Variations of identity – Paper summary

The following is a summary of the section titled ‘Variations of identity‘ in Day et al. (2006) paper; ‘The personal and professional selves of teachers: stable and unstable’ .  A copy of this paper  can be obtained using the following link.


In much educational literature it is recognised that the broader social conditions in which teachers live and work, and the personal and professional elements of teachers’ lives, experiences, beliefs and practices are integral to one another, and that there are often tensions between these which impact to a greater or lesser extent upon teachers’ sense of self or identity. If identity is a key influencing factor on teachers’ sense of purpose, self-efficacy, motivation, commitment, job satisfaction and effectiveness, then investigation of those factors which influence positively and negatively, the contexts in which these occur and the consequences for practice, is essential. Surprisingly, although notions of ‘self’ and personal identity are much used in educational research and theory, critical engagement with individual teachers’ cognitive and emotional ‘selves’ has been relatively rare. Yet such engagement is important to all with an interest in raising and sustaining standards of teaching, particularly in centralist reform contexts which threaten to destabilise long- held beliefs and practices. This article addresses the issue of teacher identities by drawing together research which examines the nature of the relationships between social structures and individual agency; between notions of a socially constructed, and therefore contingent and ever-remade, ‘self’, and a ‘self’ with dispositions, attitudes and behavioural responses which are durable and relatively stable; and between cognitive and emotional identities. Drawing upon existing research literature and findings from a four-year Department for Education and Skills funded project with 300 teachers in 100 schools which investigated variations in teachers’ work and lives and their effects on pupils (VITAE), it finds that identities are neither intrinsically stable nor intrinsically fragmented, as earlier literature suggests. Rather, teacher identities may be more, or less, stable and more or less fragmented at different times and in different ways according to a number of life, career and situational factors.

variations in identity

  • ‘Primary school teacher’s personal and professional identities are closely connected…they contribute to motivation, commitment and job satisfaction’.
  • Secondary teacher’s identity is, for the most part, connected to their subject area.
  • ‘For all teachers, identity will be affected by external (policy) and internal (organisational)and personal experiences past and present.’
  • Teacher define themselves through; ‘past and present identities’, ‘personal and social histories’, ‘current roles,’ ‘their beliefs and values about the kind of teacher they hope to be.’
  • ‘Teachers’ identities are essential unstable’.

Type of teachers:

  1. Stable (positive and negative)
  2. Unstable (positive and negative)

‘Perceptions of life and work, external policy, school leadership and culture are perceived to be key positive and negative influences.’

Variations in teacher work/lives + strategies to deal with tension = ‘direct or indirect, positive or negative impact of pupils.’

  • Teacher identity is emotional
  • ‘reforms have an impact upon teachers’ identities and, because these are both cognitive and emotional, create reactions which are both rational and non-rational.’
  • ‘A significant and ongoing part of being a teacher, then, is the experiencing and management of strong emotions.’
  • Due to their ’emotional investments’ teacher can and will react emotionally when beliefs and practices challenged of they feel their reputation is or has been damaged. (‘professional identity and moral integrity are questioned.’)
  • Other negative emotions experienced by teacher include :anger exacerbated by tiredness, stress and students’ misbehaviour, anxiety because of the complexity of the job; guilt, sadness, blame and shame at not being able to achieve ideals or targets imposed by others.’
  • Teachers’ emotions will impact upon the ‘extend to which reforms are received, adopted, adapted and sustained or not sustained.’


This article speaks to me at a very personal level.  It so closely mirrors my own struggles and those I have seen in my colleagues over the years.

Schools, especially independent schools, are businesses and in my time as teacher I have seen a significant shift in how schools are run.  We not longer have ‘bursars’ for example, they are now ‘Business Managers’.  Headmasters/Principals are increasingly adopting positions more in tune with corporate CEOs.  And of course why wouldn’t these changes occur, school are, after all, multi-million dollar businesses.  But in adopting a more ‘business like’ approach I have seen the relationships been administration and teacher compromised and in some respects depersonalised.

This paper reads as a ‘Guide to working with teachers’ for the modern administrator.  Change is always uncomfortable, challenges when dealing with students, teachers and parents will always be shrouded in emotion, yet acknowledging and planning for this will go a long way to managing that change and increasing the uptake of new ideas within your school environment.  We are, after all in highly personal, caring and feeling profession.



One response to “Variations of identity – Paper summary

  1. And not just schools, it’s a plague infecting universities. That isn’t to say Uni’s didn’t need some re-thinking, but there are certainly some negative aspects.

    Glad this paper spoke to you – didn’t really intend for to read the whole thing – but on reflection I think some of the bits you read were more useful than the section I recommended.


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