Publication Date

June 2018

Document Type



One of the prevailing concerns in education is student access to well-qualified teachers. This concern is particularly acute in the case of California math students where one of out of every six teaching in high minority middle and high schools is considered under-prepared, compared to one of twenty in high-achieving schools. Math, as a content area in schools, is often considered a gatekeeper subject. Limited access to qualified teachers only adds to America’s already inequitable social stratification. As a potential barrier to higher education and employment, school math – and those who teach it -- play critical roles in the future of students’ lives. Empirically, we know very little about why people select math teaching as a career or the role of recruitment and preparation programs in their early development and career plans. Longitudinal research is needed to examine the relationship between recruitment and preparation and who and how one becomes as a math teacher. This dissertation uses the concept of “teacher identity”—conceptualized here as both the process through which one develops as teacher and the product, both how and what or who — theoretically and analytically to help reveal this process. Specifically, in this study I examined three teacher candidates’ developing teacher identities as they participated in a year-long teacher education program and the subsequent first five years of their teaching career. The recruitment and teacher credentialing processes are of particular importance in this study; the credential program partnered with the candidates’ undergraduate math major and pre-professional program which had as its aim to increase the number and retention of qualified math and science teachers. Expanding entry and retention were critical parts of the social worlds and discourses through which these candidates entered teaching. Data collection focused primarily on interviews over six years (from preservice education to the candidates’ fifth year in the classroom) and also includes survey, participant observation, and document analyses. This study draws on sociocultural perspectives to attend to the socially constructed and culturally figured aspects of identity though language and interactions in educational contexts. This research contributes to a theoretical understanding of teacher identity as dynamic, shifting, and developed in relation to self, others, and context. It attends to the gap of empirical literature on math teacher identity specifically, with attention to conceptions of subject mastery as an exclusive property. Relationships between the beginning math teachers’ biographies and perceptions of themselves as students were critical as they grappled with their fit with math teaching in general and the schools where they taught more specifically, as well on their perspectives on the students they taught and what comprised a ‘good’ math student. A few discursive and contextual factors appeared to be central to their teacher identity development: the logic of recruitment for a high-need subject area, the role of field experience in preservice and teacher preparation, as well as the contexts of schools as workplaces with specific cultures and perspectives on what constitutes good students and teachers. These drew attention to the situated process of developing a teacher identity and, consequently, one’s career trajectory. This dissertation addresses this and theorizes a relationship between now and then, as articulated by the candidates. This is presented along with longitudinal data to compare their early anticipations with lived through outcomes. This study confirmed previous findings on the importance of person-organizational fit in the teachers’ choice of whether to teach or stay at a particular school. However, commitment to teaching and teaching at particular sites did not necessarily equate to particular modes of instruction (e.g. teaching for equity as is attended to in this work). Practice recommendations focus attention to field-based teacher education programs as one remedy to the current disjuncture between the historically and empirically ineffective theory-practice divide. I advocate for more attention to hybrid teacher preparation programs that reposition fieldwork and field-based knowledge and perspectives such that practice and theory are iterative and integrated across the sites of teacher preparation rather than divided and contested. This is both a practical and cultural shift. In tandem with current research on mentorship, I recommend rigorous attention both pragmatically and empirically to the role that cooperating teachers and teacher supervisors play in teacher development and careful analysis of the kinds of support provided to them, implementation of mentoring strategies, as well as a better understanding of how they are selected by universities as well as school districts.


teacher education, teacher identity, math teachers, field experience

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