Identity, agency and autonomy in foreign and second language education: Case studies of in-service teachers in Shenzhen and Hong Kong

  • HUANG, Jing (PI)

Project: Research project

Project Details


Over the past few decades, autonomy has been considered as an educational goal in the field of foreign and second language education. Research demonstrates that teacher autonomy depends substantially on the achievement and exercise of teacher agency to construct teacher identity (Huang, 2010; Huang & Benson, 2013). Despite the wealth of literature on teacher identity, agency and autonomy among pre-service, novice, and in- service teachers, there has been scant research on synthesizing the three notions in exploring how particularly in-service teachers maintain their work momentum after they survive their initial years of teaching; how their agency and identity work is afforded or constrained by the socio-institutional contexts in which they are engaged; how they create spaces to exercise personal agency in their day-to-day teaching; and how they construct a professional teacher identity to take greater control over their teaching. In addition, teacher identity construction is enacted individually, mediated by the immediate contextual factors, shaped by their socio-economic backgrounds and influenced by social discourses on teachers and teaching profession in particular settings (Gu & Benson, 2015). This suggests that teachers’ views about themselves are not fixed or constant, but subjective, vulnerable, dynamic and fluid, that is, shifting due to contextual factors. Therefore, it is essential to go beyond the existing framework for language teacher development and knowledge in cognitive and rational terms to understand teacher identity (Song, 2016).

Shenzhen and Hong Kong, separated by a river, are similar in their geographical locations and rapid economic growth, and yet different in their socio-political systems. It is against this background that this comparative study, interpretative qualitative in nature, is proposed. The study adopts a longitudinal multiple case-study approach to investigate the teaching lives of a small number of English teachers in Shenzhen and Hong Kong, focusing on how these teachers perceive affordances (opportunities, possibilities) and constraints in their teaching and how they respond to the perceived affordances and constraints. Data sources include interviews, teaching journals, school visits, and school documents. Through a close examination and comparison of two groups of in-service teachers in two different socio-political and educational contexts, the proposed research will extend our understanding of the complexities of teacher development, as well as the interconnected relationships between teacher agency, teacher identity, and teacher autonomy in such contexts. Such a comparative study will also provide valuable insights into in-service language teacher education practices for teacher educators, institutional administrators, and policy makers
Effective start/end date1/01/19 → 31/12/21


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