Journal article published in Teaching and Teacher Education, Volume 27, Issue 4.

Access (paywall): Thomas and Beauchamp (2011) via

Scope of Paper

The paper examines how newly qualified teachers perceive themselves as professionals, and how that perception changes between their graduation and the spring of their first year of teaching.

The study examined 45 teachers, from two teacher training programs in Quebec, accross a three-year period.

This qualitative study was based on semi-structured interviews. It examines the metaphors that new teachers use to describe their professional identities, and compares metaphors chosen immediately following graduation with those suggested part way through their first year of teaching.

Main Findings

The findings indicate that new teachers make a shift from seeing themselves as ready for the challenge, to adopting a survival mode.

This is in-line with other studies, notably Meijer et al. (2014), who chart the progression of first-year teacher sentiment as being a journey from anticipation, to survival, to disillusionment.

  • New teachers' metaphors for professional identity show readiness for the role and a focus on pupils.
  • Participants see professional identity as a struggle part way into their first year of teaching.
  • The process for developing a professional identity is gradual, complex and often problematic.
  • Experience in teaching is not enough to develop a professional identity as a teacher.
  • It is necessary to explore professional identity in explicit ways with pre-service teachers.

More Detail

The paper states that teacher professional identity recently become of interest as a way to examine the professionalisation of teaching.

The use of metaphor reveals how teachers represent their professional thinking, and allows researchers to learn more about their conceptions of teaching and learning.

The study took place in Quebec. It is interesting to note that in Quebec all teacher education programmes are four-years long and include at least 700–900h of student teaching in schools. This is compared to roughly 300h for university-led trainees in the UK, and roughly 500h for school-centred trainees in the UK. Bien sûr.

Teacher's professional identities change because their professional context is constantly changing. This experience is amplified for newly qualified teachers.

In part, this is because schools are now expected to fulfil functions of socialisation that were once the jurisdiction of families, religious organizations or the workplace. As such, teaching experience along is not sufficient preparation for becoming a teacher.

The metaphors that teachers use to describe their professional identity change over time, relative to the point in their career.

For first-year teachers, the metaphors change from being student-focused to being self-focused, for example, from:

The captain of a boat; I have to take these people (students) somewhere and there are storms and high waves.


A survivor of the Titanic but who didn’t have a lifeboat and had to swim to shore.


Some days you have really calm waters, you love being out there and there are other people on the ship that really help you out. Other days you feel like you are on that ship all by yourself, the water is rocky and you wonder, “Why am I on this boat? I didn’t sign up for this.”

This study clearly indicates that metaphors can be a rich and stimulating way for new teachers to talk about the experience of their first year of teaching. The method is very revealing for teacher educators and researchers in teacher education.

The authors came to the realisation that the development of a professional identity does not automatically come with experience, and that some form of deliberate action is necessary to ensure that new teachers begin their careers with the appropriate tools to negotiate the rocky waters of the first few years.

The findings of the study suggest that more attention needs to be paid to raising awareness of the process of professional identity development during teacher education programmes.

In closing, the authors state:

The results of this study have led us to believe that there is a strong case to be made for engaging pre-service teachers in a variety of dialogues, including the use of metaphors, about the development of their professional identities as part of an effective approach for preparing them for the complex and demanding profession they have chosen.