This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

A Study of the Professional Role Identities of Experienced University Instructors of English for Speakers of Other Languages




Fowler, William

Type of Degree

PhD Dissertation


Education Foundation, Leadership, and Technology


Little is known about how experienced university instructors of ESOL in the United States construct their identities as teachers. Due to their administrative tasks and their de facto positions as a service provider to other academic departments (Auerbach, 1991; Breshears, 2004; Johnston, 1999), these instructors’ professional role identities (PRIs) are distinct from those of post-secondary instructors in other disciplines and academic settings. Their affiliation is often with an intensive English program (IEP), which is usually independent from an academic discipline or department (Pennington, 2015). Employing narrative inquiry, I elicited instructors’ stories regarding their experiences as language learners, employees of a university’s IEP, and their personal practical knowledge as it related to language teaching. Four university instructors of ESOL, each with at least five years of experience teaching ESOL in a university, participated in this study. I obtained data about their PRIs through semi-structured interviews, classroom observations, and follow-up interviews in which they reflected on their classroom actions. Drawing on the idea that knowledge is socially constructed, I read their stories with the aim of linking the instructors’ professional role identities with their personal practical knowledge (PPK). The narratives were always grounded in the instructors’ community of practice: a research university’s IEP. Results showed that the instructors enacted three main professional role identities: classroom manager, preparer for the academy, and advocate. Each role contained related sub-roles. The framework of personal practical knowledge (Connelly, Clandinin & He, 1997; Elbaz, 1983; Golombeck, 1998; Yanez-Pinto, 2014) illustrated how the instructors drew upon personal experiences to inform their PRIs as enacted in the classroom and in related student service activities. The findings indicated the need for further qualitative research in order to understand the PRIs of experienced instructors of ESOL in settings such as private language companies, private colleges and universities, and community colleges.