A sociocultural approach to language teacher identity: Iranian public school and private language institute EFL teachers
The story of English language education in Iran has long been politicized. Political decision-makers considered English as the language of the enemy, which has been reflected in the inadequate attention to English language teaching and learning in public schools. However, something radically different has escalated at the grassroots level of society—the popularity of English language learning among the youth. This transformation from below has increased the number and role of private language institutes where youth (among others) can develop cultural and communicative competence in English. This trend compelled the Ministry of Education to engage in English language education reform in public schools in 2012. These events illustrate that transformation does not necessarily come from above, but can come from below, showing that the actions of individuals have an impact on socio-economic and socio-political structures. Teachers constitute significant characters in this story, and therefore it is important to understand how they navigate their professional worlds in these two educational contexts—public school and private language institutes. Their identity is at the heart of this navigation. This thesis contributes to the current research on language teacher identity (LTI) by investigating the professional identity development of Iranian English language teachers working in public schools and private language institutes. The study aims to explore the contradictions that teachers encounter in their work and how these contradictions contribute to their expansive learning and identity professional development. Two theoretical frameworks guided the study: Gee’s (2000) identity framework and Engeström’s (2015) activity theory, particularly expansive learning. The study was conducted with six in-service teachers, four teaching in private language institutes and two in public schools. Data collection occurred over a period of 14 months and included narrative frames, semi-structured interviews, teaching journals, and classroom observations. The findings showed that the contradictions that the teachers experienced in their teaching activity systems arose between (a) the teachers as the subject of their teaching activity systems and the object, (b) the subject and the division of labour, (c) the subject and the rules, and (d) the object and the mediating tools. The contradictions contributed to teachers’ expansive learning. The outcome of expansive learning was not only change and development in the teachers’ professional identities, but also innovations and transformations in their teaching activity systems and even in the wider institutional activity system. However, for the two teachers, the contradictions in their activity systems were not resolved, with consequences for their professional identities. The study has implications for English language education in these two contexts. Teachers at private language institutes can benefit from professional development activities that historically evolve in their teaching context and respond to their needs and challenges. It is also important to offer courses in teacher education programs with a focus on English language education in public schools of the country, as the macro, meso, and micro levels are not aligned, which contributed to contradictions and conflicts in the teaching activity of teachers.
Advisor: Feryok, Anne; Gunn, Alex
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: English and Linguistics
Publisher: University of Otago
Research Type: Thesis