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Understandings of teacher identity have remained consistent for the past two decades with a consensus that identity is dynamic, flexible and hybrid and is influenced by a range of individual factors (Beijaard et al., 2000; Rushton & Reiss, 2021). While there has been rapid growth in teacher identity research over the past decade, few systematic reviews have been completed. As a group of authors, our own professional lives inform our interest in teacher identity. We have all been schoolteachers, working in either secondary or primary schools. We are now teacher educators, working with teachers at different stages of their professional careers, in three UK-based higher education institutions. Given our experience of, and interest in, teachers’ professional lives, we were keen to undertake a systematic review of the teacher identity literature to further inform this field of research.

Our study and key findings

First, we undertook a systematic review of 412 items published between 2000 and 2021 and identified seven thematic groups that span key areas related to teachers’ professional lives:

  1. models and frameworks of professional lives
  2. narratives of professional lives
  3. becoming a teacher
  4. contexts
  5. communities
  6. change, transition and conflict
  7. subject specialisms.

Our review revealed three significant gaps in teacher identity research (Rushton et al., 2023). First, we found that bridges linking identity research with policymaking continue to be needed. This may be, in part, because teacher identity remains largely undervalued in teacher education and educational policy (Beijaard et al., 2022). This situation is puzzling given the importance of developing a positive teacher identity to maintaining a healthy and sustainable teaching workforce (Day et al., 2005). Future research could helpfully consider how understandings of identity in a range of school and policy contexts can meaningfully inform persistent worldwide challenges of teacher retention and recruitment.

‘Future research could helpfully consider how understandings of identity in a range of school and policy contexts can meaningfully inform persistent worldwide challenges of teacher retention and recruitment.’

Second, there is a dearth of research which specifically considers teacher identity in relation to primary school teachers, early years/foundation stage (EYFS) teachers and those from minority ethnic backgrounds. Could understanding more about how primary school and early years teachers construct and sustain their identities enable a better understanding of the nuanced and varied ways in which different contexts, ages of children, relationships and professional practice can affect teachers’ working lives? We underline the need for more empirical studies focused on the work of teachers from minority ethnic backgrounds working in different (national) contexts, including research which explores how teachers situate their perspectives within the diverse educational contexts in which they work, including the ways in which identities of these teachers may also in part be imposed externally through classification categories such as their race, ethnicity and cultural identities.

The third gap relates to global contexts. Of the 412 items, 60 per cent included in the review were located in four countries: the United States (99), China (55), the UK (55) and Australia (39), while the remaining studies were located in more than 40 other countries. Despite the range of countries represented in teacher identity research, there remains limited identity literature focused on the so-called Global South. A far greater emphasis on how teacher identity is understood and worked out in practice in Global South countries is very much needed, not only for the health and diversity of scholarship but also in better understanding teachers’ lives and practices in other countries worldwide. Indeed, we argue that this is now an urgent priority in teacher identity research.

This blog is based on the article ‘Understanding teacher identity in teachers’ professional lives: A systematic review of the literature’ by Elizabeth Rushton, Emma Towers, Emma Rawlings Smith and Sarah Steadman, published in Review in Education.

We welcome all to join our workshop, 9.18 What, Who and Where Next for Teacher Identity Research? Identifying Priorities for the Field from a Systematic Review of the Literature, at BERA Conference 2023 on 14 September 2023, 11:00am–12:30pm, room MB 206.


Beijaard, D., Verloop, N., & Vermunt, J. (2000). Teachers’ perceptions of professional identity: An exploratory study from a personal knowledge perspective. Teaching and Teacher Education, 16(7), 749–764.

Beijaard, D., Koopman, M., & Schellings, G. (2022). Reframing teacher professional identity and learning. In I. Mentor (Ed.) The Palgrave handbook of teacher education research (pp. 1–23). Springer International Publishing.

Day, C., Elliot, B., & Kington, A. (2005). Reform, standards and teacher identity: Challenges of sustaining commitment. Teaching and Teacher Education, 21(5), 563–577. 

Rushton, E. A., & Reiss, M. J. (2021). Middle and high school science teacher identity considered through the lens of the social identity approach: A systematic review of the literature. Studies in Science Education57(2), 141–203. 

Rushton, E., Towers, E., Rawlings Smith, E., &  Steadman, S. (2023). Understanding teacher identity in teachers’ professional lives: A systematic review of the literature. Review in Education, 11(12), e3417.