From Social Identity to Professional Identity: Issues of Language and Gender

Article excerpt

Abstract: This study draws from sociocultural theory to examine how biographical factors interplay with contextual factors to shape the professional identity of a Spanish language teacher candidate. Specifically, it explores the student teaching experience of Marcos, a 30-year-old language teacher candidate from South America. Analysis of the data reveals that in forging his professional identity, the participant appropriates discourses that place high value on native speakerness and male authority. While this allows him to claim legitimacy as a Spanish language teacher, it also leads him to assume a taken-for-granted view of both subject matter knowledge and classroom management skills, precluding his development as a teacher. Implications derived from this study call for a critical language teacher education that provides tools for examining unquestioned assumptions about language and gender ideologies, expanding identity options, and fostering professional agency.

Key words: Spanish, critical pedagogy, language teacher identity, learning to teach, sociocultural theory, teacher education

Learning to teach is not just about learning about a body of knowledge and techniques, it is also about learning to work in a complex sociopolitical and cultural space and negotiating ways of doing this with our past histories, fears and desires; our own knowledges and cultures; our students' wishes and preferences; and the institutional constraints and collaborations. (A. Pennycook, Critical Moments in a TESOL Praxicum)

Introduction

Student teaching is a crucial stage in the socialization of prospective teachers into the culture of teaching, one often characterized by crisis and contradictions. The work of several authors illuminates the complexities involved in gaining membership into the culture of teaching and developing a professional identity (see Alsup, 2006; Antonek, McCormick,&Donato, 1997; Britzman, 1991; Bullough, Knowles, & Crow, 1991; Weber & Mitchell, 1996). During student teaching, prospective teachers are faced with a host of contradictory realities and mounting pressure. They struggle to cope as their own educational and personal biographies, beliefs, and ways of knowing interplay with these realities and problematize their emerging professional identities. Under the tutelage of a cooperating teacher and armed with previous learning experiences, varied belief systems, and the knowledge acquired during teacher preparation coursework, teacher candidates make the transition from student to teacher in the time span of approximately 15 weeks. For most of them, this rite of passage is a time of challenges and stress as they attempt to put theory into practice, convert subject-matter knowledge into subject matter for teaching, develop pedagogical and classroom management skills, cope adequately with the increasing demands inherent in teachers' work, and ultimately shape their professional identity in the process.

Literature Review

Language Teacher Education and Sociocultural Theory

The field of language teacher education (LTE) is on a quest for major reform. Preoccupation with poor language instruction and graduating teachers' inadequate proficiency levels in the target language led the profession to develop The Program Standards for the Preparation of Foreign Language Teachers (ACTFL/NCATE, 2002). Similarly, calls have been made for the reconceptualization of the knowledge base of LTE (Freeman & Johnson, 1998) and for professional development models that are in tune with the sociocultural turn in general teacher education (Johnson, 2006, 2009; Reagan & Osborn, 2002). Historically, LTE has been characterized by a narrow focus on linguistic and cognitive perspectives that view ''learning as an internal psychological process isolated in the mind of the learner and largely free from the social and physical contexts within which it occurs'' (Johnson, 2009, p. …