Exploring the Complexity of U.S. Language Teachers' Identity Development Through the Lenses of Marginalization, Privilege, Empowerment, and Immunity



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This study is an exploration of who teachers of languages other than English in the United States are becoming as professionals in this historically marginalized discipline. Despite advances to support language teachers within the profession, there is a dearth of research investigating whether and how in-service language teachers sustain professional expertise, enact ideals, and legitimize their knowledge amid ubiquitous marginalizing discourses and practices. In the present study, the author draws on a transdisciplinary framework of language teacher identity; the intersectionality of marginalization, privilege, empowerment, and social identities; and the novel construct of language teacher immunity to quantitatively and qualitatively explore the factors that converge in the identity development of 167 K-12 U.S. language teachers. Findings show that half the sample is marginalized and disempowered, but the other half is not. Respondents’ perceptions of marginalization and privilege are tied to the ideological (de)valuation of language education in local social activity, indicating language teachers are constrained when they are devalued and disempowered by local stakeholders, but can thrive when valued and supported. Findings also validate social identities (linguistic identities, most especially) as factors of (dis)empowerment in teachers’ identity development, but in ways that both support and refute existing literature. A cluster analysis revealed six distinct language teacher immunity archetypes that profile the positive and negative ways in which the respondents in this study orient themselves to the language-teaching profession. Productive immunities associate with higher levels of empowerment and lower levels of marginalization, while maladaptive immunities associate with lower levels of empowerment and higher levels of marginalization, underscoring the role that context plays in immunity development. However, the analyses also emphasize teachers’ subjective perceptions as equally influential to their professional identity development as the environments in which their identities are being (de)constructed, (un)supported, and (dis)empowered. Findings indicate that future language teacher identity research should increase focus on languages other than English, explore transactional factors that link individuals to context, and incorporate more quantitative and mixed-methods approaches that explore large-scale patterns and complement the primarily qualitative corpus of existing research. Implications for practice include mediating language teachers’ critical language awareness and awareness of their own social positioning with the aim of nurturing productive immunities, as well as developing stakeholders’ awareness of the role they play in marginalizing or supporting language teachers in doing their jobs.



Intersectionality, Language teacher identity, Language teacher immunity, Marginalization, Privilege, Social identities