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Negotiating Professional Identity

Vocational Teachers’ Personal Strategies in a Reform Contexts

Katja Vähäsantanen and Stephen Billett

Recent studies of learning through work have included how professional identities are formed through participation in work. However, we need a more elaborated understanding of how professional identities are negotiated at times of rapid change in working practices. This chapter examines the personal strategies that vocational teachers adopt, and the professional identity negotiations that occur, in response to requirements to change professional practices. We report on a study in which open-ended narrative interviews were conducted with sixteen Finnish vocational teachers. From the teachers’ accounts, we identified distinct personal strategies that were adopted to engage with change. The strategies were labelled as follows: (i) professional development, (ii) passive accommodation, (iii) active participation, (iv) a balancing act, and (v) withdrawal. The strategies were aligned to the teachers’ individual concerns, and were bound up with the personal resources available in negotiating with the changing character of the work. An account of these strategies offers a new way of understanding how identities are negotiated through an active, personally-shaped process. The study also illuminates how to promote individuals’ management of the self and of learning at work.