From a “Sesame Street” Model TA to a University TA: Investigation of an International Teaching Assistant’s Professional Identity and Second Language Socialization over Time

Keywords: International Teaching Assistants, second language socialization, professional identity


Prior research on the professional development of International Teaching Assistants (ITAs) focuses mostly on ITAs’ language skills (e.g., Rounds, 1987; Nelson, 1989) and pedagogical development (e.g., Bailey, 1984, with little investigation of ITAs’ identity formation. Nevertheless, as Beijaard, Meijer, & Verloop (2004) argue, teachers’ professional identity, namely the relationship between teachers’ self-image and the teacher role they have to play (Volkmann &Anderson, 1998), is the basis for teachers’ meaning-making. Consequently, exploring how ITAs understand and develop their professional identities is essential. This study, drawing on a second language socialization perspective (Duff, 2011; Kim & Duff, 2012; Duff & May, 2017), examines how a focal ITA’s professional identity develops over time in one quarter as she teaches a class and negotiates with students during class discussion sessions, and attends TA discussions with other TAs. Data were gathered from multiple sources, including audio recordings of the focal ITA’s (“Fay”) TA discussion sessions over one quarter and a bi-weekly interview with Fay to allow triangulation of data, which were analyzed using discourse analysis. The focal ITA’s professional identity transformed through three phases—from the “Sesame Street model” to the “parent-like model,” and finally to “students’ achievement-oriented model.” Across these three phases, Fay actively constructed her understanding of her professional identity through (re)examination and (re)negotiation of the differences among several different models of teaching, some encountered back home in Taiwan and some encountered here in the United States. I conclude that Fay’s language socialization process of learning to be an ITA is a complex one which involves multiple identities and hybrid practices.

Author Biography

Yi-ju Ariel Wu, Chinese Culture University

Yi-ju Wu is an assistant professor in the Department of English Language and Literature at Chinese Culture University, Taiwan. She received her PhD degree in Education (Applied Linguistics Emphasis) from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her research expertise includes CALL, corpus linguistics, L2 writing, English for Specific Purposes, and discourse analysis.