An investigation of the impact of working in an international school context on the identities of English-speaking teachers at the International English School in Italy.
Fotheringham, Rosemary Grace.
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Many educational researchers (e.g. Jansen 2001) argue that not enough is known about how teachers view their careers and identities as teachers and how they adapt to new educational policies and teaching situations. Researchers (e.g. Woods and Jeffrey 2002) have argued that a consideration of identity issues is of crucial importance when investigating the experiences of teachers in any institutional setting. The purpose of this research study is to investigate the impact of working in an international school context on the identities of English-speaking teachers at the International English School (IES) in Italy. The research aims to identify the issues of identity experienced in the new institutional context, to examine the identity work and strategies engaged in by the teachers and to analyse what kind of reconstruction of their identities has taken place. Three main theoretical perspectives have informed the research. Firstly, poststructuralist theories critique an essentialist view of identity as universal or stable and argue that it is socially constructed and open to continual change. This view of identity works with an understanding that the research participants construct identity rather than report on a pre-existing identity. Secondly, critical theory emphasises the political nature of identity and that it is always linked to power relations in particular sites of practice. Thirdly, theories and research on 'teacher identity' and 'teacher strategy' from the field of education have been drawn on. Three studies from the sociology of education provide a fine-grained analysis of how teacher strategies operate in particular sites of practice and show how strategies are always linked to issues of identity. Insights from the literature on international education suggest that cross-cultural issues are key for teachers relocating to an international school context. Qualitative research methods were chosen. The case study was the main method used: the International English School (IES) formed the case with seven English-speaking teachers at the school as the research participants. Mapping, interviewing and field observation were used to collect the data. The research participants constructed maps of themselves at IES as well as of their career history, and in-depth interviews were conducted. Finally, an on-site field visit took place at the school and included lesson observation of each research participant. The data was analysed thematically using grounded theory. The findings show that the research participants' experiences at IES affected their identities in profound ways and that they experienced a fragmentation of identity. In order to respond to the issues of identity they experienced, the teachers engaged in identity work and particular strategies which allowed them to reinforce or reconstruct their identity as teachers. Each teacher experienced a reconstruction of his or her teacher identity differently. However, the majority of the teachers maintained their vision of education and the teacher identity they wished to subscribe to, although these would have to be realised outside the school. None of the teachers was prepared to invest their long-term commitment or careers in the school. The reconstruction ignored both the international and intercultural factors. None of the teachers defined themselves as international teachers with an international career path and the majority of teachers did not become significantly more interculturally literate through their experiences at IES.