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Exploring the personal and professional identities of special education teachers through small stories.

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There have been numerous studies internationally and in South Africa that have explored the identities of teachers in ordinary schools. However, research on the identities of special education teachers is very limited. Through narrative inquiry, this study explored the personal and professional identities of special education teachers at a school in KwaZulu-Natal. The key research question was: How do these special education teachers negotiate their personal and professional identities? Six teachers on the staff of a special school for learners with mild to moderate intellectual disability were participants in the study. The narrative interview was used as the means of data generation. The findings revealed that there is a strong intersection between the personal and professional identities of the six special education teachers. Further, their cultural backgrounds and emotionality play a pivotal role in the lives of these special education teachers, and shape how they negotiate their identities and the subject positions they take in the special school context. The study suggests that the self-identity of a teacher needs to be seen in terms of the personal and professional, as there is a personal dimension to much of a teacher’s work. The teachers’ personal beliefs and values nurtured within their cultural backgrounds influence their teaching experiences, teaching philosophy, teaching practice and teacher identity. There is little doubt that the identities of the six teachers are embedded in their personal biographies. The study shows that that professional identity is multifaceted and multi-layered. Further, the teacher narratives in this study revealed that emotions are a critical facet of professional identity formation. Narrative inquiry proved to be a valuable method through which the teachers made sense of themselves and their practices.


Thesis (M.Ed.)-University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, 2013.


Special education teachers--KwaZulu-Natal., Theses--Education.