The identity of teacher educators in the changing context of teacher education in the Netherlands

J.M.H. Swennen, M.L.L. Volman

Research output: Chapter in Book / Report / Conference proceedingConference contributionAcademicpeer-review


Little is known about the development of the professional identities of teacher educators, especially within historical and contemporary contexts of teacher education in the Netherlands. Teacher education is undergoing significant change and it is paramount to understand how this relates to the teacher educators who conduct this work. Based on the sociocultural views of Holland et al (1998), we conceive the concept of identity as both one’s self-understanding and the understanding of someone that is held by others. This multifaceted identity develops and unfolds within the many different contexts in which people live and, as such, a professional identity is not unlike a personal identity except that it presents itself primarily within the context of one’s work. Teacher educators who previously worked as K-12 teachers move, in their work, from a “first-order context of schools” (teachers teaching an academic subject to students) to a “second-order context of teacher education” (teacher educators focusing on teaching, writ large) (Murray & Male, 2005). This change in context does not only mean these teachers have to acquire new knowledge, skills, and attitudes but, additionally, means that they need to develop the identity of teacher educator (Swennen, Volman & Van Essen, 2008). This transition is often difficult (Zeichner, 2005).

In this paper, which derives from a larger research project, we describe results of an empirical study into the professional identity development of five teacher educators from different generations within the current context of teacher education in Europe. All five worked as teachers in primary education before shifting into positions in teacher education. The participants differ in age (born between 1927 and 1966), subject area, and the geographical location of the teacher education institute at which they work. Both genders are included in the sample. In-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with the teacher educators and were used to construct five professional life story analyses (Connolly & Clandinin, 1999).

We found that teacher educators develop more complex identities over time. All five teacher educators went through a significant transition period, lasting up to seven years, in which teaching their subject or subject area was still their primary focus before they began to develop a second-order professional identity—i.e., an identity focused on teaching teaching, rather than teaching an academic subject. Interestingly, only the youngest ones in our sample reported opportunities for, and support in, talking about this identity shift in their professional contexts. The five teacher educators developed unique professional identities that fit each of their individual abilities, personalities, and the particular contexts of their work. The identity each developed was additionally constructed out of characteristics of the particular historical period in which they were trained. For example, the two youngest teacher educators acquired an identity that included a research focus along with the practical work of teacher education—this was due to the current teacher education climate in the Netherlands and, because it was not available for the three older teacher educators, it was not part of their professional identities. These and other findings are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEducation and Poverty: Theory, Research, Policy and Praxi
Place of PublicationSan Francsco
Publication statusPublished - 2013
EventAERA Annual Meeting, San Francisco - San Francsco
Duration: 1 Jan 20131 Jan 2013


ConferenceAERA Annual Meeting, San Francisco


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