Kate Sida-Nicholls

We have undertaken research to capture views about novice teachers’ identity and consider if their perception of their future teacher identity provides any insight into the current retention issue in teaching. This research was relatively small scale, involving 103 ITT primary and secondary trainees as they started their teacher training programme in September 2020, and this article discusses the main findings from our work.

Trainees were asked three questions, linking with Markus and Nurius (1986) possible selves’ theory, about their perceptions of the type of teacher they want to be and do not want to be. When asked about what had led the trainees to find themselves in the position of applying to be a teacher, our research strongly found that trainee teachers who had any experience in schools subsequently decided to train as teachers. Unsurprisingly, there is a split between secondary trainees who wish to teach to share the passion for their subject and primary trainees who want to teach and love working with children.

When asked about the type of teacher they want to be, the future possible selves that trainees in this research had of themselves is a bit surprising. There were very few responses about making a difference, addressing disadvantage or creating a positive learning environment. The trainees were more focused on stating that they wanted to become firm, fair, enthusiastic and memorable teachers. This also correlated with the type of teachers that they did not want to become. Most state that they are concerned with not teaching boring lessons or being seen as too strict and not respected. They do not mention factors such as not being able to build relationships or having to only teach to the exam.

As Hamman et al (2013) suggest in their own research, we know that training of teachers is context driven and perhaps some guidance should be given to the mentors to ask them to discuss with the trainees and early career teachers about the view they have of their future possible teaching selves? Hamman (2013) writes that mentors can also represent the hoped-for possible selves that novice teachers have of themselves and trainee teachers can moderate their behaviour to become like their mentor, and therefore perhaps this is something that should be made more explicit to mentors?

Measurement of progress against future possible selves is inevitable, according to Markus and Nurius (1986), as possible selves provides information to the individuals about progress toward or away from their desired future selves. However, it can also provide motivation for pursuing the goals that an individual has of their future selves and can be transformative when individuals strive to become their future selves.

Our research has flagged up that perhaps we should reflect a little more on discussing with novice teachers and mentors how the novice teachers’ current experiences are measuring up to their future possible teacher selves. We need to ensure that as the ITT Core Content Framework and the Early Career Framework are implemented we do not lose the sight of the picture that novice teachers (including early career ones) have of their future selves.

Our intention is that the results from this small-scale research sample will encourage us, as a training provider, to provide more personalised ongoing support to trainees during their training and newly qualified induction years. We hope that by encouraging novice teachers to acknowledge that aspects of their possible future selves as teachers might not be attained in the early years, and provide them with steps to address any conflict, that we can encourage them not to leave in the first five years of their career.

Kate Sida-Nicholls is Secondary PGCE Course Leader at Suffolk and Norfolk SCITT


Hamman, D., Coward, F., Johnson, L., Lambert, M., Zhou, L., & Indiatsi, J. (2013) ‘Teacher Possible Selves: How Thinking about the Future Contributes to the Formation of Professional Identity’ Self and Identity, 12:3, pp. 307-336

Fletcher, S. (2000) ‘A role of imagery in mentoring’ Career Development International, 5(4-5), 235–243

Markus, H. and Nurius, P. (1986) ‘Possible Selves’ American Psychologist (41) 9, pp.954- 969


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