Exploring teachers professional identity: Role of
teacher emotions in developing professional identity
Manpreet Kaur
Associate Professor, Partap College of Education, Ludhiana, Punjab, India
The purpose of this study is to develop an understanding of the connections between teacher’s emotional development
and professional identity. Twenty teachers in their beginning year of profession were interviewed to re ect on emotional
events and how these emotions help them in developing their professional identity. The research question for this study
is; how do teachers’ re ections of emotional events contribute in the development of their professional identity? Findings
of the research yielded a model of professional identity that re ected the teachers understanding of themselves in relation
to different emotional events. This model includes four key indicators: a) Identity beliefs, b) emotional events and identity
negotiation, c) Teachers’ attributes and d) adjustment. All participants exhibited the role of emotional events in develop-
ment of professional identity. Some teachers elaborated that pleasant emotional events con rmed their identities and
others elaborated the unpleasant emotional events which caused them to confront and adjust their emergent identities.
Biosci. Biotech. Res. Comm. 11(4): 719-726 (2018)
Teachers’ professional identity has emerged as a separate
area of research (Bullough, 1997; Claudia et al , 2013;
Connelyly and Clandinin, 1999; Kompf, Bond, Dworet &
Boak, 1996). The concept of identity is de ned in vari-
ous ways in research literature and the concept of pro-
fessional identity is used in different ways in the domain
of teaching and teacher education. In some studies, the
concept of professional identity was related to teachers’
concepts or images of self (i.e., Claudia et al, 2013; Nias,
1989) and it was argued that these concepts or images of
self strongly determine the way teachers teach, the way
they develop as teachers, and their attitudes towards
educational changes. Professional identity formation
is a method involving many knowledge sources, such
Corresponding Authors: moneypreet74@gmail.com
Received 28
Sep, 2018
Accepted after revision 11
Dec, 2018
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DOI: 10.21786/bbrc/11.4/24
Manpreet Kaur
as knowledge of affect, teaching human relations and
subject matter (Antonek et al., 1997). Professional iden-
tity formation is often presented as a struggle because
teachers have to make sense of varying and sometimes
competing perspectives, expectations and roles that
they have to confront and adapt to (Samuel & Stephens,
2000; Volkmann & Anderson, 1998; see also Bullough,
Knowles & Crow, 1992; Mawhinney & Xu, 1997; Rob-
erts, 2000). Research proved the crucial role of teaching
practice and re ective activities in the identity forma-
tion of teachers (Ilze & Rita, 2016). Researching profes-
sional identity at early career stages can help educators
to emphasize the multidimensionality and complexity of
the teaching profession (Predrag, Biljana & Dusan, 2018)
Professional identity is an ongoing process of inter-
pretations and reinterpretation of experiences (Kerby,
1991), a notion that corresponds with the idea that
teacher development never stops and can be best seen as
a process of lifelong learning (i.e., Day, 1999; Graham &
Young, 1998). From a professional development perspec-
tive, therefore, professional identity formation is, in our
view, not only an answer to the question “Who am I at
this moment?”, but also an answer to the question “Who
do I want to become?” Professional Identity implies both
person and context. A teacher’s professional identity is
not entirely unique. Teachers are expected to think and
behave professionally, but not simply by adopting pro-
fessional characteristics, including knowledge and atti-
tudes that are prescribed but also by including personal
characteristics. Chang-Kredl & Kingsley (2014) also
emphasise the dynamic nature of professional identity;
it is a continuous process in which identity is formed,
built, and shaped. Teachers differ in the way they deal
with these characteristics depending on the value they
personally attach to them.
Generally, it is stated that professional identity is
dynamic (e.g. Beijaard et al.2004). Sugrue (2005) elabo-
rates on this and argues that identity is not distinctly
individual and unalterable. People may strive to main-
tain their habits and routines, but are not immune to
outside in uences (Sugrue,2005). Teachers obtain more
and more experience, and more and different in uences
affect teachers as teachers have worked longer in their
profession. Ibarra (1999) poses that people use trial ver-
sions of their professional identity before assuming a
fully elaborated professional identity.A teacher’s pro-
fessional identity consists of sub-identities that more
or less harmonize. The notion of sub-identities relates
to teachers’ different contexts and relationships. Some
of these identities may be broadly linked and can be
seen as the core of teachers’ professional identity, while
others may be more peripheral. It seems to be essential
for a teacher that these sub-identities do not con ict,
for example, that they are well balanced. During initial
teacher training student teachers often experience such
con ict (i.e. Volkmann & Anderson, 1998).
Teacher emotions have been regarded as an impor-
tant  eld of research over the past two decades (Fren-
zel etal., 2009; Fried et al., 2015). Teacher professional
development research has been continuously focused
towards investigating the so-called ‘rational’ factors
(e.g., teacher knowledge, skills, and capacities). How-
ever important these rational and fundamental aspects
are, teacher emotions have often been ignored or under-
played (Crawford, 2011; Day, 2011; Hargreaves, 2001;
Sutton & Wheatley, 2003) in teacher improvement and
identity formation initiatives.Emotion is a mysterious
human phenomenon that has puzzled many for centu-
ries. Schutz, Hong, Cross, and Osbon (2006) de ne emo-
tions as “socially constructed, personally enacted ways
of being that emerge from conscious and/or unconscious
judgments regarding perceived successes at attaining
goals or maintaining standards or beliefs during trans-
actions as part of social-historical contexts”.
Research on teacher emotions in education has war-
ranted attention since the late 1990s (Hargreaves, 1998;
Marshak, 1996) and has attracted increased attention in
recent years. This is motivated by the realization that
teacher emotions in uence teacher behaviour (Becker,
Goetz, Morger, & Ranellucci, 2014; Hagenauer & Volet,
2014; Sutton & Wheatley, 2003), teaching (Gong, Chai,
Duan, Zhong, & Jiao, 2013; Saunders, 2013; Trigweel,
2012), professional identity (Lee, Huang, Law, & Wang,
2013), teachers’ lives (Hargreaves, 2005; Schutz, 2014;
Schutz & Zembylas, 2009; Taxer & Frenzel, 2015), stu-
dent behaviour and learning (Brackett, Floman, Ashton-
James, Cherkasskiy, & Salovey, 2013; Chang, 2013;
Jennings & Greenberg, 2009), and educational change
(Day, 2011; Leithwood & Beatty, 2007). Although previ-
ous research on teacher emotions has made substantial
progress, it has most frequently used semi-structured
interviews (Sutton & Wheatley, 2003).
Farouk (2012) states that teacher emotions comprise
individual teacher’s dynamic mental state level, ability
of emotional self-regulation and response to exterior
stimuli, and an approach of synthesis. Teacher emo-
tions are not “internalized sensations that remain inert
within the con nes of their bodies but are integral to
the ways in which they relate to and interact with their
students, colleagues and parents” (Farouk, 2012). There-
fore, teacher emotions are relational with the environ-
ment, which means teacher emotions do not exist within
an individual or environment independently, rather they
involve person-environment transactions (Schutz et al.,
2006). Understanding emotions triggered by vulnerabil-
Manpreet Kaur
ity may constitute an opportunity for teachers to edu-
cate in a way that really makes a difference to students’
and teachers’ lives but also teacher effectiveness (Day
et al., 2007; Kelchtermans, 2005, 2011). Emotions have
great potential to strengthen not only interpersonal
relationships experienced in the classroom and broader
contexts, but also create opportunities for learning and
teaching in various situations (Bahia et al., 2013). A lack
of negative emotions also limited teachers’ learning pro-
cesses (Klara et al; 2017).
Although there is a great variation in how scholars de ne
and measure teacher identities (e.g. Beijaard, Meijer, &
Verloop, 2004), growing literature suggests three sali-
ent features. First, identities are not  xed, but  uid pro-
cesses involving ‘interpretation and reinterpretation of
experience’ (Sutherland, Howard, & Markauskaite, 2010)
i.e. it is not about what someone is, but rather identity
is about what someone is becoming. Second, it involves
a negotiation between the person and an understand-
ing of the contexts in which he/she works. And third, it
involves human agency.
Yoo and Carter (2017) carried out an ethnographic
study in the form of a professional development pro-
gram focused on creative writing and writing practices.
They identi ed four different types of emotions that
the participants experienced: (1) energy, excitement,
and passion; (2) inner con ict, frustration, and discour-
agement; (3) vulnerability, engagement, and hope; and
(4) generosity, gratitude, and inspiration. This line of
research shows that every change, reform, or develop-
ment in teaching is accompanied by various emotions.
Related to that emerging teacher identity, Nias (1996)
indicated that teaching is not just a technical job; rather,
teachers invest their ‘selves’ into their work. This invest-
ment involves emotional experiences that provide sali-
ent information regarding one’s evolving identity com-
mitments. Importantly, this relationship is reciprocal and
teachers’ emerging identities not only in uence their
actions and emotions, but their actions and emotions
also in uence their professional identity formation.
Teacher identity and emotion are not linear or unidirec-
tional; rather, they are inextricably related to each other
through an ongoing, multidirectional, transactional pro-
cess. For example, when teachers experience particular
unpleasant emotions, those emotions may indicate or
signal a threat to their identities by challenging existing
identities related to their beliefs about teaching. In con-
trast, pleasant emotional episodes may indicate a con-
rmation of an emerging identity (Cross & Hong, 2009).
Similarly, incoming identities (e.g. expectations about a
teacher’s role) may in uence how subsequent emotional
reactions emerge and/or are interpreted.
Previous research provides a little knowledge about the
importance of emotions in teaching and the emerging
identities of beginning career teachers; this research
is an attempt to understand how these two connect.
Therefore, the goal of this inquiry was to ask beginning
teachers to re ect on pleasant and unpleasant emotional
episodes early in their  rst year in the classroom and to
discuss the ways in which these emotional experiences
help them in development of professional identities. The
purpose of the research is to draw on teachers’ re ec-
tions about emotional events and identity constructs to
begin to theorize on their connections. Through open-
ended semi-structured interviews, teachers were asked to
re ect on emotional events as a way to begin to under-
stand the ways emotions may contribute in emergent
identity processes. These emotional events are seen as
‘beacons of our true selves’ and ‘become the fulcrums
through which we begin to deconstruct and construct
our sense of self’ (Zembylas, 2003).
This paper encompassed a pilot qualitative study to
respond to the research question that how teachers in
their beginning years develop an understanding of emo-
tional events in their classroom and how these emo-
tional events relate to their emerging teacher identities.
Participants of the study were twenty teachers in their
beginning year of profession teaching in eight different
high schools across the state of Punjab of India. They
ranged in age from 25 to 31 (average 28), included six
males and fourteen females. Our participants taught sci-
ence (n = 12) and math (n = 8) in schools. Objective of
the study was to listen to how beginning year teachers
who confront emotional events more frequently than
more experienced teachers, talk about the ways in which
those events update their beliefs about teaching and
their identities as an emergent teaching professional.
Data was collected from interviews of teachers in their
rst school year. All interviews were lasted between 60
and 90 min. In this interview, teachers were asked to
re ect upon pleasant and unpleasant emotional epi-
sodes they had experienced. For example, ‘Describe a
recent occasion when you were aware of your emotions
in the classroom,’ and ‘how do you think your emo-
tional experiences affect how you think about yourself
as a teacher?’ This interview structure was designed to
allow the participants to re ect on past experiences with
emotions in the classroom and to discuss their thoughts
Manpreet Kaur
regarding how they feel themselves as teachers and the
role emotional events may have played in this.
Participants’ responses to each question in the inter-
views were compiled and themes were examined from
two perspectives: within and across participants. The
semi-structured format of interview helps to compare
the responses of participants. Each participant was asked
to discuss his/her pleasant and unpleasant emotional
events in the classroom and their reactions to these
events. Themes emerged when considering responses
across each participant. In the second step data was
compared to the relevant literature on professional iden-
tities and emotional labor. Multiple readings of the tran-
scripts ensured that our emergent themes re ected the
overall context (Groenewald, 2004; LeCompte & Preissle,
1993; Thompson, Locander, & Pollio, 1989). Collectively,
these processes ful lled our goal to capture participants’
most salient experiences related to understanding how
emotional events signal and in uence their emerging
teacher identities.
Findings of the research yielded a model of professional
identity that re ected the teachers understanding and
development of themselves in relation to different emo-
tional events. This model includes four key indicators: 1)
Identity beliefs, 2) Emotional events and identity nego-
tiation 3) Teachers’ attributes and 4) Adjustment
1) Identity beliefs
Identity beliefs represent reference points teachers used
to determine where they are as compared to where they
want to be. Within the interviews with participants, a
variety of statements were identi ed that re ected some
divergent expectation. For example, Mr Sunil Kumar (a
28-year-old science teacher) exclaimed that: ‘I never
realized that how dif cult it is to be a teacher,’ suggest-
ing that what he was experiencing was basically not
what he expected, suggesting he is experiencing emo-
tional problem. Ms Rashmi (a 30-year-oldmaths teacher),
stated that: ‘I know math but, what is coming out is not
matching with what I need to do for them.
By contrast, a few of teachers expressed incoming
identity beliefs that were often not too far from what
they experienced or how they expected to be in the
classroom. For example, Ms Shweta (a 27-year-old sci-
ence teacher), seemed very clear in asserting that she
was not a ‘traditional’ teacher but saw herself as ‘very
open minded and enthusiastic.’ Her openness led her to
observe that her students think of her as ‘their mom’
because she’s ‘so caring.’ In this case, her expectations
played out in ways that may not lead to identity strug-
gles in the classroom. Ms Meena (a 30-year-old Math
teacher) also seemed to know more clearly who she was
as a teacher. Ms Meena saw herself as someone who is
kind, not a dictator, and someone who tries to ‘take their
(students) feelings into consideration.
These examples illustrate how participants’ incoming
identity beliefs were sometimes challenged as they con-
tinued the process of becoming a teacher. Among most
of the participants, there was a clear struggle present
as they searched for ways to reconcile incoming beliefs
and expectations with the living experiences of teach-
ing. These matches and mismatches resulted in emo-
tional events that associate with teachers’ identity and
the emotional efforts associated with that identity belief.
2) Emotional Events and Identity Negotiation
An emotional event refers to those emotions that are
triggered by some social interaction or experience with
students, teachers, or administration. Although not
all emotional events have the potential to in uence a
teacher’s emerging identities, there are examples where
the critical emotional event seemed directly tied to
some ongoing identity negotiation. Participants’ experi-
ences suggested that these emotional events could be
either pleasant or unpleasant. For example, Ms Kiran (a
26-year-old beginning science teacher) talked about the
‘stress’ she experienced as she attempted to get ‘all’ of
her students to ‘love science.’ For Ms Kiran, it was an
overwhelming feeling to handle her ‘challenging’ class.
By contrast, there were also a number of pleasant
emotional events that seemed to af rm some of these
beginning teachers’ identities about themselves as teach-
ers. For example, students of Ms Rashmi’s other classes
were ‘really engaged’ and ‘interested.’ Mr Rajneesh (a
28- year- old math teacher) talked about the ‘joy of
just seeing the excitement in the students.’ Mr Shub-
ham (a 31-year-oldscience teacher), talked about the joy
he experienced ‘when the class is really attentive and
enthusiastic, it feels really good.
In general, these emotional events either tended to
call into question or af rmed participants’ perceptions
of themselves as teachers.
3) Teachers’ attributes
Participants of the study varied in the attributes and
argued that pleasant and unpleasant emotional events
in uenced their attributes like job satisfaction,  exibil-
ity, understanding, awareness, encouragement, motiva-
tion That is, teachers at times reported that emotionally
challenging/satisfying events were either due to rea-
sons under their personal control (they are a bad/good
teacher), or not under their control (I have no power
Manpreet Kaur
over these students).External control seemed more prev-
alent when it came to unpleasant emotional events. For
example, Mr Sunil accepts that he could not motivate
his students was because science was not ‘relevant’ to
them. Likewise, Ms Kiran indicated that her students
‘don’t care’ and Ms Meena talked about struggles she
was having while she attempted to teach students who
are ‘not motivated’. In these examples, teachers make
sense of frustrating emotional events in terms of factors
that are perceived to be beyond their personal control
(i.e. the problems rest within the students, not within
them) and in uence their attributes.
However, there were also examples of internal con-
trol. For example, Mr Suraj talked about feeling helpless
because ‘you don’t really know what to do to  x some-
thing.’ He also talked about ‘doing a bad job,’ suggesting
that at the end of the day, when he is feeling frustrated,
he feels like he is ‘doing a bad job. Ms Manjeet (29-year-
old science teacher) talked at length about her relative
‘inexperience’ in dealing with students who were very
close to her and who persistently challenged her ability
to understand students nature and attitude and what it
means to be a teacher. For example, Ms Manjeet believed
that a teacher should be ‘understanding and  exible.
However, by enacting these dispositions with her stu-
dents, it invited experiences that challenged these beliefs
leading her to question whether or not she should be
‘harder’ or stricter with students. She attributed failure to
handle students due to lack of experience. These teach-
ers were actively trying to better understand themselves,
their control, and their role in teaching their students.
Some participants approached emotional events
related to classroom management in a more useful man-
ner. Ms Sharda (25 year-old math teacher) said, ‘I feel I
am doing something good, even if it is bad, I can learn
from it.’ Similarly, Mr Shubham offers a more balanced
attribution analysis of his role in students’ lives. When
students didn’t do well, he experienced frustration and
often wondered what he could have done differently to
get them to remember what he is teaching. But he also
expressed his awareness that the responsibility lies with
both him and his students – it is a shared effort and
therefore shared responsibilities. But he still seems to be
working through this idea that if students are struggling,
he understands and is patient as teacher that they are
trying and therefore, he must try not to be overly frus-
trated with them – or at least shouldn’t let them know
he is frustrated.
4) Adjustment
Some of participants also talked about how emotional
episodes were often times presented as valuable oppor-
tunities to learn what kind of adjustments they needed
to make to the way they were approaching situations
and thinking about teaching. Many of these experiences
cantered on classroom management.
Ms Seema (a 26-year-old math teacher) was a particu-
larly interesting case as a new teacher who was dipped
in questions about how to adjust his teaching efforts
and identity. This was revealed when she shared how
she felt about being a teacher and feeling emotionally
invested in her students. During her interview, Ms Seema
broke out in tears and said, I love them, they are like my
kids. I never thought it would be something that I am
experiencing at all. I mean…when they start telling me
their problems (crying) I wish I could do more for them
and I want to be sympathetic but I can’t be, Ms Seema
revealed an emergent emotional struggle that forces her
to re ect on her identity as a teacher. Her interactions
with these students prompted a deep sense of empathy
for their problems and a desire to ‘save’ them, but at the
same time, caused her to struggle because it con icted
with what it meant to be a teacher to these students. For
Ms Seema, emotional events with her students signalled
a deep con ict between her ‘fantasy’ teacher identity
(I can teach them all and save them all) and her ‘sur-
vival’ teacher identity (I just have to  nd a way to cope)
(Bullough, 2009).
For Ms Kiran, it was about  guring out how to han-
dle ongoing frustration with students who she felt were
chronically not engaged. Initially she felt so ‘over-
whelmed’ and ‘frustrated ’that maybe she wasn’t ‘cut out
for teaching’ But over the time, she made adjustments
that were learned through ongoing experiences with
her students who she saw as not always so unengaged.
For Ms Kiran, her ideas of teaching and speci cally her
beliefs about her capacity to be a good teacher were
shaped over time by positive and negative experiences
in engaging students in science.
Participants could identify emotional events that were
signals for ‘teacher identity’ –the active process of con-
structing and deconstructing understanding of what it
means to be a teacher as one re ectively confronts the
process and outcome of some emotionally engaging
classroom-based events. Frustration originating from a
perceived lack of control, or experiences that con icted
with incoming expectations often led to some type of
identity work (i.e. teachers wondered what kinds of shifts
they needed to make to cope or make things different in
their classroom), as we see in the cases of teachers such
as Mrs Kiran and Ms Seema, respectively. Satisfaction
coming from successful teaching events often con rmed
teaching identities. For most of our participants, feel-
ings of happiness, joy, or satisfaction often accompanied
successful teaching events and days de ned as events in
Manpreet Kaur
which students were engaged or demonstrably learned
something. For these moments, the positive emotions
emanating from how students behaved often con rmed
what it means to be a ‘successful’ teacher – sometimes
independent of whether they had control over the situ-
ation or not. Teacher attributes and adjustments were
also identi able in the identity processes. Re ections on
emotional events often led to sense making exercises in
the form of attributes and potential adjustments.
Although these re ections seem to coincide with
directional hypothesis of this study about the process of
‘identity formation’ for new teachers (i.e. beliefs, emo-
tions, attributes, adjustment), not all teachers’ re ec-
tions lined up this way, suggesting that the connec-
tions between these four features are multi-layered and
multidirectional. It may well be the case that evolving
emotions play a larger role in triggering later identity
processes. It is also true that teachers’ identity develop-
ment includes a much wider swath of experiences than
just what happens in the classroom. Although relation-
ships with students and relevant instructional experi-
ences play a signi cant role in a teacher’s life, this nar-
row view neglects the broader contexts of teaching that
include relationships with colleagues, administrators,
and the press to ful l many externally imposed demands
and policies. These may be the limitations of this study.
This research will add to existing literature examin-
ing how teachers come to understand what it means to
be a teacher. From this study, one can learn the impor-
tance of emotional events in shaping the nature of
teachers’ identities. As an example, this study suggests
that emotional experiences that con ict with new teach-
ers’ expectations of what it means to be a teacher have
great potential to trigger ‘identity formation.’ In fact, it
seems as if these gaps between expectations and expe-
riences have great potential for triggering important
opportunities for teachers to engage in active explora-
tions about what it means to be a teacher. This study
yielded a model of ‘identity work’ that involves (1) some
beginning orientation of teacher identity beliefs, (2) the
experience of pleasant/unpleasant emotional events,
and (3) teacher attributes and (4) identity adjustment (or
change in beliefs about self as teacher). This model pro-
vides an entry point for scholars to understand on how
emotions and identity processes converge and emerge.
As a starting point, the model helps generate lines of
future inquiry. For example, are emotional events the
only source of identity adjustments? What is the signi -
cance of pleasant vs. Unpleasant emotional events for
in uencing identity-based attributes and adjustments?
This study has the potential to provide avenues for
enhancing teacher education programs, particularly the
pre service teacher experience when teachers are begin-
ning to get their ‘feet wet’ in actual classroom settings. It
is only through direct teaching experiences that teachers
can be made aware of the range of emotional strug-
gles they will encounter in their future classrooms. In
this regard, teacher education programs should provide
training in mindfulness exercises including emotional
responses to students and events. Teachers should reg-
ularly record the range of emotional experience they
observe and undergo as student teachers. This could
assist these trainees with how to think and act through
the many con icting situations and emotional events of
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