April 2013
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Bedrettin Yazan, Ali Fuad Selvi, University of Maryland, USA, & Baburhan Uzum, Michigan State University, USA

The considerable growth in the number of English language learners (ELLs), both in the United States and across the world, has brought about a tremendous demand for more teachers of English and “more effective approaches to their preparation and professional development” (Richards, 2008, p. 158). As a result, the role assigned to the enterprise of Second Language Teacher Education (SLTE) has become more prominent during the last three decades, and the need for more research about SLTE in order to contribute to the improvement of second language (L2) teaching has become apparent. This article first discusses how SLTE grew as a field by responding to issues internal and external to Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) and then locates language teacher identity as an emerging area of research within SLTE.


SLTE has developed as a field by responding to issues both internal and external to the field of TESOL (Burns & Richards, 2009). The internal changes mainly refer to research-based developments in such areas as L2 teacher cognition, reflective practice, critical pedagogy, knowledge about language, and teacher identity. These lines of inquiry have all raised novel questions and necessitated the reconsideration of the practices of L2 teaching and SLTE. There are also powerful external factors influencing the way SLTE develops, such as globalization and the ever-growing need for English in international communication settings, which brought about the emergence of national policies regarding English Language Teaching (ELT), teacher education, standards, and accountability (Burns & Richards, 2009). The rise of globalization and the unprecedented demand for learning English have heavily influenced SLTE because they have led governments to create new national English language policies and have created pressure for an increase in the quantity and quality of the ELT force all over the world.

These internal changes and external pressures have made contributions to the development of SLTE. The former has led the field of SLTE to reconsider existing theories and practices and has generated more research into how L2 teachers learn to teach and acquire their knowledge base. The latter has spurred SLTE to seek ways to meet the burgeoning need for an ever-larger ESOL teaching force and address the need to prepare ESOL teachers to serve ELLs with diverse goals and needs in the settings influenced by emerging national policies.

Internal Changes

Two seminal works (Freeman & Richards, 1996; Richards & Nunan, 1990) have promoted an exploration of internal changes in SLTE with the reconsideration of L2 teacher learning, knowledge base, and teaching practices in light of emerging research. These internal changes actually became a central issue in SLTE when Freeman and Johnson (1998) revisited and reconceptualized the L2 teacher knowledge base, devoted to language teacher education in the field of TESOL. Freeman and Johnson lament that SLTE has been mostly shaped by “tradition and opinion” rather than “theoretical definitions, documented studies or researched understandings” (p. 398). Their main argument is that SLTE can become more effective provided that the field can present better documentation and understanding of L2 teacher learning, along with an agreed-upon definition of language teaching. They find tenuous the transmission-oriented and product-oriented assumptions that have undergirded the SLTE research and practice thus far. They maintain that these assumptions have tended to capitalize “more on what teachers needed to know and how they could be trained than on what they actually knew, how this knowledge shaped what they did, or what the natural course of their professional development was over time” (p. 398). In their novel conceptualization of SLTE, they postulate a systematic view of the knowledge base in which three main domains need to be addressed: “(a) the nature of the teacher learner; (b) the nature of schools and schooling; and (c) the nature of language teaching” (p. 406). They also stress the continual and critical interdependence among these domains through processes of learning, socialization, and participation in and creation of communities of practice.

External Factors

Turning to the external factors the SLTE field has had to respond to, it can be found that English has acquired an unparalleled position that no other language has had in the history of humankind. It is enjoying a dominant status in business, technology, science, medicine, politics, telecommunication, the Internet, popular entertainment, arts, and sports (Crystal, 2000; Graddol, 1997). This unprecedented status has been primarily reinforced by globalization, which is a highly complicated and influential phenomenon permeating social, economic, political, cultural, and language dimensions of societies all over the world. In order to actively participate in the global economy and access the information and knowledge that constitute the foundation and sources for both social and economic progress, governments are crafting new English teaching and teacher education policies or making fundamental changes in the existing ones (Bottery, 2000; Kırkgöz, 2009), which encourage individual citizens to equip themselves with English language skills.

TESOL educators internationally encounter new challenges due to the multitude of issues stemming from the varieties of language use across world Englishes in all three Kachruvian circles (Nunan, 2001). Teacher education is one of the areas that has confronted these novel challenges. The developments regarding English as an international language and world Englishes have borne out a number of “concerns about the appropriate initial preparation of language teachers, the standard of target language mastery to be attained by nonnative-English-speaking teachers working in varied contexts, and the nature of the evolving knowledge and skill bases needed by all teachers” (Bailey, 2001, p. 610). Hence, these major concerns regarding the content and processes of educating ESOL teachers have entailed more attention in SLTE research.

As a consequence of these novel concerns confronting SLTE, three interlocked clusters of research have received significant prominence in SLTE literature: (1) research concerned with the curriculum of SLTE (Bartels, 2009; Crandall, 2000; Graves, 2009; Johnson, 2000, Richards, 1998; Tedick, 2005), (2) research about nonnative-English-speaking teachers as professionals in ELT (Braine, 2005, 2010; de Oliveira, 2011; Kamhi-Stein, 2009; Llurda, 2005; Mahboob, 2010; Selvi, 2011), and (3) research regarding L2 teacher learning and the knowledge base of SLTE (Crandall, 1999; Freeman & Johnson, 1998; Johnson, 1999; Richards, 1998; Snow, 2005; Tedick, 2005). These three emerging areas of research interacting with each other have played a critical role in the growth of SLTE as a field, which has been igniting several promising sparks since the early 1990s (Burns & Richards, 2009; Freeman, 2002; Kumaravedivelu, 2012).


As a common thread in the aforementioned clusters of SLTE research, L2 teacher identity has recently started receiving researchers’ attention (Duff & Uchida, 1997; Johnston, 1999; Kanno & Stuart, 2011; Morgan, 2004; Pavlenko, 2003; Tsui, 2007; Varghese, 2001). L2 teacher identity has become a prominent theme in teacher education because teacher identity formation holds a major role “as an integral part of teacher learning” (Tsui, 2011, p. 33). Because identity represents “a way of doing things” yet becomes adjusted according to “what is legitimated by others in any social context" (Miller, 2009, p. 173), teacher identity casts a major influence on many matters from how teachers learn to perform the profession, how they practice the theory and theorize their practice, how they educate students, to how they interact and collaborate with their colleagues in their social setting. Therefore, while delineating the scope of the L2 teacher knowledge base, Tedick (2005) mentions teacher identity as a central theme that is subsumed under the “broad construct” of knowledge base (p. 1). This is aligned with the novel direction “of much recent research in teacher education in seeking to portray teacher knowledge not as an isolated set of cognitive abilities but as being fundamentally linked to matters such as teacher identity and teacher development” (Johnston, Pawan, & Mahan-Taylor, 2005, pp. 53–54). Briefly, the investigation of teacher identity construction can shine light on the way L2 teachers develop as professionals while transitioning from a graduate or undergraduate student self to a teacher self.

Varghese, Morgan, Johnston, and Johnson (2005) observe that the need for inquiry into L2 teacher identity has appeared in the wake of developments in two lines of research about L2 teaching. First, classroom-based research underscores that L2 learning classrooms are “complex places in which simplistic cause-effect models of teaching methodology were inadequate” and that L2 teachers represent a prominent group of agents playing a tremendous “role in the constitution of classroom practices” (p. 22). This line of thought has been supported by the inquiries into teacher beliefs, knowledge, and attitudes, which view teacher identity as a significant factor in shaping the way L2 teaching is executed in an actual teaching context (Kanno & Stuart, 2011; Singh & Richards, 2006; Varghese et al., 2005). Second, the body of research looking at sociocultural and sociopolitical aspects of teaching accentuates that various dimensions of identity are of paramount importance in L2 classrooms and that the way an L2 teacher positions himself or herself vis-à-vis the learners in the classroom and the broader sociocultural and sociopolitical contexts is quite crucial in terms of classroom performance (Duff & Uchida, 1997; Singh & Richards, 2006; Uzum, in press; Varghese et al., 2005).

In light of classroom-based research and the studies investigating sociocultural and sociopolitical facets of L2 teaching, understanding the enterprise of L2 teaching and learning entails understanding L2 teachers, that is, having “a clearer sense of who they are: the professional, cultural, political, and individual identities which they claim or which are assigned to them” (Varghese et al., 2005, p. 22). These two lines of inquiry have drawn attention to how the different facets of L2 teacher identity play a determining role in the implementation of teaching practices. In other words, identity constitutes a framework through which teachers form their own ideas of their beings, actions, and understandings concerning their profession and their place in social contexts. These ideas impact the way they execute their teaching practices in L2 classrooms. Thus, contributing to the conception of teachers’ identity as a basis for their decision making and meaning making throughout L2 teaching practices, classroom-based research, and inquiries into sociocultural and sociopolitical aspects of SLT have created the basis for L2 teacher identity as an emerging field of research in SLTE.


Recurrent clarion calls have been voiced in SLTE literature for more attention to understanding how L2 teachers learn to teach their subject matter (Freeman, 1989; Freeman & Johnson, 1998; Freeman & Richards, 1996). Multiple scholars (e.g., Freeman, 2007; Johnston et al., 2005; Tsui, 2007) have directed particular attention to the paucity of research on how L2 teachers construct their professional identity with regard to their learning-to-teach process and knowledge base. The questions that need to be put under scrutiny are how L2 teacher learners learn to become professional teachers, what experiences in practicum and coursework contribute to their identity formation, and what roles their experiences in induction years play in their identity building.


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Bedrettin Yazan is a doctoral candidate and graduate teaching assistant in the Second Language Education and Culture Program at the University of Maryland, College Park. His research interests include second language teacher identity, practicum practices of preservice ESOL teachers, English as an international language, second language learner motivation from a poststructuralist perspective, and issues regarding accent in TESOL.

Baburhan Uzum is a doctoral candidate in the Second Language Studies Program at Michigan State University and is an English instructor in the Intensive English Program. His research interests include second language acquisition, language socialization, sociocultural theories on learning, second language teacher education, and interdisciplinary approaches to learning and teaching. His dissertation research is on foreign language teachers' socialization into the U.S. educational context.

Ali Fuad Selvi is a research associate and the interim coordinator of TESOL programs at the University of Maryland. He is also the chair elect of the NNEST (Nonnative English Speakers in TESOL) Interest Section. His research interests include the global spread of English as an international language and its implications for language learning, teaching, teacher education, and policy realms; issues related to nonnative English speakers in TESOL; and second language teacher education.

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