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BOOK REVIEW / CRITIQUE DE LIVRE


PATRICK M. JENLINK (Ed.). Teacher Identity and the Struggle for Recognition: Meeting the Challenges of a Diverse Society. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Education. (2014). 270 pp. $42.40 (paperback). (ISBN 978-1607095750)


Teacher identity is multi-faceted and a teacher’s role is constantly negotiated and disputed. Teacher Identity and the Struggle for Recognition presents various perspectives on the struggles teachers face in negotiating their identity within classrooms and complex institutions such as schools and universities. Drawing on Ellison’s literary classic, Invisible Man (1952), the editor uses the metaphor of invisibility to weave together complex issues involving teacher identity. Jenlink’s aims are twofold: (1) to understand the essence of teachers’ struggles, specifically their struggle to be recognized as having complex and multi-faceted identities, and (2) to examine how educational systems have a “history of racism, genderism, sexism, exclusion, and dehumanizing pedagogies” (p. xix).

The book is an edited collection of articles from educators and academics who have written about both their research in education-based settings as well as their own experiences. The volume is divided into six parts and each part works to create a series of conversations that “attempt to illuminate the meaning and nature of teacher identity as it relates to the social, cultural, and historical struggles teachers face” (p. xxii). Part 1, “The Meaning of Identity- Understanding Teacher Identity in a Diverse Society,” offers discussions on teacher identity through different lenses. In Chapter 1, Clark and Flores discuss how schools are not neutral but are places for the construction of cultural and ethnic identities. Through an identity formation framework called “Stages of Metamorphosis,” they conclude that development of a positive teacher-self enhances teacher-student relationships. Chapter 2 explores the role of identity in either maintaining the status quo or generating social change. Gilpin and Liston investigate how silencing of student voice is the result of educational institutions upholding the status quo and point to the role of teacher education programs in preparing teachers to advocate for students through social change. Breen examines identity theories in Chapter 3, arguing that identity formation is not linear but fragmented. Understanding of teacher-self is complicated but necessary to authentically know students. Finally, Sirna and Tinning draw upon Bourdieu’s notions of habitus and field to show that the ways in which teachers are recognized will impact their identity and practice. Using findings from their study, they conclude that elementary teachers struggle to understand their capacity for change. Teacher education programs must focus on the broader social, political, and economic conditions within society to show how these influence educational systems and construct teachers’ understanding of self.

Part 2, “Pedagogical Considerations in Shaping Teacher Identity — Raising Identity Awareness,” presents views on how pedagogy shapes teacher identity. In Chapter 5, Reyes and Bishop share their use of critical refection and reader response in debunking stereotypes. They use concepts from Freire, Rosenblatt, and Dewey to decenter white privilege. Similarly Romano draws upon Freire’s concept of conscientization to explore the cultural identity of teachers in Chapter 6. Romano discusses the role of travel and teaching in different cultural contexts for teachers to become aware of the ethnocentric way in which they view the world. In Chapter 7, Nevin, Bradshaw, Cardelle-Elawar, and Diz-Greenberg discuss teacher identity formation from interrelated perspectives of critical pedagogy theory and concepts from psychology. Sharing results from 200 teacher candidates, the authors found that motivation to foster an ethic of care among students allows individuals to cross cultural barriers. Chapter 8 features dialogical journal interactions between a black educator and a white educator. Moule and Wingrad share how these interactions deepened their understandings of race and helped them further understand their role in revitalizing the teacher education unit at their university. Chapter 9 looks at how culture and context are not static. Florio-Ruane shares how exploring everyday teaching practice authentically can help teachers learn more about their professional identity.

Part 3, “Gender, Sexual Orientation, and Teacher Identity- Embracing Politics and Professionalism,” presents gender and sexual orientation perspectives that address the politics of identity and professionalism. In Chapter 10, Kahn explores how five female teachers construct gender in their personal and professional lives, revealing what role women play (or don’t play) in the struggle for gender equality in schools. In Chapter 11, Breen uses a portion of her own narrative inquiry as a platform from which to recognize and explore feminized teaching spaces, emphasizing the need to integrate power, agency, space, and self in understanding identity constructs. Chapter 12 traces feminization of teaching and the creation of gender ideals in which Hunter, Kahn, and Gless explore the personal, professional, and political identities of lesbian teachers and their subsequent marginalization.

Part 4, “Identity Formation- Writing and Reading Teacher Identity,” features how the metaphorical and literal writing and reading of teacher identity aids in preparation and practice. In Chapter 13, Fernsten and Hollander argue that writing practices constitute acts of identity and discuss how reflection and writing assist in understanding teaching practices. Berghoff and Hoffman outline their co-teaching planning process in Chapter 14. Using literature-based strategies, such as the “cognitive ladder,” they explore the question: “as teachers, how do we think about the identities of our students and ourselves?” (p. 158). They conclude that teacher-candidates need the opportunity to explore how pedagogical strategies help them examine identity so they can model this process for students. Chapter 15 features Agee’s study, situated within postmodern identity theory, on how 24 diverse preservice teachers and new English teachers negotiate issues of race and class while also constructing their teaching identities.

In Part 5, “Contextualizing Teacher Identity- Situating the Teacher Self,” the contributors share perspectives on the importance of context in understanding identity. In Chapter 16, Joseph engages in inquiry to add to her understanding of what it means to be a Black female educator teaching in a predominantly white college. Framed by Noddings’ pedagogy of care, she seeks to establish legitimacy and create relationships that facilitate care for students. Chapter 17 explores questions around identity development among teacher educators at the University of Texas who are largely members of mixed communities. Munter, Argus-Calvo, Tafoya, and Trillo learn that the interrelatedness of language, culture, and ethnicity are an integrated part of the development of one’s belief’s and values. In Chapter 18, Jones studies teacher discourse through her experience as an African American female college professor among her Mexican-origin students. Finally in Chapter 19, Saldaña and Méndez-Negrete showcase shifts in consciousness among bilingual educators and argues that, through a process of self-reflection on their culture, language, and teaching philosophies, pre-service teachers were able to become conscious of their teaching approaches. Part 6, “Being, Becoming a Teacher- Reflections on Teacher Identity,” presents a reflective examination of the complex nature of teacher identity, and provides pedagogical considerations for teacher preparation. In Chapter 20, Jenlink uses the metaphor of a palimpsest to discuss the constantly evolving nature of teacher identity and how life experiences shape future directions and philosophies. The last chapter concludes by reiterating how a pedagogy of identity involves positing educators in relation to their students and how identities emerge within social, cultural, political, and spatial practices.

The three main strengths of this book are its focus on the importance of pre-service and in-service professional development in the area of teacher identity, the accounts from educators in the field, and the discussions on how educators grapple for legitimacy in the classroom while working through both internal and external challenges. I appreciated the diverse and varied voices from teachers of all levels (elementary to post secondary) as the book moved beyond theoretical concepts to sharing on-the ground realties educators face, which are rarely discussed in the literature. Moreover, works on teacher identity rarely integrate the voices of educators; this volume is an exception to the norm.

Throughout the chapters, invisibility is used as a theme to understand issues of recognition, suggesting that consciousness of identity is a way for teachers to break through invisibility. All the chapters work together to present a critique of how invisibility is politically constructed, sharing models of how teacher education programs can equip teachers to be culturally sensitive as well as addressing the role that self-refection and identity formation play in eradicating cultural stereotypes that perpetuate the invisibility and marginalization of teachers. Jenlink’s edited collection reiterates that teacher identity formation as a process that requires life-long engagement and continued reflection: an insight highlighted in the contributions from new and experienced teachers. As an emerging scholar and teacher educator studying identity politics, I found this book not only accessible for both academics and educators but for all readers interested in learning more about structural challenges in the struggle for teachers in gaining recognition in educational institutions.

ARZINA ZAVER McGill University