by a combination of factors and add a more detailed understanding of those factors in the Irish context. Beginning teachers are influenced strongly by their own biographies, and by their experiences as students prior to and during their pre-service teacher education. They are sensitive to the perceptions of them by parents and pupils. Their willingness to engage collaboratively with other colleagues, including their principals and mentors, features strongly in their own perceptions of how their identities have been formed. The importance of the school culture in helping to shape the teacher’s identity is highlighted as a phenomenon which both shapes and is reshaped in turn by teachers and their colleagues. Literature is generally not considered relevant by the Newly Qualified Teachers (NQTs) in this study, although the principals’ responses indicate their familiarity with themes common in the literature concerning teacher induction, and with concepts of teachers as reflective practitioners who need to continuously examine their practice and experience in order to promote the ongoing shaping of their identity as teachers. The thesis argues for a conception of teacher professionalism which respects the identity of teachers and the agency of teachers as individuals in a world of individuals who are engaged in the constructionist creation of knowledge. This understanding prioritises practical wisdom, phronesis, over the technical knowledge, techne, and knowledge of subject, episteme, which teachers also require. This is at odds with widespread competency-based conceptions of teacher professionalism. The findings of the research indicate that the development of teacher identity is complex and is affected by a broader range of influences than the imperative to develop competencies. It calls for an alternative approach to teacher induction which acknowledges the importance of these factors.
Department of Education and Skills
Doctor of Education in Education