Parallel Performance

Constructing Identities in a New Teacher Education Program
IdentityTeacher EducationTeacher IdentityTeacher Educator IdentityTeacher EducatorTeam TeachingIdentities
In faculties of education, teacher and teacher educator identities are socially constructed in parallel as individuals simultaneously develop and perform the roles of teacher and teacher-educator in complex play-within-a-play structures. After engaging in a program renewal process for an integrated B.A./B.Ed. program, designing and team teaching two first-year courses in the program, and engaging in a self-study using 25 weekly recorded conversations, a student focus group conversation, and artifacts collected from teaching and students, the authors of this chapter describe three themes that emerged in relation to teacher/teacher educator identity construction. These themes, framed as theatre metaphors, include 'knowing the setting/characters,' 'scripting and performing,' and 'pulling back the curtain.' Together, they describe and shed light on the nature of teacher/teacher educator identity formation, the complexity of engaging in teacher educator identity formation after moving from the classroom to academe, and the promise of team teaching as a powerful tool for growth.


The act of teaching, whether it is in the public school system or in a post-secondary institution, requires one to simultaneously perform multiple identities in an array of contexts, while in the presence of other, equally multifaceted identities (Puchegger & Bruce, 2021; Rice et al, 2015). It is within this complex environment that identities are both constructed and performed as they interact with each other, much the same as a theatrical masterpiece takes shape in the spaces between characters and scenes, all in the presence of (and through the interpretation of) an audience. The research we describe in this chapter looks at our own experiences performing new roles as teacher educators whilst interacting with teacher candidates just beginning to imagine themselves in the role of teacher. Through the use of theatre metaphors, we consider the complex ways in which our own multifaceted identities as teacher educators grew out of, and interacted with, those of each other and of our education students.


As part of our service work as second-year, tenure-track faculty members in a faculty of education at a small Canadian university, we volunteered to participate in the design of a new Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Education Integrated Program (IP). Although we likely didn’t fully recognize it at the time, our involvement in the program renewal process was motivated by many factors, including an impetus to improve things for students in a struggling program (very few students made it past the first year), our desire to carry our weight as faculty members, and our need to achieve tenure and promotion. Alysha, who had been previously involved in a significant number of improvement-oriented initiatives in schools, school divisions and other organizations, led the faculty committee (including Candy) through a carefully planned renewal process that began by engaging with literature about quality teacher education programs, and concluded with the design and implementation of a new IP that has since improved student retention and the overall success of the program.

The following year, our third year in new positions in the Faculty of Education, we volunteered to design and co-teach two new courses that would be the first (and only) year-one IP courses students would take upon entering the newly designed program. These courses (later titled "Teacher Identity: Becoming Tomorrow’s Teacher" and "Power, Positionality and Privilege: Schools as Complex Spaces") brought us together to work creatively and collaboratively in the interest of the program and our students. The design and co-teaching of these first-year courses sparked our curiosity about professional identity development in both our pre-service teachers, and in ourselves as new teacher educators and faculty members. The process also revealed affective dimensions at play that inspired us to conduct a self-study about what was happening as we performed the role of teacher educator with both each other and our students, who were themselves learning to take on the role of teacher.

Theoretical Framework

As is the case with most self-study (LaBoskey, 2004), the research that we engaged in was grounded in social constructivism, the idea that phenomena like teacher and teacher educator identity are constructed within social contexts as complex interactions take place within a community of learners. Social constructivism, as a framework, aligns with concepts of teacher identity development and the role of teacher educators in this process in several ways. According to Danielewicz (2001), “selves are made unwittingly in moments of convergence, when there is a strong confluence of forces, or a crossing-over of disparate vectors of experience” (p. 195). From this point of view, the interactions between pre-service teachers, instructors, and experiences (past and present), allow for the individual and collective formation of personal and professional identities that continuously evolve and emerge in complex ways, throughout the course of a teacher’s (or teacher educator’s) life/career.

Aims of the Study

The research study sought to answer three questions: (1) How do we (as teacher educators) attempt to foster the development of teacher identity through the process of designing and co-teaching two new first-year IP courses?, (2) How is teacher identity development evident in first year IP students?, and (3) How does the process of engaging in an IP program renewal, the design of two new courses for IP students, and co-teaching the new courses impact our own emerging identities as new teacher educators in a faculty of education?

Review of Relevant Literature

Teacher Professional Identity

Significant research has been conducted in relation to the professional identity of teachers over the past 25 years yielding a fairly cohesive view of the nature of teacher identity. While many early researchers in the field conceptualized ‘the self’ as singular, fixed, and stable, researchers more recently (particularly over the last two to three decades) have begun to recognize the multiple, changing, and unstable nature of ‘the self’ (Hong, 2010). Many such authors describe identity not as something one has, but as something one uses and that constantly changes over the course of a person’s whole life (Beijaard et al., 2004; MacLure, 1993). From such a view, identity is continually being formed and reformed, constructed and reconstructed, through a dynamic, active process that is ongoing and never completely finished (Alsup, 2019; Beijaard et al., 2004; Britzman, 2007; Cooper & Olson, 1996; Danielewicz, 2001; Hong, 2010; Steenekamp et al., 2018).

Similar to notions of instability in relation to identity, is the concept of plurality of selves in the field. While there are many terms for this, including ‘multiple selves/identities’ (Day et al., 2006; Nias, 1984; Steenekamp et al., 2018), ‘sub-identities’ (Mishler, 1999), ‘multiple I’s’ (Cooper & Olson, 1996), ‘possible selves’ (Goodnough & Mulcahy, 2011), and ‘multiple subjectivities’ (Alsup, 2006), all suggest that teacher professional identity is, in fact, not a unitary or singular thing, but rather, is made up of multiple, interwoven and complex identities that make up the larger whole. According to Alsup (2006, 2019), this involves a dynamic process that requires crossing over discursive spaces (e.g. from student to teacher) by engaging in what she refers to as ‘borderland discourses’. It is the “in-between ground, the place of becoming, the space of ambiguity and reflection” (p. 9) that is the goal of teacher education according to Alsup (2006); this is the place where the new identity of ‘teacher’ is formed, built upon, and interwoven with the other co-existing identities of an individual.

Developing an identity as a professional teacher has widely been referred to as a process of ‘becoming’ by many researchers and theorists in the field (Beijaard et al., 2004; Clarke, 2008; Danielewicz, 2001; Pinnegar & Hamilton, 2015; Puchegger & Bruce, 2021). Such a view aligns with notions of the unstable, ever-changing self, or what Beijaard, Meijer and Verloop (2004) refer to as “an ongoing process of integration of the ‘personal’ and ‘professional’ sides of becoming and being a teacher” (p. 113). This process is both multifaced and complex, influenced by not only the multiple selves of those engaging in it, but a variety of other individual factors such as “one’s personal experiences, family background, sociocultural contexts, influential people, and the psychological, emotional and intellectual features” (Bukor, 2015, p. 7) that make up the whole person. According to Clarke (2008), the process of identity formation is also “intimately related to the discourses and communities that we work within” (Clarke, 2008, p. 187), and is “inevitably political as well as ethical work . . . formed at the nexus of the individual and the social” (p. 189). Fostered through social interaction and within social contexts, “teacher identity is continually being informed, formed, and reformed as individuals develop over time and through interaction with others” (Day et al., 2006, p. 607). In this way, teacher professional identity is a complex, dynamic process influenced by a myriad of factors.

Teacher Educator Professional Identity

While not exactly the same (Pinnegar & Hamilton, 2015), teacher educator professional identity formation shares many of the same characteristics as teacher identity formation, such as the fact that it involves ‘multiple selves’, that it is derived from “multiple influences – some internal and embedded in the intensely personal, and some external, embedded in sociocultural and political contexts” (Davey, 2013, p. 19), that it is dynamic and ever-changing (Andreasen et al., 2019; Pinnegar & Hamilton, 2015), and that it “has powerful emotional and value-laden components” (Davey, 2013, p. 19). In addition, for those transitioning from teacher to teacher educator in academe, significant uncertainty, sometimes referred to as “identity shock” (Davey, 2013, p. 58), must be weathered in order for transformation to occur. Such transformation poses many “real-world challenges” and “emotional tensions” (Izadinia, 2014, p. 430), such as difficulties acquiring necessary organizational knowledge (Davey, 2013; Izadinia, 2014), feelings of doubt about self-efficacy and academic credibility (Andreasen et al, 2019; Izadinia, 2014), and concern about having the capacity to conduct quality research (Izadinia, 2014). On top of this, Davey (2013) notes that teacher educators also have a “broadly conceived but deeply held ethicality of purpose and practice” (p. 164), which refers to their desire to behave in ethically appropriate ways, or to ‘do good’ by caring for students, ‘give back’ to their communities, be a ‘good colleague,’ and ‘pull their own weight.’ Moreover, they feel a deep need to “walk their talk” (Davey, 2013, p. 169) in the classroom, demonstrating, through their example, qualities of excellent teaching. These qualities and challenges, particularly for those new to teacher education, make teacher educator identity development difficult in the critical first years in the profession.


Self-study was an appropriate method of inquiry for our project due to the personal and professional nature of identity work (Pithouse et al, 2009), and the collaborative nature of co-teaching together (Hamilton & Pinnegar, 2013). We were interested in improving our own practice (LaBoskey, 2004) in terms of fostering the growth of teacher identity in our students, and ultimately, we had a lot of identity formation to undergo as new members of academe. Self-study allowed us to collaboratively look at both trajectories through our work, aligning it with our research purposes and our personal and professional goals as teacher educators.

Data Sources

In line with the work of LaBoskey (2004), “multiple, primarily qualitative, methods” (p. 849) were used in this self-study, including multiple forms of qualitative data. Our first data source was a series of 25 weekly conversations that we recorded during our third year in the faculty, designing and co-teaching the first two IP courses together. A rich data source in self-study as noted by Bullough and Pinnegar (2001), these weekly conversations contained our reflections about our classes and the student growth we observed; our planning for future learning opportunities; and our thoughts, musings, and emotions about co-teaching together and engaging in program renewal. In addition to the weekly recorded conversations, we increased the trustworthiness of our findings by adding artifacts from our teaching (course outlines, assignments and lecture slides), artifacts created by our students (digital stories, papers and portfolio reflections), and a focus group discussion held with participating students in the fall after they had completed their first year of studies. In total, 16 students shared artifacts from their first-year courses and five participated in a recorded focus group discussion. Both the focus group discussion and the recorded weekly conversations were transcribed for analysis.

Data Analysis

Data analysis occurred in two distinct phases. In the first phase, we individually reviewed the data, highlighting important excerpts, coding sections of the data, and recording our thoughts using analytic memos (Marshall & Rossman, 2011; Saldaña, 2009). Following our separate reviews of the data, we met to discuss our noticings, including critical incidents, moments of tension, and the coding we had assigned to various sections/pieces of data. During this discussion, we collaboratively identified broad themes we felt were emergent in the data and several ways in which student and teacher educator identity formation were evident within each theme; it was at this time that theatre-related metaphors were also established around the themes we had noticed. We decided to return to the data to flesh out the themes and connections related to parallel identity formation through a second round of individual coding. A few weeks later, we met again to discuss our findings, firming up our themes, and identifying key examples from the data that illustrated their presence.


The three broad themes that emerged from the data were 'knowing the setting/characters', 'scripting and performing', and 'pulling back the curtain'. The theatre metaphors framing the themes were derived from previous conceptualizations of identities as performed, adaptive in nature and responsive to complex and dynamic situations that occur in real time (Puchegger & Bruce, 2021; Rice et al, 2015). In line with notions of the need for teacher educators to learn by doing, both our own identities and the identities of those with whom we worked were becoming through our actions, through our complex connections with others, and through our many performances of teacher (Puchegger & Bruce, 2021).

Knowing the Setting/Characters

The need to learn about our new setting/context surfaced in the recorded conversations in many ways, often in tandem with expressions of frustration and fatigue. Engaging in the IP renewal process and designing new courses required us to understand how to move programmatic change through the various levels of the institution. Similarly, designing new experiences and classroom elements such as digital storytelling and e-portfolios required us to learn about the technology and resources available in the faculty and university, and how to access them. Finally, incorporating classroom micro-practicum experiences in kindergarten classrooms necessitated our learning about and navigation of provincial requirements such as criminal record checks and child abuse registry checks, school division structures and policies, and faculty-school division connections. Part of the “identity shock” (Davey, 2013, p. 58) we felt as educators entering academe had to do with losing and attempting to regain our knowledge and agency within a new institutional setting. In addition to the broadening of what Davey (2013) referred to as “scope and required expertise” (p. 164), and coming to terms with the reality of being tenure-track faculty, we had to understand how university and local school division structures worked to advocate for a more robust program and to plan experiences for our students.

Parallel to our own getting to know the local and institutional settings in which we found ourselves, was our students’ experiences transitioning to a university context from, in many cases, small rural contexts. In addition to navigating the borderland spaces (Alsup, 2006) between student and teacher, many of our IP students also navigated the spaces between high school and university, and between rural and urban identities. Just as we experienced frustration and difficulty adapting to our new context(s) as teacher educators, our students struggled in their own ways as they transitioned to university (e.g. homesickness, difficulty with math classes, mental health). Understanding where our students were from and the issues they were facing was important for us for two reasons: (1) students needed to overcome the challenges they faced to work towards their new identities as teachers, and (2) we needed to learn how to support students experiencing these issues. In response to their struggles, we found ourselves providing support in a variety of ways (e.g. walking them over to student services for counseling or advising, asking them about their non-education classes, setting up tutors for their math classes, and numerous after-class conversations). The support we provided students, in addition to exemplifying Davey’s (2013) notion of an “ethicality of purpose and practice” (p. 164), supported teacher identity growth in the IP students as is evidenced in the following student comment:

Just back to how you guys cared about us. Learning, getting to know your students on a more personal level is very helpful and they can feel that they can come and talk to you about things . . . [This] is something that I want to instill in myself as a teacher-- that my students feel comfortable to come and talk to me. Like how I feel comfortable to come and talk to you guys. (Sally, Focus Group Discussion)

Scripting and Performing

We began planning (or scripting) the two new courses focused on identity and positionality at the beginning of the year by considering the structure and culture we wanted to build for students. We knew that the previous IP had been largely unsuccessful due to a lack of connection with the Faculty of Education and with the field. On top of offering Education courses in each year of the new IP, we made the decision to co-teach two sections of the first-year courses in the same room for two reasons: (1) for students to get to know and interact with their entire first year cohort (the group they would travel through the 5-year program with), and (2) to allow students to experience a collaborative approach to teaching that is often not utilized in tertiary education but that has many benefits, particularly in teacher education programs (Crawford & Jenkins, 2017). In addition, hoping to build connections between students and other faculty members, we brought in our colleagues as guest speakers to present to students in areas of their expertise. Finally, we made the decision to include micro-practicum experiences in which students went to pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classrooms to observe teachers and students interacting in real-time, in non-evaluative and low-pressure contexts. Data from the study indicated that the structural and community-fostering decisions we made (our script) were important for the success of IP students transitioning to university contexts:

[C]oming from a small town, I knew all my teachers like inside [and] out of school. Smaller communities are generally just like that, so [when] you walk into university first year, you are walking into a school with a lot more kids than what you are used to. So, when you have a classroom that kind of makes you feel like you are back in a smaller community, it really, really helps. (Paul, Focus Group Conversation)

They were also important, according to student comments in the focus group, for helping them get to know their fellow cohort of students and other faculty members, for exposing students to diverse points of view, for promoting idea development, for connecting them to classrooms early in their program, and for developing confidence in their own abilities to “perform teacher”.

In addition to addressing structure and cohort culture, we also had to both script and perform the content and pedagogy we would use in the first-year identity and positionality courses. Informed by research conducted at the beginning of the IP renewal process, we elected to focus on teacher identity, professionalism, critical social justice, teaching, and learning through a variety of embodied pedagogical strategies (see Figure 1).

Figure 1

Content and Pedagogical Strategies Used in Courses

As Davey (2013) noted, we held a deep commitment to embodied pedagogies as teacher educators, choosing to engage students in learning about teaching through observing and experiencing it. For example, students engaged with literature about play-based learning by doing a gallery walk, they went on a campus walk to investigate local accessibility issues, and they engaged in poetic inquiry and digital story-telling to think about their own connections to home/place. In this way, we attempted to ‘walk our talk’, teaching about pedagogy by using it in our practice, hoping that together we were modeling for students what effective, collaborative pedagogy could look like.

Data from the study suggested that students engaged deeply with both the content of the courses and the pedagogical strategies they experienced. For example, one student commented that “over the course of the whole year, there were just little bits and pieces where you came to know more about what kind of teacher you wanted to be. More about yourself, I guess.” (Sally, Focus Group Discussion), while another student described the importance of having the opportunity to collect pedagogical strategies “in a notebook for five years down the road when you are teaching” (Paul, Focus Group Discussion). In our discussions, we noted growth in student confidence about their own abilities as teachers as they began to understand what 'acting like a teacher' looked like. Moreover, we saw through their actions in classes and in their micro-practicum experiences, evidence of teacher identity growth as they became more engaged than passive in their learning, as they became more comfortable taking risks, and as they began to see themselves as members of the profession, scripting learning experiences for their students.

Pulling Back the Curtain – Making Visible the Doing while Becoming Ourselves

Closely related to Davey’s notion of embodied pedagogies, for us, was a conceptualization of pulling back the curtain on not only pedagogy but on 'performing teacher' in a broader sense. In using this phrase in our conversations and classes, we made visible the choices we were making as educators to each other and to our students. We frequently asked our students to unpack our performance; for example, we asked them to think about why we greeted them at the door or their tables when they entered each day, in order to consider the choices we made as teachers and how they might perform the same role themselves in a classroom in the not-too-distant future. At the same time, we simultaneously performed our own roles as becoming teacher educators together in our team teaching context as we engaged with topics and tensions, brainstormed and combined our favorite pedagogical strategies, debriefed how our lessons went and unpacked student reactions and the growth we observed. Moments of particular tension, such as our thinking about what it meant to teach teacher candidates about positionality while simultaneously unpacking our own positionality as white female educators, provided vital parallel structures, or plays-within-plays of sorts, in which we were able to think about teacher and teacher educator identity concurrently, allowing a multitude of identities to interact and inform one other. It was within this complex reality that identities were constructed for Candy, for Alysha, and for our IP students.

Finally, the discussions we engaged in together about our experiences with program change, course design, and team teaching served yet another purpose in our becoming teacher educators. They pulled back the curtain on not only our choices and noticings; they made visible to ourselves and each other the vulnerability of performing teacher educator while becoming one that has been described by others (Davey, 2013; Izadinia, 2014). The most poignant example of this occurred in a November 21st conversation when Candy shared with Alysha some disparate thoughts she had recorded on a sticky note (see Figure 2).

Figure 2

November 21st Sticky Note

Affectively, we felt the vulnerability and support with (and for) each other simultaneously, connecting these affective dimensions to what we saw in our students. We recognized the emotional nature of identity growth through our multiple performances in the classroom and with each other, allowing us to consider more deeply our own becoming and the experiences of our students’ doing and becoming teacher.


The self-study we engaged in highlighted the complex and interconnected ways in which teacher identity and teacher educator identity formation were fostered in parallel through our engagement in program renewal, course design, team teaching, and ongoing discussion. Oscillating between actor, producer, and audience from moment to moment, we existed in a perpetual play-within-a-play, socially constructing our roles and identities together as we learned about the setting and characters, scripted and performed our parts, and pulled back the curtain on our actions and understandings. These experiences verified, for us, notions of teacher/teacher educator identity(ies) as multiple/plural, changing and dynamic, formed through a process of becoming, and multifaceted. Moreover, they highlighted the complexity of transitioning from the classroom to academe, inclusive of its “real-world challenges” and “emotional tensions” (Izadinia, 2014, p. 430). These findings have implications for our own future practice(s) as we continue to engage with teacher candidates, and as we work with other colleagues who may be new to academe. Moreover, they suggest that team teaching is a valuable way to navigate parallel identity formation as teacher candidates and teacher educators engage in embodied social constructivism, performing and becoming together on an academic stage.


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Candy L. Jones

Brandon University

Alysha J. Farrell

Brandon University

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