Skip to content

Blog post

Teacher educators’ identity

Mieke Lunenberg

Systematic research on the development of a professional identity of teacher educators is still scarce, but there are indications that teacher educators who become involved in professional development activities develop a feeling of “Belonging’ as a teacher educator: their collective identity, that which binds them as a professional group, and the affinities they feel, or do not feel, with other professional communities.” (Davey, 2013 p. 7.)

Given the diverse backgrounds and working circumstances of teacher educators it is understandable that the feeling of belonging as a teacher educator is not self-evident. Many teacher educators have been primary or secondary school teachers before becoming teacher educators, but there are also subject specialists and specialists in social studies with a master’s or PhD degree who become teacher educators. Teacher educators work in schools (school-based teacher educators), colleges and universities. The scope of tasks and responsibilities of teacher educators is broad. Teacher educators teach a variety of subjects. They are responsible for the education of future teachers on various levels as well as for supporting the induction and further professional development of certificated teachers.

As a result, teacher educators form a rather heterogeneous group (Lunenberg, 2010). Therefore, it is no surprise, that the European Commission offers a broad definition: “Teacher Educators are all those who actively facilitate the (formal) learning of student teachers and teachers” (2013, p. 8).

In 1993, Ducharme characterised the identity of teacher educators as ‘Janus-like’ (p.4). He added that the teacher educator even has more than two faces: “School person, scholar, researcher, methodologist, and visitor to a strange planet” and calls this ‘schizophrenic’ (p.6). A recent review of international research on teacher educators (Lunenberg, Dengerink, & Korthagen, 2014) shows that this situation has not changed. The results of this extensive study show that there at least six roles that teacher educators have to fulfil: teacher of teachers, researcher, coach, curriculum developer, assessor and broker. Handling this complexity has been topic of several studies. Whitehead (1993), for example, challenged himself and other teacher educators to study dilemmas and tensions, and to develop a ‘living educational theory’ that support handling these dilemmas and tensions in a productive way, and being a model for student teachers.

Another study was carried out by Berry (2007). She conducted systematic research on the complexity of being a teacher educator and distinguishes six main tensions, among them ‘telling and growth’ and ‘planning and being responsive’.  Berry stresses that educating teachers is never predictable and can never be fully controlled, and therefore requires substantial knowledge, experience, and understanding to do the right thing at the right moment.

Teacher educators themselves haven taken the lead in studying and improving their complex and tenacious practice. They recognized that to do so, critical collaboration is a necessity. Williams and Ritter (2010) even call their participation in the community ‘Self-Study of Teacher Education Practices’ (S-STEP) vital for their professional development as teacher educators and state: “we strongly believe that collegiality, conversation and collaboration in multiple forums is essential for the professional development of new teacher educators like us—and indeed, for all teacher educators” (p. 90).

In 2013, increasing attention for the professional development of teacher educators inspired a European group of leading teacher educators to establish the International Forum for Teacher Educator Development. This initiative brings teacher educators together to work on core questions about teacher educators’ professional development. The aim is to build capacity of leading teacher educators who co-develop and evaluate professional development strategies to support the professional development of teacher educators nationally and locally. To keep informed about InFo-TED, see:



Berry, A. (2007). Tensions in teaching about teaching: Developing practice as a teacher educator. Dordrecht: Springer.

Davey, R. (2013) The Professional Identity of Teacher Educators: Career on the cusp? London: Routledge.

Ducharme, E. (1993). The lives of teacher educators. New York: Teachers College.

European Commission (2013), Supporting Teacher Educators. Brussel: EC.

Lunenberg, M.L. (2010). Characteristics, scholarship and research of teacher educators. In P. Peterson, E. Baker & B. McGaw (Eds.), International Encyclopedia of Education (pp. 676-680). Oxford: Elsevier.

Lunenberg, M., Dengerink, J., & Korthagen, F. (2014). The Professional Teacher Educator. Roles, Behaviour, and Professional Development of Teacher Educators. Rotterdam/Boston/Taipei: Sense Publishers.

Whitehead, J. (1993). The Growth Of Educational Knowledge: Creating Your Own Living Educational Theories. Bournemouth: Hyde.

Williams, J., & Ritter, J. (2010). Constructing new professional identities through self‐study: from teacher to teacher educator. Professional Development in Education, 36(1-1), 77-92.