The Construction of Knowledge and Teachers' Professional Identities in the Context of Globalization

Fernando Manuel Ferreira Rodrigues Silva

American Journal of Educational Research

The Construction of Knowledge and Teachers' Professional Identities in the Context of Globalization

Fernando Manuel Ferreira Rodrigues Silva

Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Education and Development (CEIED), Lusofona University of Humanities and Technologies, Lisbon, Portugal


This article aims to analyze new ways of building teachers' identities, marked by the globalization process and its impact on education, considering the place occupied by ‘knowledges’, due to the occurrence of some uneasiness regarding current educational policies. In the collection of data, in a geographical area named 'Oporto', a methodological approach of mixed character was used by applying a questionnaire to secondary school teachers of Economics and Accounting as well as semi-directive interviews to key informants of the professional and educational field. The analysis of the questionnaire data shows that the identity configurations vary by sex, basic training, length of service (age) and type of professional insertion. The analysis of the interviews, in turn, reveals that the personal training of teachers is a key issue for education and for the educational system, and the participants identified ways of building new identity configurations.

Cite this article:

  • Fernando Manuel Ferreira Rodrigues Silva. The Construction of Knowledge and Teachers' Professional Identities in the Context of Globalization. American Journal of Educational Research. Vol. 4, No. 10, 2016, pp 741-748.
  • Silva, Fernando Manuel Ferreira Rodrigues. "The Construction of Knowledge and Teachers' Professional Identities in the Context of Globalization." American Journal of Educational Research 4.10 (2016): 741-748.
  • Silva, F. M. F. R. (2016). The Construction of Knowledge and Teachers' Professional Identities in the Context of Globalization. American Journal of Educational Research, 4(10), 741-748.
  • Silva, Fernando Manuel Ferreira Rodrigues. "The Construction of Knowledge and Teachers' Professional Identities in the Context of Globalization." American Journal of Educational Research 4, no. 10 (2016): 741-748.

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1. Introduction

In the educational sphere the phenomenon of globalization has been causing profound changes in teachers’ professional experiences and professionalism, especially experienced in the organization of teaching work, as well as in goals (training and access to knowledge), with interference in pedagogical work and contents to share. This bias became more pronounced, particularly in the last decade, as the calls for change are multiple, vehement and well identified as a result of a direct accession of the State to global policies on effective ways to improve education and teaching itself, held by teachers.

This cross-global movement whether on educational systems or on its actors, is known as 'process of educational globalization' as it relates to forms of transnational regulation. According to Teodoro [1], in the area of educational policy, universality arises anchored in a local root that, in the case of teachers, gives rise to the configuration of a new teaching professionalism. It is characterized by being a defined professionalism and it is simultaneously displayed outside identities, whose emergence is contrary to the very trajectory of individual or collective identities of teachers who, by their nature, always relate to a core of identitarian definition, centered in a relationship of internality.

The process of educational globalization has increasingly been causing epistemological ruptures and discontinuities where it was once characterized as a normal construction of the teaching profession. Faced with so many changes, some barriers have befallen and they are related to the recognition of value (identity) over the new emerging paradigm that fits the professional knowledge and lodges in the (new) professional ‘knowledges’.

The new school horizon that is now pre showing crosses new educational proposals for the construction of teachers’ identities, so it is legitimate to question the emerging role of school, where education stands out as the last moment of freedom defense, and school as the last place of knowledge defense.

2. Theoretical Framework

When addressing the issue of knowledge, it is imperative to talk about Schulman [2] as one of the main precursors of studies on knowledge, being one of the creators of a typology that serves as its support. Teachers have, in addition to the knowledge of the subjects they teach, the pedagogical knowledge of the content and the curriculum knowledge, among others. As for Tardif, [3]he defines teachers’ knowledge as ‘plural knowledge’, formed by the amalgam, more or less coherent, of knowledge derived from the training and from disciplinary, curricular and experiential knowledge. It follows that teaching practice is an activity that mobilizes diverse knowledge defined by the relationship of teachers with it, as the teachers’ knowledge is not a set of cognitive content defined once and for all, but by a building process over a professional career, Tardif [3].

If the teachers’ knowledge is a construction process that takes place throughout their careers, it will be undoubtedly linked to the problematic of professional identity. It is a process in 'continuum', which may arise identities crisis that can often express itself in the existence of a certain, more or less intense, teachers’ 'burnout'.

Authors such as Schaufeli, Marek and Maslach [4], understand that the approach to the concept of burnout appears to be linked to a certain type of responses over time, whether to chronic emotions or to personal pressures felt in any profession. Byrne [5] even argues that the concept of 'burnout' is commonly associated with professionals who directly relate to other people, such as teachers, nurses, social workers, police officers, doctors and therapists, and considers that due to the fact that it "covers multiple situations it can never be conceptualized as one-dimensional" Byrne [5].

The educational world is currently going through sudden and continuous changes at a global scale that, despite following more or less common goals, entail enormous challenges.

Regarding the teaching profession, given the prevailing educational globalization in modern society, it becomes increasingly decisive that teachers can follow these profound changes that are occurring on several fields related to education (new technologies, internet, social networks, protocols with global level institutions, etc.), making it sometimes more difficult to be a teacher, despite the effort of good will that many express in order to turn to multiple requests. Tyack & Cuban [6], claim that there is always a persistent set of organizational characteristics and structures that remain constant in the school model on a global scale over the years and that these practices have been become themselves solid. They call them 'school grammar ', praxis that has been preferentially permeating Western educational systems, Dale & Robertson [7], but it may be extended to other geographical areas, due to the prevailing globalization process. However, in the global world we live in, argues Wallerstein [8], the actual concept of globalization is a misleading notion, given the events that occurred in the world in the last 500 years. The anti-systemic movements and their failures have originated serious setbacks in the legitimacy of state structures, thus constituting strong threats because they can help to break the political pillars that support the current world system. The modern world system, according to Wallerstein [8], goes through a structural crisis and entered a chaotic behavioral period, which will lead to a transition to a new social structure that is not yet determined, if it ever comes to be defined, but it will surely open up to a new intervention and human creativity.

Concerning the concept of globalization, there are many authors who have given their input. Among them we highlight Scholte [9], who states that there is a broad consensus about what is meant by globalization, identifying it as a historical process involving an uneven and partial development and of contingent transformation of political, economic and cultural practices and social relations. Other authors, of whom we highlight Dale & Robertson [10], also identify it as a historical process that involves an uneven and partial development and contingent on the transformation of political, economic and cultural structure in practices and social relations.

Also according to Dale & Robertson [10], one of the key effects of globalization on education is an obvious change of course, from a predominantly national educational system to a fragmented one, with multi-scale distribution and multi-sectoral activity that now entails new actors, new ways of thinking about knowledge, production and distribution, and new challenges in terms of maintenance of opportunities distribution to social access and mobility.

The study of globalization and of globality constitutes a revolution in social sciences since the national and local concepts are changing due to an internalized globalization, which results in transforming the categories of social sciences in zombie categories, such as 'nation states', 'identities' and 'classes', argues Beck [11], by reinforcing and closely following Kant’s proposal [12], that "observations without concepts are blind; concepts without observations are empty.

Giddens [13] also argues that globalization causes 'emerging forms of global interdependence and planetary consciousness', which cause an uneven development process and introduce new relational forms and in which 'other' settings are not admitted. In other words, for Giddens [13], the modernity that globalization transports is an eminently Western world project that carries 'two major transforming processes', both looking for abundance for ways of life, but where one emerges as the dominant view of the existing 'others'.

Schultz [14], advocated people’s willingness, in the near future, to be able to obtain an advantageous return through the academic level they reach (Human Capital Theory). He argued, however, this is more difficult to extend to the secondary school level, as it contemplates an increasingly heterogeneous target audience since it takes a static and wedged space between basic and higher education, subjected to a certain direct or indirect domination, and where students are particularly identified, Meyer, Ramirez, Frank and Shofer claim [15], as "people sitting in classrooms under particularly attentive teachers’ look, studying specific subjects at a given specific organizational context" [15]. Associated to this difficulty, Castro, Carnoy & Wolf [16], comes the termed 'triple function' of which secondary education suffers from “preparing students for higher education, training serious and responsible citizens and providing any training those ending their education at this level may need".

Secondary education has been gradually constituting itself as a central concern in the educational policy agenda of Western countries, particularly among those, Holsinger & Cowell claim [17], which achieved a "rapid progress in primary university education and those where the demographic transition has changed the teens’ path", Holsinger & Cowell [17]. In this context, secondary school teachers are also involved who, when teaching a plurality of subjects and themes, can contribute to the "strengthening of students’ quantitative reasoning [which constitutes] a general imperative of contemporary education", Lutsky [18], a truly intriguing challenge in the current educational scenario of globalization.

3. Methodological Developments

For data collection, two central means were defined. One consisted on passing on a questionnaire survey to secondary school teachers of Economics and Accounting and another one materialized itself through five semi directive interviews carried out with key informants with institutional links to the educational, trade union and professional field. These two data collection means were connected to the three general objectives defined in the study, two of which pursued the central perspective of meeting the settings of teaching identity marked by the process of educational globalization, by resorting to references to the knowledge society and simultaneously identifying the place occupied by knowledge in the configuration and construction of identities (questionnaire survey). The third general objective was related to the new perspective forms of teacher identities construction in the context of education globalization (semi-directive interviews).

3.1. Initial Model

For the construction of the questionnaire survey, the following analysis model, given below, was built closely following Tuckman [19], where the 'independent' variables used and the selected 'dependent' variable are exposed.

Adopted formula:

3.2. Model Scheme

The initial model presented behind led to the development of a model scheme where concepts, dimensions and components were covered, which empirically enabled to obtain the final statistical indicators used in the investigation. The concepts developed were ‘Knowledges’ and 'Teachers’ Professional Identities '. The dimensions considered were 'Personal characterization', 'Professional Characterization', 'The Economy World in Current Development', 'Teachers and teaching activity', ‘Economics teachers’ knowledge' and 'Curriculum Content of Economics Teaching'. Several components were also included for each of the dimensions, in order to obtain the appropriate indicators to the study.

3.3. Sample Universe

The sample consisted of 246 respondents, although in some sociodemographic variables the number of respondents was 241 (age) and 235 (basic training).

4. Methodology

4.1. Resources and methods

As already mentioned, the purpose of this article is related to the empirical study based on data collected on a PhD thesis and jointly through the categories of analysis proposed by Dubar [20], seeking to exploit the field of professional identities and to find the main factors underlying teachers’ construction of ‘knowledges’ and identities in the context of educational globalization, making them correspond to different social trajectories that do not reduce themselves to class habitus " Dubar [20].

For data collection, a mixed strategy was used and its research methodology materialized itself in the application of a questionnaire to teachers of Secondary Education Economics group, belonging to the geographical area of 'Oporto', and the application of semi-directive interviews to key informants of the educational, professional and trade union field.

The data collected in the questionnaire were processed in the program Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) and the interviews, once recorded and transcribed, were submitted to a 'software' of qualitative data analysis - the QSR (Qualitative Software Research) - Nvivo.

In a first phase, in the data collected in the questionnaire, a descriptive analysis of data according to the nature of the variables under study was performed, in order to describe and characterize the sample. The following measures were calculated: absolute frequencies (number of valid cases); relative frequencies (percentage of valid cases); descriptive statistics of central tendency (average); of dispersion (standard deviation), and also the extreme values (minimum and maximum).

In a second phase, in order to extract common factors of interpretation of the items used concerning, respectively, "the economics world in the current development", "to teachers and teaching activities", "to teachers of economics knowledge " and "to the curricula of economics teaching", an exploratory factor analysis was applied. Then, the Method of Principal Components was used to reduce the original items to a smaller number of common factors. The applicability of the factor analysis was verified through: (i) the quality of the correlations among variables, evaluated by the coefficient of 'Kaiser-Mayer-Olkin’ – KMO – Kaiser [21] and Kaiser & Rice [22] (see Table 1); (ii) through 'Bartlett’s sphericity test (p <0.05, it means that the correlation in the population from which this sample was taken is likely) and; (iii) through the values of the main diagonal of the anti-image correlations matrix (MSAi > 0.5, being i = 1, …, n, which means that the application of factor analysis to the set of n variables was adequate), Pestana & Gageiro [23].

Table 1. Kaiser-Meyer-Olkin (KMO) coefficients for the quality of the correlations among variables

The process of interpretation of the extracted factors was optimized using the orthogonal rotation (Varimax) of the axes. In each factor, following Reis [24], the items with no significant factorial weight (<0.50){1} were excluded from the analysis and also with considerable factorial weights on more than a factor (complex variables). After excluding these items, the factorial analysis was in major components (FAMC) was repeated on the items that remained. Subsequently, the internal consistency of each factor extracted was tested using Cronbach's Alpha, (α) [25] (see Table 2) and the values determined by the (unweighted) average of the items ratings were calculated by factor 'scores', Pestana & Gageiro [23].

Table 2. Cronbach's Alpha values (α) for internal consistency

Finally, after evaluating the asymmetry and kurtosis (via their coefficients) and the factors normality (by applying the nonparametric 'Kolmogorov-Smirnov'-K-S test, with Lilliefors correction), given that the assumptions of normality were not checked, the application of non-parametric tests was undertaken. In order to compare independent or unrelated groups, the "Kruskal-Wallis' test was used whenever more than two groups were presented to the comparison (ex: 1-Economics; 2-Legal studies; 3-Accountancy; 4-Management; 5-Others). Having an indication of significant differences, their identification was undertaken by peer-to-peer comparison, applying the 'Mann-Whitney' test. Additionally, an analysis of correlation among variables of interest was performed, when appropriate, by applying 'Spearman's correlation coefficient. All tests were applied with a confidence level of 95%, except when clearly marked.

As for interviews and after the initial processing, a new interpretation and an analysis of the data collected were obtained through revisions of text transcriptions. Thus, the interviews were reorganized and categorized anew, always in compliance with the adopted theoretical framework. This procedure enabled a greater focus on the pieces of information shaped in their own interviews and provided the crossing of the various categories used, allowing to articulate, at the same time, horizontal analyses (by categories and by sets) and vertical analyses (intrinsically and in their essence). The 'Software' QSR Nvivo, due to its extensive functional flexibility features, allows a hefty ability to search for words and lexical patterns, which, by occurring in the text to be analyzed, allow obtaining reports. The five interviews conducted with key informants allowed to obtain Table 3, hereinafter set out.

We know that the words used daily by all of us reflect, most often, our thoughts, concerns, ambitions and expectations, with which we cope in our collective everyday lives.

As social actors, people who hold important institutional positions in society are most frequently asked to participate and to intervene, even by the place occupied institutionally, with innovative proposals to improve the collective coexistence and / or also to take positions or assume resolutions as a result of the political or executive posts they hold in areas of public interest.

Table 3. Most frequently used words by the five key informants

In Table 3, it was only sought to value the names / nouns for research, considering these as the only raw material par excellence for data analysis. When putting aside verbs, adverbs, adjectives, determiners, conjunctions and prepositions that, while being fundamental elements for sentence construction, it was considered that the semantics to be applied in the study should only value the component of the words’ meanings and the wordings interpretation.

In the light of the foregoing, only the names / nouns shown in Table 4 were considered, without firstly clustering names / nouns that had the same meaning, such as the case of teachers and teacher and people and folks. This way, after the readjustment shown, Table 4 was obtained.

Table 4. Most frequently used words by the five key informants (readjustment)

Throughout the performance of each of the five interviews, the key informants used some reference sentences where the words shown in Table 4 were the most used ones by all respondents.

Making full use of the words shown in Table 4, it seems to be legitimate to make the following proposal, with some consistency: teachers’ personal training is important to school, becoming a key issue for teaching (economics) and an inescapable fact for the whole educational system.

The recurrence to the two types of data described (quantitative and qualitative) came to meet the objectives pursued in the study, thus following closely the thesis sustained by Miles & Huberman [26], quoted in Lessard-Hébert, Goyette e Boutin [27], on the existence of a methodological 'continuum' between the qualitative and quantitative because the two research approaches are 'an epistemological ‘continuum' rather than a dichotomy” [27].

4.2. Results

In an approach in terms of gender, it was concluded that female teachers’ sensitivity is markedly different from that of male teachers. Although social reality is unique, it can be observed, interpreted and lived according to several ways. Metaphorically speaking, it is as if the ‘glasses’ worn by women would let them see a different reality, compared to the 'glasses' worn by the male, in the face of the same social reality. In view of the opinions / options expressed by the respondents in the survey, female teachers have expressed a very different position compared to male teachers, reflecting perhaps new roles that they have been taking on recently.

These developments can be checked through the obtained results that are displayed in Table 5. In the three analyzed factors, Global Village, General Information and Critical Perspective, female teachers showed more information and critical position about the economy’s globalization process, when compared to male teachers.

Table 5. Comparison of the average values (standard error) of the three common factors on the global village, general information and critical perspective, considering sociodemographic characteristics

In what Base Formation is concerned, the respondents who had such training in economics were able to better identify the relationship between globalization and education, referred that there is social devaluation in the teaching profession, were those that named a clearer view on the crisis of teacher identity and were also the ones that mentioned the existence of teachers’ burnout.

These developments can be attested by the obtained results that are shown in Table 6 and Table 7.

Table 6. Comparison of the average values (standard error) of two common factors on the relationship between globalization and education and social devaluation, considering sociodemographic characteristics

Table 7. Comparison of the average values (standard error) of two common factors on the relationship between identity crisis and teachers’ burnout, considering sociodemographic characteristics

As far as Service Time is concerned, respondents with less than 10 years of service were those who expressed further general information and could better identify the relationship between globalization and education (Table 8); respondents who had between 11 to 20 years of service demonstrated less teachers’ burnout; the ones with more than 31 years of service showed a more robust understanding of cognition knowledge and held a stronger opinion about the core competencies arising from the objectives linked to economy objectives (Table 9).

These developments can be certified through the obtained results that are displayed in Table 8 and Table 9.

Table 8. Comparison of the average values (standard error) of two common factors on the relationship between general information and globalization and education, considering sociodemographic characteristics

Table 9. Comparison of the average values (standard error) of three common factors on the relationship between teachers’ burnout, cognition knowledge and economy objectives, considering sociodemographic characteristics

When it comes to Age, respondents aged between 27 and 46 years old expressed a more critical perspective on how globalization can be understood; those with between 27 to 36 years old, would better identify the relationship between globalization and education (Table 10); the ones that were aged between 27 and 46 years showed greater teachers’ burnout; respondents aged over 57 years have demonstrated a more robust personal opinion about the concept regarding cognition knowledge (Table 11).

These developments can be demonstrated by the obtained results that are shown in Table 10 and Table 11.

Table 10. Comparison of the average values (standard error) of the two common factors on the relationship between the concept of globalization and the globalization and education, considering sociodemographic characteristics

Table 11. Comparison of the average values (standard error) of two common factors on the relationship between teachers’ burnout and cognition knowledge, considering sociodemographic characteristics

Finally, as regards Professional Insertion it is emphasized that the respondents in the private sector have expressed larger general information and on the relationship between globalization and education; the respondents who taught simultaneously both in the private sector and in the public one could better identify the factors that are most associated with the critical perspective (Table 12); these ones had too, better knowledge on how globalization can be understood, also showed having larger teachers’ burnout and a more robust understanding of cognition knowledge (Table 13).

These developments can be proven through the obtained results displayed in Table 12 and Table 13.

Table 12. Comparison of the average values (standard error) of the three common factors on the relationship between the general information on globalization, a critical perspective and the globalization and education, considering sociodemographic characteristics

Table 13. Comparison of the average values (standard error) of the three common factors on the relationship between the concept of globalization, teacher’s burnout and cognition knowledge, considering sociodemographic characteristics

5. Conclusions

From the data obtained by applying the questionnaire on the sociodemographic variables Service Time and Age to teachers, a scenario emerged where younger respondents (and with fewer years of service) demonstrated having very different positions/opinions compared to the older ones, thus conveying the proposal advocated by Huberman [28] on the "working life cycle of the secondary school teacher," according to which, in a first phase, until about 10 years of service, there is a certain 'consolidation of a pedagogical repertoire', with a period of strong questioning, then a second phase arises, up to about 30 years of service, and it is characterized by the existence of a certain conservatism, which is marked by an 'affective detachment', to finally emerge a final stage, after 30 years of service, characterized by a certain slowdown in activity whose tag is that of (serene or bitter) "disinvestment."

Therefore, it is not surprising that respondents with lower age have shown more general information on the globalization process, better identifying the relationship between globalization and education, have a more critical perspective on how globalization manifests itself, although they refer to feel more uneasy due to the period of greater uncertainty that the beginning of their career offers them. This is what Huberman [28] terms as ‘groping’. On the contrary, the older respondents in this study reported having less teachers’ burnout than the younger ones, but larger than those who have between 11 to 30 years, as a result of several factors that occurred, among which are the changes that followed, which the process of educational globalization entails, a certain 'affective detachment', which from a certain age teachers assume and may present a 'serene' or 'bitter' form, depending on whether the individual route taken may have been more or less harmonious. However, in this investigation, individuals with more than 31 years of service have demonstrated a more robust understanding of cognition knowledge and a more secure opinion about the core competencies resulting from the objectives related to economics teaching, in contrast to those who had fewer years of service.

From the data obtained on the sociodemographic variable related to Professional Insertion, some peculiarities from the working context to which they relate have become visible. Respondents who teach in the private sector have expressed more general information, and were able to better identify the relationship between globalization and education. On the other hand, respondents who teach both in the private sector and in the public one could better identify the factors that are associated with the globalization concept; they have larger teachers’ burnout and better cognition knowledge. There is also a clear differentiation observed in the orientation of the options made by teachers in case they teach in private education, in public education and simultaneously in private and public education. As a result of the specific features that the private sector has, it appears that the place occupied in the construction/use of knowledge by these teachers’ identities, through their contractual relationship, may show a lower stability, which, in turn, may patent that its teaching staff can present a younger age level, causing quite different positions than those assumed by teachers who teach in public schools. When it comes to the opinions revealed by respondents that teach both in public and in private education, they meet those who know two distinct realities, but where, in most cases, the prevailing one, in the professional situation, is situated in public education, thereby resulting, according to Dubar, an 'identity in situation', which is characterized by adapting itself to different work contexts, and is oriented towards the "opening of its field of the possible" [29] It is therefore an identity that results from the joint between two different educational systems (private and public), which display different internal 'lived trajectories' where "the 'real' identities to which individuals adhere" are ‘forged’ Dubar [29], considering the appeals that are proposed by different contexts. According to Beijaard, Meijer & Verloop [30], quoting Coldron & Smith [31], professional identity cannot be interpreted as 'fixed', it is more like the result of a balance that teachers who teach both in public and in private schools intensively search for. The same authors, also quoting Volkmann e Anderson [32], state and reinforce that it is a context, which is "complex and dynamic, where professional self-image is balanced with a variety of functions that teachers feel they have to play” [32].

As concerns Basic Formation, the teachers who had training in Economics were able to better identify the relationship between globalization and education, by referring that there is social devaluation in the teaching profession, were the ones who displayed a clearer view on the teacher identity crisis and they were also the ones who most mentioned the existence of teachers’ burnout.

As regards reading and interpretation of the data obtained from the sociodemographic variable Gender, the most striking differences in the answers given by the respondents stood out, constituting the variable where there was the largest divergence in opinions/collected options. In relation to male teachers, female teachers expressed more general information, a strongly critical stance on the process of economic globalization, better identification of the factors that are more associated with the globalization process, as well as a clearer positioning between globalization and education as the item global village shows.

In short, the data obtained by questionnaires allow focusing on some current divergent identity configurations in the teaching profession, particularly in terms of generation, basic training, integration into the teaching profession and gender. As for the data collected in the interviews, some proposals are highlighted, which are clearly binding for the formation of new identity configurations, namely in terms of: new conditions of access to the teaching profession, a different initial/ continuous training, curriculum programs more in accordance with a very demanding and constantly changing modern society, a teaching professionalization in compliance with new standards, with special emphasis on training in secondary education, on which the study was focused.


1. That is, the items in which their contribution to the formation of the said factor is residual. The weights greater than or equal to 0.5 are generally considered significant Reis [24].


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