Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Becoming a Professional: Experimenting with Possible Selves in Professional Preparation

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Becoming a Professional: Experimenting with Possible Selves in Professional Preparation

Article excerpt


Entering professional practice requires that novices construct identities that fit into that world; part of the role of professional education is to help novices craft these professional identities. During the transitional time represented by professional education, students negotiate their images of themselves as professionals with the images reflected to them by their programs. This process of negotiation can be fraught with difficulty, especially when these images conflict (Britzman, 1990; Cole & Knowles, 1993). As they adapt to new roles, novices must also learn to negotiate their personal identity with the professional role, even as they navigate among the different images of professional identity offered by their programs and practitioners in the field. In this article we draw on the work of Hazel Markus and others on the development of possible selves to investigate the opportunities novices have to encounter, try out, and evaluate possible selves in the process of constructing professional identities. We use data from a study of the preparation of teachers, clergy, and clinical psychologists to illustrate the relationship of possible selves and professional identity, and the role that professional education might play in supporting the development of professional identity.


The literature on novice teachers' transitions into student teaching and the first year describes this experience as plagued by disillusionment, failure, loneliness, and insecurity (Britzman, 1990; Cole & Knowles, 1993; Hargreaves & Jacka, 1995; Rust, 1994). Left unresolved, such transitional issues can discourage new teachers from remaining in the profession and may contribute to the low retention rates of teachers in the first five years of teaching (c.f. Darling-Hammond & Schlan, 1996; Ingersoll, 2001). However, these challenges to early professional socialization are not unique to teaching. Kaslow & Rice (1985), for example, describe clinical psychology internships as a time of "professional adolescence" marked by personal and professional stress and identity transition. A central issue across professions is that novices are expected to act the part before they fully grasp or identify with new roles, which has important implications for professional acceptance and effectiveness (Goffman, 1959; Ibarra, 1999).

Given how pervasive the challenges are, one would expect professional education to play an integral part in helping novices to transition into their new roles. However, literature on teacher socialization generally characterizes coursework as having relatively little influence over socialization at best (Zeichner & Gore, 1990), and as counterproductive at worst (Hargreaves & Jacka, 1995). Fieldwork is often considered the most influential component of professional socialization in teacher education. Yet fieldwork tends to perpetuate the status quo within the placement sites (Britzman, 1990), and often runs counter to the goals that professional education programs may have, heightening the dissonance experienced by novices (Wideen et. al., 1998; Feiman-Nemser & Buchmann, 1985).

Conceptual Framework

Building on the work of Hazel Markus and colleagues (Cross & Markus, 1991; Markus & Nurius, 1986; Markus, Mullaly, & Kitayama, 1997), we explore the role of possible selves in the crafting of professional identity. As individuals engage with the practices, people, and role expectations that compose a given culture, they develop what Markus & Nurius (1986) deem "possible selves." Possible selves are "the ideal selves that we would very much like to become. They are also the selves we could become, and the selves we are afraid of becoming" (Markus & Nurius, 1986, p. 954). Within this framework, possible selves serve as incentives for change and as touchstones for evaluating current selves.

Developing this line of research further, Ibarra (1999) introduced "provisional selves" to elaborate how specific possible selves may be appropriated and rejected as people transition into more senior roles within a business culture. …

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