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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Exploring beginning teachers’ agency : a case study of three Chinese secondary school teachers Chen, Jiewei


The purpose of this research was to explore beginning teachers’ agency at a time of curriculum reform in China and in the context of an early-career mentoring program. Guided by a subject-centered sociocultural approach (Eteläpelto, Vähäsantanen, Hökkä, & Paloniemi, 2013), this qualitative study utilized a case study design. Data sources included semi-structured interviews with three secondary school chemistry teachers, signed mentorship agreement documents, and reflective mentoring/teaching journals. The findings revealed different forms of novice teachers’ agency in educational change, i.e., proactive agency and passive agency, manifested as acceptance and resistance to curriculum change. Beginning teachers’ pedagogical decisions and actions were the result of their critical analysis of multiple factors. On the one hand, school culture and structure must be carefully considered if agency is to be realized in a professional setting. Specifically, sociocultural factors included the status of the exam-oriented education system, mentor power, and work cultures. On the other hand, although novice teachers were embedded in similar sociocultural contexts, their identity impacted the different ways in which they exercised their agency. This study strongly supported the interrelationship between teacher agency and teacher identity. Teacher identity factors involved work history and experience, professional knowledge and competence, professional commitment, motivations and interests, and professional goals and ideals. This study provides rich perspectives on beginning teachers’ agency and its manifestations in the context of curriculum reform and in relation to early-career mentoring; findings serve as a strong scaffold for future research on how mentoring better promotes novice teachers’ agency and ultimately, professional development. The findings also offer lessons for those interested in investigating novice teachers’ agency in other educational settings undergoing similar changes.

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