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book review:teacher identity discourses

By Rui-Liang Apr 27, 2014 769 Words
Book Review
Rui Liang

“Teachers are, above all, people.” This sentence condenses the essence of this book—Teacher Identity Discourse: Negotiating Personal and Profession Space, by Janet Alsup. Teachers we know in class are usually professional and respectable. However, teachers are humans who have their own feelings and thoughts as well. One’s personal identity may not always works well with his or her professional identity as a teacher. In the book, Alsup indicates that the path one takes to become a teacher is a process crowded with tension, negotiation, and sometimes failures. Becoming a “heroical” teacher is not simply learning “a new set of rules for behavior”. Instead, one has to learn how to integrate his or her personal and professional identities without compromising who he or she really is even though that may not fit into the culturally defined conceptions of what teachers “are” and “should be.” She challenges her audiences—pre-service teachers, teacher educators, mentors, and supervisors—to realize although it is generally accepted and true that teachers should be concerned with their students, new teachers must learn to “be more selfish and take care of themselves first, in order to take care of others”. She calls for teacher educators to take actions to facilitate pre-service teachers’ integration of personal and professional identities and beliefs in teacher identity formation by pointing out that such ideological integration is actually more complex than what is acknowledged in traditional methods class.

The study, which was triggered by Alsup’s own experience, was designed to investigate her hypothesis about the centrality of forming a workable teacher identity—one that not only respects the individual’s personal ideologies but also functions well within the professional arena, giving the answer to her questions asked in the first Chapter that what teacher educators could do to promote their teacher students’ personal and professional identity integration in a methods course and how instructors or mentors could help their teacher students engage in transformative identity discourse. Alsup followed six pre-service English education students for two years as they stepped into their profession of a teacher. The six participants were required to tell many experiential stories of teaching and learning for Alsup believes that telling stories allows reflection on these experiences. Alsup claims more than once in the book that experience by itself is not inherently useful; it is helpful only if it is subject to critical reflection. Therefore, these reflections will affect new teachers’ developing teaching lives and future pedagogical decisions. Alsup thematically coded and analyzed these narratives with an effort to explore what effects these narratives have on the pre-service teachers’ current educational philosophies and pedagogical choices. At the same time, the central concept in this book—borderland discourses, which Alsup borrowed from Gee (1999) and Anzaldúa (1987), emerged. It can be understood as the “intersection of personal and professional identities”, reflecting the pre-service teachers’ attempts to bridge multiple subjectivities, including the intellectual, the corporeal and the affective aspects of human selfhood. It leads to “identity growth” by helping the pre-service teachers fill the gaps between multiple senses of selves. She takes those pre-service teachers who decided to become a teacher immediately after graduation as successfully form a teacher identity while those who didn’t as fail to make the transition. By comparing the amount of the borderland discourses the participants engaged in and their final development, Alsup made the conclusion that those who were able to negotiate the borderland were also able, with proper assistance, to construct a holistic professional identity, which is not confined within the rigid cultural model of teacher but will make decisions based on student needs.

Specific suggestions are also provided by Alsup in the book for teacher educators to incorporate into their teacher education methods class for the purpose of fostering the professional identity development of pre-service teacher. Alsup offers the teacher educators with classroom tools that can encourage the pre-service teachers to critically examine their ideologies and personal pedagogies, including a visual metaphor project and a more reflexive “philosophy statement” assignment instead of the traditional one that often serves to solidify unexamined positions. These tools could easily be used and revised to fit into every specific context. However, this is not sufficient enough to deal with every situation that might happen to the pre-service teachers. Not to mention the risk it takes to oversimplify the problems. But we have to admit that the combination of theoretical and practical insights of this book does offer not only the teacher educators but also the beginning and struggling teachers a direction to head towards in order to develop a satisfying teacher identity.

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