Social Class and the Emerging Professional Identities of Novice Teachers

  • Lisa Jones

Student thesis: Phd


The purpose of this study was to explore the influence that social class identity has on the emerging professional identities of novice teachers. The study argues that schooling in the UK is classed in terms of its history, outcomes and processes, and as a result, situates teaching as a form of 'class work'. Given the strong arguments for situating teaching in this way, this thesis seeks to increase our understanding about the way class actually works in relation to teachers' identities and the impact this has on their work as teachers. This study was qualitative and longitudinal in nature and used semi-structured interviews as the main method of data collection. A group of eleven novice teachers were followed over a two year period as they both learnt to become teachers on a postgraduate initial teacher education programme and then one year later after most had started teaching in secondary schools. The thesis begins by examining the complexities of the heightened, emotive and fiercely debated issue of class and draws strongly on understandings that locate class in contemporary Britain as being about culture as well as social structures. It recognises that whilst the emerging professional identities of teachers are heavily shaped by life experiences prior to becoming a teacher, new and varied teaching experiences have the capacity to impact on the way teachers see themselves and their understandings of their work in schools. Using data rich stories of six of the novice teachers to exemplify the wider sample, this thesis illustrates the ways in which classed identity shapes novice teachers' early understandings of schooling and becoming a teacher. It demonstrates that class really does matter for novice teachers but that it plays out in complex and sometimes contradictory ways. In particular, the thesis draws on the notion of social class boundaries and the way in which teaching often involves the crossing of these. The crossing of class boundaries is identified as being a central feature of the novice teacher experience. It is argued that class boundary crossing creates tensions for novice teachers not least because their own class identities are called into question and troubled by this process. One feature of this process is that many novice teachers recognise teaching as 'class work' and additionally understand that the cultural capital they bring to this context may not be equally valued in all educational settings. This can result in a class identity acting in restrictive and constraining ways. Whilst some novice teachers are bound by their class identities, others are able to play strategically with their class minimising the disadvantages of a perceived lack of appropriate cultural capital. This study suggests that the ability to know how and when to strategise is itself classed, a coping mechanism employed by middle rather than working class novice teachers. The study concludes by examining the implications of these findings for novice teachers and their preparation for work in schools. It argues that the classed identities of teachers need to be explicitly examined in a supportive and reflexive manner within initial teacher education.
Date of Award1 Aug 2011
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorDavid Hall (Supervisor) & David Dyson (Supervisor)


  • Social class identity
  • Novice teachers

Cite this