Teachers Professional Identity: Analysis of The Case of South Africa

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About this sample

About this sample


Words: 2480 |

Pages: 5|

13 min read

Published: Aug 14, 2023

Words: 2480|Pages: 5|13 min read

Published: Aug 14, 2023

Table of contents

  1. Personal Reflection About Teacher Professional Identity
  2. The Place and Roles of Teachers in Education
  3. What are the Competencies of New Teachers?
  4. Issues Affecting Teachers' Professionalism and Identity in SA
  5. In Closing
  6. References

An educator’s identity is formed by one’s own perception of education which is formed from one's own school years, the school environment one is placed in, the teachers and parents one come in contact with, the support and guidance that one receives as well as the confidence in one’s own ability. It is thus shaped by internal perceptions and concepts as well as the above-mentioned external experiences. How does a teacher’s concept of their identity and role as a teacher affect their approach to schooling? Some of the issues affecting teachers' professional identity will be explored in the essay with examples of personal experience and reflections.

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Personal Reflection About Teacher Professional Identity

Identity is never fixed but, seems to be an ongoing inventing and critical re-inventing of one’s experiences with others and in different situations. There are also the expectations of others in terms of what makes a ‘good’ teacher and one’s own educational ideals. A teacher’s professional identity can be shaped by the specific location of the school one is working at, the policies of that school, the colleagues, classrooms, availability of resources and materials as well as the learners and their parents.

As Deacon reflects, the characteristics of a teacher's professional identity are not only about subject-related factors and theoretical knowledge, but a deep understanding of what that teacher teaches, in other words, it is not who you are, but what you know and what you have learnt throughout your life. When the focus falls on a person's own practical knowledge and experience gained in life, that deep understanding that Deacon refers to reflects in the way one teaches. This in return creates a deeper level of engagement with students, better communication as well as the creation of lessons that grab attention and instigates involvement.

My current identity as a teacher, which I know will be re-invented as I grow, is formed by my parents (who were both in education), my schooling, my education in psychology as well as my experience in working in the corporate sector for the past 10 years. Deacon highlights the characteristics of teacher professional identity as the confidence we have as subject matter, pedagogical and didactical experts. My confidence stems from my education in psychology which gives me sound knowledge of human behaviour as well as human development. Although I have little know practical experience currently, my years in the corporate world have given me the maturity to realize what my passion is and that I want to make a difference rather than make money.

During this growing phase in my career, readings like Jansen’s Great South African Teachers has given some guidelines to what I aspire to and what I deem my role as a teacher to be.

As a teacher, being a subject matter expert is not negotiable. Being a specialist in the subjects you teach makes you a teacher of resource. As Jansen also highlights the deeper your understanding of a subject the better you will be able to teach it in simpler and creative ways making it fun for learners. Being the go-to person has always been a great motivator for me. The same will apply in my teaching career. Mentoring and being an example to inspire, even if only one learner, acts as great encouragement. The focus would be on the overall welfare of learners, seeing each child as an individual and treating them with care and compassion. Respect is an absolute. Respect builds character and self-pride. Jansen’s talks about the “Soft-Disciplinarian”. Children need boundaries and rules to thrive but, the new generation want a say, not only in learning, but in punishment and boundaries. They want to work alongside the educator that draws out respect and not impose authority. The final characteristic in Jansen’s book that had relevance was to be an “Extended Parent”. Learners should feel safe in your class, feel that they matter and are cared for. Creating such an environment will be of great importance to me.

Following the above there should also be an emphasis on understanding and capturing learners as the generations change. Educators need to evolve and continue learning not only in educational knowledge but in understanding of the learners we teach.

Coetzee, et al. placed a spotlight on the need for educators to evolve their approaches in order to ensure success in the educational environment. Educators’ pedagogy, resources and tools must adapt with the ever-changing force of today’s learners.

To assist educators to understand, engage and connect with contemporary youth Coetzee, et al. spoke about understanding where they come from, what their learning style looks like and how to engage and motivate them. These strategies speak to role of an educator as being adaptable to change.

As made clear by the Department of Higher Education and Training the listed requirements for teachers are seldom completely carried out by teachers. When a person decides to become a teacher and the decision is based on for example an intrinsic need for public service or altruism that teacher will naturally be inclined to take on a role of responsibility for others, create a supportive and empowering environment, identify and act on the needs of learners and others they encounter. Such a person will automatically want to understand the community, the issues that are in that community, get to know the parents and home environments in order to also take on a caring role in their practice. Choosing to teach as a profession should be for the right reasons.

The Place and Roles of Teachers in Education

The roles of teachers as listed in DBET are widespread and some will only develop over time through constant involvement. For a teacher to become comfortable in the subject, discipline or phase they are teaching in and to incorporate the correct approach to teaching and learning in their specific context, he/she would need great understanding and knowledge as well as on-the-job experience to relate.

Especially in South Africa, it is of utmost importance that a teacher has a sensitivity to the diverse needs of learners. Learners coming from very different cultures, homes, communities and socio-economic backgrounds creates many barriers to learning. These factors are excluding the physical, mental and learning disabilities that also arise. Teachers are expected to be able to devise learning environments that take all these different needs into account. Some classes have more than 40 learners at a time which makes this seem like an impossible task. In the South African context being an excellent mediator is crucial to all teachers.

Keeping the above in mind, there needs to be appropriate subject-, pedagogical- and curriculum knowledge, combined with experience that a teacher requires to be able to make use of appropriate resources, take the specific learning context in consideration as well as plan the pace and sequence of learning while keeping the learners and the subject in mind. This is a skill and role that requires a passion for the subject and for teaching as well as vast knowledge and experience to master.

Teachers need to be decision makers, managers, disciplinaries and administrators whilst staying democratic and objective always. Flexibility due to the ever-changing circumstances and needs is at the order of the day. As a new student-teacher being expected to fulfil all these roles is overwhelming. The schools I have taught at were financially well off, had all the resources and materials needed and the culture was mostly white, Afrikaans- and English-speaking learners and teachers. Having colleagues with experience and mentors to learn from put me at an advantage. Many teachers with years of experience in less fortune areas have had not mentoring or guidance and do the best they can.

In any career continued growth and personal development are encouraged. The legislation around education is ever evolving, subjects and what we know will always change and develop. Diversity, especially in South Africa and taking our history into consideration, will mature. In education, we work with people, not one the same as before, this alone is very significant to the teaching profession.

What are the Competencies of New Teachers?

When newly qualified teachers move into the working world there are specific competencies that they require. The list for me is something to aspire to and not all the competencies will be evident once a teacher completes his education. For me it is more of a wish list.

Entering the schooling space, a teacher should have sound subject knowledge in the subjects they plan to teach. As mentioned in Jansen being a specialist will make it easier to plan, explain and teach a subject if one’s knowledge of it is imbedded.

For teachers to tailor their teaching to the needs of learners in a class would first require knowledge of such a class. It would take time to identify those needs, but there should be sound knowledge of how to identify these needs stemming from the qualification itself. Communication is important in any position of employment. Being a mediator and support for learners in learning is pivotal. As educator we need to give feedback, foresee obstacles and solve issues. Managing classrooms and discipline of learners, even for experienced teachers, remain an obstacle due to various issues other than our diversity in South Africa. Sound subject-, assessment-, pedagogical- and curriculum knowledge affect the quality of learning. A teacher with sound subject knowledge will be able to asses in various and reliable ways and use that information to improve their own teaching. Curriculum knowledge is a non-negotiable. As DHET clearly stipulates, a teacher must eb able to unpack the content, make use of what materials are available and plan, design and execute lessons accordingly.

Due to our political background and changes our education system had to adapt to different cultures and learners from different backgrounds in the same class and school, especially in less fortunate areas. Understanding diversity in the South African context includes knowing the community and being able to identify social issues some learners might face. Again, as new student-teacher, this is something that everyone in South African is aware of but might not necessarily understand. With experience the understanding will grow, and social issues will be easier to identify.

Finally, behaving according to one’s core values and acting professional at all times can be hard at times, but will earn respect from colleagues and learners and in turn form part of your identity.

Deacon, speaks to the competencies of newly qualified teachers listed in the Government Gazette of 2015 as it refers to the fact that collaborating a teacher’s subject knowledge, deep understanding of what they teach, knowing the minds of children and how they think, engaging with learners and communicating with them, solving problems and being able to plan and execute lessons that are interesting and relevant are great skills to have, some taking more time to develop than others.

Issues Affecting Teachers' Professionalism and Identity in SA

Deacon talks about the fact that identity changes over time. He mentions that it is formed by different cultures and contexts. In South Africa that could not be truer. Our past brings some historical burdens into our education system.

The study done by Hoffman, et al. assisted us in understanding the perception of what the role of teachers are in different environments such as funded and non-funded schools. Hoffman, et al. identified how race, gender and class shape a teacher’s understanding of their role and how fee-paying, and no-fee schools operate. No-fee schools have a lack of institutional support from the state and the public. The teachers there take on roles of care workers, have very little pedagogical knowledge and do not view their roles as prestigious. The more obstacles a teacher faces, the bigger the impact on their concept of professionalism.

When Deacon spoke about the influences on teacher identity, he mentioned the fact that in South Africa, teachers get paid on a scale based on certain levels. This means that some teachers receive the same salary whether they have many years or only a year’s experience and whether they are deemed good or bad educators. This leads to teachers accepting that even if they put in more effort than others, there is not incentive. And some educators will do the bare minimum as they know there is not carrot at the end of the stick. This factor is one of the reasons why I do not view teaching as a professional career in comparison to a doctor or psychologist. The status of a teacher is influenced by the state and the public and many views it as a thankless job. Where its importance is vital in shaping our future generations.

The Education Department does not provide enough support and assistance to schools in disadvantaged areas. Some of the autonomy of teachers are taken away by lowering the scope of decision making, by the professional bodies subject teachers to negative media coverage and provide no insurance or support. Educators are left to fend for themselves.

Finally, a factor that will most certainly affect my identity as a teacher. The prescribed standards and methods from professional and government bodies take away from the identity of teachers due to that fact that they need to conform to these set norms and not use their own identities and experience. Referring to Jansen’s types of teachers shows how important autonomy is in the classroom. If teachers have the freedom to live close to their type or identity, they become better teachers.

In Closing

The importance of a person's identity when teaching is imminent. A teacher's identity is formed by what they learn, how extensive their skills are, subject-, pedagogical- and curriculum knowledge. The experience or exposure in different environments, as well as the opportunity to be autonomous but, have some norms and standards to conform to creates a perfect balance for teaching.

Overall, as Palmer mentioned, it is crucial to keep growing. Knowledge can never be complete but is ever-changing and new information is constantly available. Equal to this, students are people, each one different and complex, coming from different homes and backgrounds. Some with disabilities and learning difficulties. Good teachers are always creating and re-creating their identities, bringing their own personal touch to the learning experience.


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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

Cite this Essay

Teachers Professional Identity: Analysis of the Case of South Africa. (2023, August 14). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 18, 2024, from
“Teachers Professional Identity: Analysis of the Case of South Africa.” GradesFixer, 14 Aug. 2023,
Teachers Professional Identity: Analysis of the Case of South Africa. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 18 Jul. 2024].
Teachers Professional Identity: Analysis of the Case of South Africa [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2023 Aug 14 [cited 2024 Jul 18]. Available from:
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