Educator Versus Subject Matter Teacher: The Conflict Between Two Sub-Identities in Becoming a Teacher

Aug. 05, 2016

Source: Teachers and Teaching


Research literature often addresses the problems entailed in the integration of beginning teachers within the education system. Most studies emphasize the conflicts these teachers experience, especially between the personal and professional aspects of their profession. We conducted qualitative research among participants and graduates of the Program for Excellence in Teaching at a teachers’ college in Jerusalem, Israel, revealing another conflict. In determining their professional identity, beginning teachers face a dilemma between two sub-identities: the teacher as a subject matter and didactic expert and the teacher as a homeroom educator. We characterize these two sub-identities and analyze their implications for teacher training programs.


Balancing the two aspects of the teacher’s role – one that reflects the inner aspirations and personal interests of prospective and beginning teachers (ED) and the other representing the institutional demands and the professional expertise of teachers (SMD) – should be addressed directly by teacher educators, teacher training programs, and professionals who support beginning teachers during their induction phase.

Bullough (1997) has emphasized the importance of teacher education programs in forming teachers’ professional identity. Hong (2010) has found that these programs indeed play an important role in building teachers’ professional identity but require effective support of beginning teachers as they reflect on their professional identity formation. Consequently, teacher educators would be advised to pay attention to the bias toward the ED dimension in prospective and beginning teachers’ professional identity and the naïve and unrealistic nature of their perception. They should stress the importance of the SMD dimension of the teacher’s role in special education and in lower classes as well. Needless to say, intellectual growth and academic advancement can enable students’ social mobility, contribute to society, and encourage the kind of personal and professional growth that yields competent citizens, critical thinkers, and lifelong learners.

We recommend that policy-makers provide more opportunities for subject teachers to form meaningful relationships with their students, e.g. by allowing more time for activities other than actual instruction. Allocation of time for a subject teacher to schedule daily personal or small group meetings with students, construction of social activities that involve subject teachers, and similar activities could prove beneficial to subject teachers and students alike. Israel’s recent educational reforms attempt to address this issue but still face numerous challenges.

Updated: Aug. 31, 2016