This thesis explored how four internationalised school teachers constructed cross-cultural teacher identities in an internationalised school in Shanghai, China (pseudonym, WEST). The topic of international teacher identity is of significance to practitioners, researchers and school leaders alike as there is growing consensus that teacher identity and its construction is not only a vital part of developing a professional self, but is a complex, open-ended life-long project, involving cognitive, affective and, increasingly in a globalising world, intercultural dimensions. However, the international education literature continues to construct the international educator in positivist terms due to a focus on macro-level phenomena, such as international schools, curricula and the nature of international education. The essentialisation of international teachers as a type or a ‘reduced Other’ (Grimshaw, 2007) has resulted in their lives and experiences being silenced and marginalised in the literature.
In order to address the issue above and to bring into focus the complexity of internationalised teachers’ lives, this thesis situated itself at the intersection of a number of fields and disciplines, including international education, teacher professional identity, narrative inquiry and discourse analysis. The concept of teacher identity was explored from postmodern, modernist, and cross-cultural traditions, leading to an integrative framework that conceptualised identity construction as experiential and discursive in nature, arising out of personal, professional and cross-cultural domains of experience, and articulated in the form of Gee’s (2014) notion of Discourse (narratives) and discourse (language features).
Commensurate with identity as discursive in nature, narrative inquiry was employed as a guiding methodology, with semi-structured interviews utilised as the main instrument for data collection. Data for the study were collected over a two-year period, with interview data being collected in the first year, and follow-up interviews and supplemental data collected in the second year. An enhanced form of member-checking was employed that ensured that data collection, transcription, analysis, and the writing up of findings proceeded in a semi-grounded and recursive manner, with participants being given opportunities to expand or excise data or interpretations that did not resonate with their lived experiences.
This thesis found that the participants’ tended to draw upon similar narratives and discursive features in order to construct their identities as international teachers, yet they also mobilised narrative and discourse in an idiosyncratic manner, based on personal, professional and cross-cultural experiences. Another significant finding was that cross-cultural experiences did not necessarily lead to increased intercultural understanding as might be expected after an extended sojourn abroad. Rather, the participants mobilised cross-cultural experiences in order to reinforce existing beliefs that were western-centric in nature or to bid for recognition as ‘western’ teachers in a Chinese school. The findings also showed how the participants narrated their cross-cultural experiences in terms of the accumulation of a range of capitals, including linguistic, cultural and social. Finally, the thesis highlighted the role of the interview context, and WEST as an organisation, in mediating the construction of the participants’ identities. This lead to the generation of two conceptual terms for describing how the participants constructed internationalised teacher identities in an internationalised school: discursive consonance and discursive dissonance.
This thesis contributes to the international education literature by exploring the lives and experiences of a group of international teachers who have yet to receive attention from researchers. It argues that the field of international education could appropriate the conceptual and methodological tools from the literature on teacher professional identity (narrative inquiry and discourse analysis) in order to explore the lives of internationalised teachers from an emic perspective. This study problematises the typologies of international schools and international teachers as types by offering a reconceptualisation of both in the form of the internationalised school and the internationalised school teacher.
This study also adds to my practice as a practitioner by outlining how the findings could be used for professional development purposes. This would provide international teachers with a method for developing professional and intercultural identities, and also bring about a transformative experience for school leaders in WEST and other internationalised schools.