Unravelling professional identity: a narrative exploration of early-career English Second Language teachers in a rural setting


This article delves into the intricate process of how early career English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers construct their professional identities (PI). By qualitatively examining the role of teaching experiences within the ESL classroom, we seek to understand how these educators shape their professional selves. Our study involves four ESL teachers, each with a maximum of three years of teaching experience, all of whom received their education from South African universities. Employing a narrative research design, we provided these teachers with a platform to share their individual stories and experiences during interview-based data collection. The study's findings reveal a noteworthy development in the way these teachers perceive and shape their PI. Through meaningful reflection, the participants began to see themselves primarily as professionals in the field of ESL education. This reflection led us to draw three key conclusions regarding the PI of early career ESL teachers. First, the personal and professional experiences of these educators play a pivotal role in shaping their understanding of professional identity. Second, this conceptualisation holds significant potential to influence their classroom effectiveness and teaching abilities. Lastly, the utilisation of a storytelling approach in our research has proven to be a valuable method for comprehending the PI of early career ESL teachers.

Author Biographies

Thembinkosi Ephraim Mabila, University of Limpopo
Thembinkosi E Mabila specialises in English Language Studies. He is currently serving as Director of Research at the University of Limpopo where he also supervises postgraduate students in English Studies and English Language Education. He holds a PhD in Applied Linguistics from the University of Limpopo, South Africa. His main areas of expertise are in Language Education, Second Language Acquisition, Sociolinguistics and Second Language Teaching. Email address: Thembinkosi.Mabila@ul.ac.za
Buliswa Msana, University of Limpopo
Buliswa I Msana holds a Bachelor of Education Degree, Honours in English Studies and a Master’s degree in English Language from the University of Limpopo. She currently works at the University of Limpopo Office as an International Affairs Officer. Her interests span across issues of Language Teaching, English Teacher Content Knowledge and lately Internationalisation of Education.  Email address: Buliswa.Msana@ul.ac.za