ERG SES E 06, Identity and Education
Researchers in teacher education have recognized the importance of preparing students to teach diverse students populations (Santoro & Allard, 2005; Milner, 2005; Radstake & Leeman, 2010). In addition, we should not overlook that also the students in teacher education are diverse. They have understandings of how to be a professional (professional identity) that are influenced by their cultural background. Several researchers investigated the relationship between culture and professional identity. For example, Leijen and Kullasepp (2013) contend that becoming a professional occurs in a socio-cultural context; the person-culture dialogue leads to construction of the professional identity through the use of cultural material. Although researchers have acknowledged culture’s influence on professional identity development, it is still unclear how this influence is enacted.
In Hofstede’s understanding, culture can be described as a ‘mental program’ (2010, p.5). He characterizes the mental program by several cultural dimensions: power distance, individualism and collectivism, masculinity and femininity, and uncertainty avoidance. He measured these cultural dimensions in different countries and concluded there were key differences among countries in various dimensions. In his book (Hofstede, 2010), he compared educational representations on cultural dimensions within different countries. For example, in large-power-distance countries, people prefer to think that the educational process is teacher centered, but in small-power-distance countries, people prefer to think students are the center in the educational process. Although Hofstede’s work is about comparing countries, it is plausible to assume that within countries the understandings of cultural dimensions (called ‘cultural values’ in this study) vary per person. We therefore want to investigate if and how teachers’ cultural values influenced their professional identity.
There are different definitions of professional identity but it is widely accepted that professional identity is not stable and predetermined (Beijaard, Meijer & Verloop, 2004; Beauchamp & Thomas, 2009; Izadinia, 2013). It develops during the interaction between teacher and the context (Olsen, 2008; Sfard & Prusak, 2005; Beauchamp & Thomas, 2011). Beijaard, Verloop and Vermunt (2000) concluded that teachers derive their professional identity from (mostly a combination of) the ways they see themselves as subject matter experts, pedagogical experts and didactical experts. Van der Want (2015) added interpersonal expertise in teachers’ professional identity. Flores and Day (2005) defined the development of professional identity as “an ongoing and dynamic process which entails the sense making and (re)interpretation of one’s own values and experiences”. Meijer, de Graaf and Meirink (2011) investigated student teachers’ views of their first year of teaching by examining their key experiences during their development and concluded that these experiences could disturb their development, but might also be sources of accelerated growth. These key experiences can be called “critical incidents” (Tripp, 1994). According to Burke and Stets (2009), if teachers’ appraisals of their experiences in classrooms mismatch their identity standard, teachers would either change the appraisals or change the identity standard. Van der Want (2015) concluded that the teachers’ personal characteristics might influence their appraisals of their experiences in classrooms and cause their identity change. The personal characteristics are associated with Hofstede’s cultural dimensions (Hofstede & McCrea, 2004). So teachers’ cultural values might influence their appraisals of experiences in classrooms and the appraisals can impact their professional identity development.
The research question of this study is how the eight Chinese student teachers’ appraisals of critical incidents in their classes impact their professional identity development and how this development is influenced by their cultural values.
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