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The Teacher Self

The Teacher Self: A Key to Better Understanding Actions and Dispositions in the

Kristi A. Preisman
, PhD


Peru State College

Presented at the Sixth Annual Symposium on

Educator Dispositions

Cincinnati, Oh

November 15, 2007

The Teacher Self



dissertation investigated the creation of the teacher self in novice teachers and
the manifestation of the teacher self in classroom practice.
Through this work, I

striving to better understand how the teaching se
lves of four novice educat
ors were
created based on past and present experiences, more specifically the educational memory,
the t
eacher preparation program,
experiences of the first year

of teaching

and educative
life experiences.
articipants were asked

to elaborate


how these experiences shaped
ir teaching selves

in turn, how their teaching selves were

then manifested in
classroom practice.

By offering them the opportunity to discuss the formation of their
teaching selves

and who they perceive
d themselves to be in the classroom
, they were
simultaneously indicating beliefs


not only themselves as teachers, but also their
students, colleagues, administration and the impacts of state a
nd national educational
politics (high stakes standardize
d testing).

My dissertation was completed in 200
5 and, though is has been piecemeal,
I have


my data, results and conclusions to better understand how my work can be
related to a greater cause.
In addressing this


along with my passion for bet
understanding the ‘personal’ side of teaching,
I believe my dissertation

and vested
interest in the teach
er self conn
ects to the


educational phenomenon



Katz, as cited in Raths (2000), states that dispositions are a sum
mary of observed

ns whereas

beliefs are considered to be



to Katz,
National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (2006) states that
dispositions are “guided by beliefs and attitudes related to values” (p. 5
Wascisko (n.d.) states, “understanding one

beliefs is the key to understanding one’s
actions” (p. 7)

my research
, I encouraged
my participants to talk about their teacher
self and how it was shaped based on t
past and present experie

I asked them to
address the be

they had about themselves as teachers, their students, their
administration and state and national
educational politics. The

beliefs that I was asking
them to address
, according to Katz

the National Council for

the Accreditation of Teacher


I use the terms belief to also encompass understandings and perceptions throughout the paper.

The Teacher Self



and Wascisko
, are the backbone to the actions and/or dispositions that are
evident in the classroom.

It is my goal that this article will

first define the

teacher self and
describe, based
on my dissertation, how it

can be shaped by

educational and life experiences.
I address the connection betw
een the teacher self and educator

dispositions while


my conviction that it is important to address the teacher self in our

courses to help

service teachers

better understand their dispo
sitions in the classroom.

then expand on the
caveats of teacher dispositions, but use these pitfalls to make
arguments for discussing the teacher self and its connection to teacher dispositions.

I ask the pertinent questions about how
the discussion of
teacher self can be
incorporated into our current education curriculum and
what impacts it could have on our
teacher candidates and their dispositions in the classroom

Teacher Self

The teacher sel
f is one of the multiple selves (Mead, 1962) that exist in someone
who is a teacher and is created by a synthesis of internal self
definitions and external
definitions from others (Jenkins, 1996). It is the ‘I’ or the ‘me’ that stands before the
students a
nd makes decisions that impact their lives (Danielewicz, 2001). The teacher self
is the inner core of the educator that contains the ideals, beliefs
, perceptions,

and visions of how he or she perceives him or herself as a teacher as well
the expectations one has for students and colleagues.

Four Educational Experience Clusters

Through my dissertation research, four areas were examined to more fully
understand the development of the tea
cher self and its manifestation

in classroom

The culmination of a beginning teacher’s educational experiences can be
categorized into three educational experience clusters based on the works of Britzman
(2003), Danie
lewicz (2001) and Schempp, Sparkes & Templin

(1999). These clusters

cational memory,
teacher preparation program
and the

first year/s of
. Each of these experience clusters is significant to the development of the
teacher self. As Britzman (2003) states, “Each sense of place and time presents different
sets of
demands and assumptions, and makes available a different range of voices and
discursive practices” (p. 70). Each cluster competes in shaping the teacher self and

The Teacher Self


the ways in which it is manifested in classroom practice.

The fourth educational
rience cluster,
educative life experiences
, will be addressed at the end of this section.

The first
educational experience
educational memory
, is comprised of a
teacher’s prior
educational experience from kindergarten through twelfth grade. This t
in a teacher’s life permits them ideas and assumptions about the “nature of knowing and
the roles and performative rituals of students and teachers” (Britzman, 2003, p.70).
Lortie’s (1975) apprenticeship
observation theory focuses on the importance
teachers’ past student experiences. The experiences “[acquaint] students with the tasks of
the teacher and [foster] the development of identifications with teachers” (p. 67). The
educational memory is the one ‘weapon’ teachers bring with them to their f
irst classroom
experience (Featherstone, 1993). Teachers are forced to negotiate what they know and
what they have experienced with the new demands and truths of their new institution and
social environments.

The second cluster,
teacher preparation progra
, includes a teacher’s experience
in their university and teacher education program, which includes exposure to
educational/instructional theories, content matter and practice in the classroom. Members
of the university have much to offer pre
service teac
hers, especially in theory and
search (Featherstone, Munby & Russel
, 1997). This theory and research is what pre
service teachers see as ideal and workable in their future classroom. However, the
information that novice teachers bring with them holds lit
tle significance compared to
that of their seasoned peers (Schempp, et al., 1999). Veteran teachers believe their
knowledge has been gained through practical experience and this belief can cause novice
teachers to devalue their university experience. Conta
ct with students in public schools,
especially student teaching, seems to be the most influential factor in a beginning
teacher’s formation of self (Danielewicz, 2001; Schempp, et al., 1999).

The third cluster,
experiences of the first year/s
, encompasses
the beginning
teacher’s entrance into their first place of employment. Here, the teacher must negotiate
the former experien
ces and beliefs of education

against the cumulative experiences of

. The development of the teacher self is a so
cial process. As teachers
are reflecting and changing, the self is being shaped by those that surround them.
Beginning teachers are faced with various influences that are working to shape them and

The Teacher Self


they may or may not be aware of these. It is in the eyes of

administration, colleagues and
students that a teacher’ identity is shaped and the self is established in school (Schempp,
et al., 1999). Along with significant and salient others, teachers’ role of self is also
influenced by their experiences with state
and national politics. In this study, state and
national politics refers simply to the power of high
stakes standardized testing.
Standardized testing is an accepted practice in today’s schools and teachers are subject to
its truth.

In addition, as a resu
lt of my dissertation

research, a fourth educational experience
cluster was also examined,
educative life experiences

(ELE). The informants of this study
participated in experiences, which included prior professional work experiences,
traveling abroa
d or b
eing a parent. Though these experiences were not originally intended

to fit under the title ‘educational experience

,’ it was found the ELE had a
profound impact on the members of this study. The ELE were educative to them not only
in what they le
ned about their personal selves
, but also because
the experiences were

shaping agents in regards to their teacher selves

Through my dissertation research, it was clear that these four clusters played a
role in shaping the teaching selves of my p
articipants. For example, in addressing the
educational memory
, one participant, Jaycee, elaborated on two teachers from her high
school years, Ms. Zachary and Ms. Nichols, who impacted her teacher self by the ways in
which they displayed a passion for kno
wledge and the pursuit of education. Ms. Zachary
was described as an “incredible, incredible lady

smart, savvy, with it, just classy” who
projected an “academic intellectual vibe” (Participant interview, Dec. 2, 2004). She
encouraged Jaycee both academical
ly and analytically. Ms. Nichols, who had received
her master’s degree and was in the process of working on her PhD while Jaycee was in
high school, was “very savvy, very with it, very knowledgeable, very motivated and very
ambitious” (Participant intervie
w, Dec. 2, 2004). Both ladies portrayed a picture of
intelligence to Jaycee and this passion for knowledge was a significant part of Jaycee’s
teacher self. Jaycee prided herself on her classroom knowledge because she achieved two
undergraduate degrees, a m
aster’s degree and started two different PhD programs. The
effects of Ms. Zachary and Ms. Nichols were evident in Jaycee’s teacher self through her
motivation and ambition to pursue education at a higher level than most high school

The Teacher Self


teachers. In her classro
om practices, Jaycee tended to lean towards teacher
lessons, not only because that is what she had grown accustomed to through her
educational pursuits, but also because of her desire to share her content knowledge with
her students. There were ma
ny times I observed Jaycee conduct lessons that included in
depth detail about topics and as students threw questions at her, she answered them with

An example

relating to the educational cluster of
he teacher preparation

dealt with a parti
cipant named Sophie. She had a unique experience in her
student teaching which shaped her teacher self in a
backwards way. Sophie
described her
cooperating teacher as

“an evil woman” (Participant interview, May 5, 2005)
this experience

taught her what she would NOT be in the cla
ssroom. Her

cooperating teacher

who was not certified and did not want to have a student teacher in
her cl

did not allow Sophie to teach a single lesson on her own
. Wh
en Sophie
did prepare a lesson plan

her cooperating teacher copied it, taught it and turned the
lesson plan into the principal as her own. In light with Sophie’s optimistic and cheery
personality, she commented:

Even though it was a bad experience…it was an extreme learning experience. I
earned what not to do in every single situation. I learned not to be emotional. I
learned not to get personal with my colleagues…I learned how

to talk to
students. I learned how

to talk to parents. I basically saw what

to do
(Participant interv
iew, May 5, 2005).

Instead of

Sophie’s cooperating teacher shaping her

in a negative way, such as a
pessimistic attitude, Sophie gained an awareness of the importance of a positive and
uplifting attitude. This positive attitude was a
part of her
teacher self and her
classroom practices. Sophie almost always had a smile on her face and her attitude was
cheery. I never witnessed Sophie talk negatively to a student or about a student. From
Sophie’s conversation, she seemed to have satisfactory relati
onships with parents and
worked well with her colleagues.

Regarding the
experiences of the first years
, the impact of high stakes
standardized testing was evident on the teaching selves of three of my four participants.

For Jaycee and Kerstin, their teachi
ng selves were stifled because they were expected to

The Teacher Self


follow a pre
set curriculum. Both teachers felt as if they were almost
because of the similar expectations required for all of the teachers in their department.
For example, with Jaycee,

World History teachers in her department taught from the
same information in the same sequence using the same lesson plans and classroom
materials. Jaycee shared that her administration would prefer if they could walk from
classroom to classroom and see e
ach teacher teaching the same thing at the same time.
“…they want us all vertically and horizontally aligned where we are all teaching the same
thing. The principal wants to be able to walk in my room and then walk next door and
have both classes doing the

same things simultaneously” (Participant interview, April 26,

In the same light, Kerstin mentioned the “curriculum lady” from San Antonio
who was hired to create curriculum, lesson plans, quizzes and tests to be used in their
classrooms because of

previously low
Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills

scores. Each math teacher was given a binder filled with “’this is what you will
do today’ lesson plans” (Participant interview, Feb. 21, 2005). The teachers were asked to
follow the guidance
of this binder as they made their way through the chapters in the
hopes the information covered will meet the
Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills

and in turn prepare them for the TAKS test. Kerstin stated, “we’re basically kind
of like the robots

e are given what we are going to teach [and] how you teach it to
make sure everybody understands” (Participant interview, Feb. 21, 2005).

The pressures of high stakes standardized testing have stifled the creativity and
autonomy of Jaycee and Kerstin’s te
aching selves. Both teachers stated if they had their
choice, their classrooms would be run differently. Jaycee elaborated, “…I would do so
many things different

cover so many more subjects, vary more things, kick out things,
bring others forward. I would

really switch up the curriculum. I would get rid of more of
the American and go more global with it…” (Participant interview, April 26, 2005).
Jaycee and Kerstin’s teaching selves were stifled because of the pressures to succeed on
the TAKS test. Rather t
han making independent choices in curriculum choice and
instructional methods, the informants were expected to follow and implement a pre

The Teacher Self


Finally, an example of
educative life experiences

shaping the teacher self was
evident in a fourth pa
rticipant, P
hillip, who was an accountant prior to his work as an
Phillip believed his educative life experiences as an accountant

led to a sense of
professionalism in t
he demeanor of his teaching self


believed his teacher self had
been shaped

by his accountant qualities of “discreteness, professionalism, [and being]
reserved and strait
laced” (Participant interview, May 12, 2005). Phillip’s work as a
professional was a significant part of his teaching self and his classroom practices and it
s evident from his clothes to his conversation. From t
he pressed pants and the tucked
in button
down shirts to the stringent white classroom environment, there was still a great
deal of ‘accountant Phillip’ in his classroom. He either had his hands crossed

in front of
him or his hands were tucked away in his pockets. His face was almost always earnest
and the tone of his voice was very monotone throughout his lessons. When interaction
with a student occurred, whether from a question or a comment, Phillip wo
uld ap
his or her desk and ever

so slightly lean over to have a discussion with the student. If the
conversation was more serious, Phillip would squat down, but not break the
meter of
the student’s personal bubble. Phillip’s prior educative life
experiences contributed to his
accountant self and it is evident these influences were carried over to his teacher self in
regards to the professionalism Phillip displayed in the classroom.

Throughout the prior explanation of how the four educational exper
ience clusters
had shaped the participants’ teaching selves, I also addressed how the teaching selves
were then manifested in classroom practice. Through my research, there were also times
when a participant described certain traits of his or her teacher s
elf and perceived them to
be a part of his or her classroom practice; however, through observation, these traits of
the teacher self were not evident.

One example dealt with pa
rticipant Sophie. In the educational experience cluster
of teacher preparation,

saw course content as influencing

her teaching self.

believed she
gained a “certain discipline” (Participant interview, May 5, 2005) from her
French courses and the methods by which they were taught. Because learning a language
is a “step
step process that requires organization” (Participant interview, May 5,
2005), Sophie learned the discipline of her course work and believed she transferred it to
her own classroom practices via structured and sequenced lessons with the intent of

The Teacher Self


helping s
tudents build on prior knowledge. However, this aspect of Sophie’s teacher self
was not manifested in her classroom practice.
Rather than employing the step
process of learning a language she discussed in her interviews, she continually assigned

rksheet packets or
research projects. She

ed her students

with questions and
comments, but did not take an active role in presenting information and connecting th
learning to prior knowledge.

Most often she let the students explore the subject th
group projects and work packets. Students worked leisurely through the required
assignments and there was very little direct instruction which guided students through the

Jaycee provided another example. She had explained how her educative
experience of graduate schooling had contributed greatly to the knowledge base of her
teaching self and this allowed her to connect many areas throughout her lessons. She
claimed she was able to “delve a little deeper in a subject and connect it to an
subject better than someone else can simply because of [her] knowledge base and the fact
that [she] spent so much time in college” (Participant interview, Dec. 2, 2004). However,
via classroom observations, I was not aware her lessons were interdisci
plinary. I observed
that her lessons stayed focused on the issue at hand and if there was a tangent, it remained
in the area of social studies. The participants, based on their past educational experiences,
believed their teaching selves were in fact a par
t of their classroom practices, but these
understandings were not apparent

through observations.

The Connection of Teacher Self and Teaching Dispositions

As mentioned in the opening section of this paper,

Katz, as cited in Raths (2000),
the National Cou
il for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (2006)

and Wascisko


beliefs as the pre

the actions/dispositions in the classroom.
And through the use of examples

from my dissertation research
, I have demonstrated how
the teacher


(beliefs based on past and present experiences

is created via past and
present experiences and
may or may not be
manifested in classroom practice

the action

that are evident
. I see a very strong connection between teacher self and th
impact that it can have on the dispositions in the classroom

and therefore, it is important
that the analysis of

teacher self be included in

conversations about teacher dispositions.

The Teacher Self


The existing research on the educational memory, teacher preparation
and the

of the first years of teaching discuss the myriad of positive and
ive influences these phases

have on teachers prior to their entrance into the
classroom and their day to day occurrences in the classroom. Second career tea
chers can
also have both affirmative and unconstructive experiences to bring with them to the

The impact of these experiences on the teacher self can be significant, such as
certain beliefs about race and ethnicity and simple, such as beliefs ab
out the physical
appearance of the classroom. Regardless of the impact these past experiences have on the
teacher self, they should be addressed in our education programs because these beliefs,
which are a part of a student’s educational memory and possibl
y their educative life
experiences will very likely be a subconscious or conscious part of their

I believe that in order for our students to gain a deeper understanding of their
dispositions in the classroom, they must first become a
ware of their teacher self and the
formative experiences which have made them the pre

they are today.
By addressing the teaching selves

candidates, it will also allow tea
cher educators new
and varied insight into who the teacher candi
dates are and what type of teacher they
could possibly become.

The Importance of Addressing the T
eacher S

According to current research (Borko, Liston & Whitcomb, 2007; Burant,
Chubbuck & Whipp, 2007; Damon, 2007; Diez, 2007 and Murray, 2007), there is

a great
deal of debate on teacher dispositions and its place in education.
Borko, Liston &
Whitcomb (2007) illustrate

roponents for dispositions
as believing dispositions

are a
significant part of
teacher education because they “help to answer the questi
on of whether
teachers are likely to apply the kn
owledge and skills they learn in

teacher preparation
programs to their own
teaching” (p. 361). Those who argue against focusing
on dispositions believe there is no agreed
upon definition of the ter
m and there is no
feasible way to reliably and validly measure the construct.

I agree with various points from both sides of the argument, but what I have
discovered after reading the information is that most of the authors still support
addressing a thir
d facet to support


of teacher education and the

The Teacher Self


descriptions vary from

dispositions, morals,
belief statements
, intentions to

I believe that

my connection between the teacher self and teacher
is a simple and non
intrusive way to address dispositions without entering
into the argument of definitions and assessment.
By addressing the teacher self and its
connections to dispositions/actions in the classroom, I am NOT “supporting a social or
cal agenda of indoctrination” (Borko, Liston & Whitcomb, 2007, p. 362).


examining the teacher self in detail, we can help create an awareness of
actions/dispositions in the classroom. We can assist our teacher candidates and practicing
in beco
more aware of their beliefs and allow them the opportunity to better
understand the impact of these beliefs on their
dispositions in the classroom.
allowing candidates opportunities to make connections “between their intentions and
, we are allowing “the effectiveness of their decision
making, and their
functioning within a larger community of learning” to develop

(Diez, 2007, pp. 394
In the process of addressing the teacher self and its impacts on act
ions/dispositions, it is
possible to expand knowledge and skills through discussion
, reflection,


and participation

There is also controversy about how to impact change i
n dispositions by

ing them

or try

to delete unwanted dispositions.
As these issu
es are

muddied, I advocate that we must
offer our students the opportunities to
aware of their dispositions. By allowing them to address their teacher self and how they
perceive it to be a part of the classroom, they will be critically analyzi
ng their beliefs and
actions. It is true that none of us are ‘dispositionally perfect’ and therefore, we are not
objectively able to tell a student whether they are right or wrong, but by allowing them
the chance to see themselves through a critical lens,
whether it is through a written
reflection, a video taped lesson or a lesson debriefing session, there may be a greater
chance for a change or a strengthening of a certain action or disposition. Offering

students a personal

ha’ moment about their te
aching selves and the impact of past
experiences could potentially give them more than a written deficiency form or verbal
critique from a supervisor. After all, our goal is to create self
sufficient, reflective, life
long learners
, so we need to give them

the opening to begin these personal journeys.

The Teacher Self


Another issue that arises with dispositions in our current education system is the
move toward online instruction. Now that there are online educational programs, how are
we to know our students? Completing th
e necessary assignments, chatting on the
discussion board, completing tests and quizzes

give us insight into the knowledge
and skills of the students (or so we hope), but how do we know what kind of

are working with? Addressing the teacher se
lf and it creation may offer us some new
insight into the teacher candidate. By addressing the educational memory and educative
life experiences through reflections and discussion, there might be a chance for a possible
glimpse into the person’s dispositio

Thoughts to Ponder

As Allender (2001) wrote in his book
Teacher Self: The Practice of Humanistic

“As my professional knowledge grew, I recognized that the exploration of self
is intrinsic to educational research, whether or not we pay atten
tion to its role” (p. 2). I
believe we must pay attention to the ‘person’ in the classroom as much as we pay
attention to the ‘teacher’ in the classroom. There are many questions to be answered
regarding the teacher self and educator dispositions. What can

be done to effectively
address this issue? In a time of such high demands on all levels of education because of
standards and accreditation, do we have time to implement this ki
nd of thinking in our
teacher preparation programs
? And, based on the controve
rsy as to whether defining and
assessing dispositions is reliable and valid,
can opportunities for discussing

the teacher
self be created that are valuable and worthwhile? Each of these questions is

answer because the

that we are placin
g in our public and private classrooms
deserve to have the best training and understanding of who they are as teachers.

The Teacher Self



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The Teacher Self


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