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

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 inservice 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). 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.

Funding Source: RGC - General Research Fund (GRF)
Effective start/end date01/01/1931/12/21


  • teacher agency
  • teacher identity
  • teacher autonomy
  • affordances
  • foreign language teaching


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