EFL Teacher Journeys, Tokyo June 2015

The teaching never stops: reflections on teacher roles, transportable identities and social networks


To be(friend) or not to be(friend), that is the question. Some teachers encourage their students to befriend them on social networking sites (SNS), others are understandably wary. SNS can be a very effective way of connecting with students outside the classroom, engaging their real lives and identities. It can also create opportunities for authentic and motivating communication, not just between classmates but also with other learners and speakers around the globe. It could also be an ethical minefield, a social ‘can of worms’ and a recipe for disaster. When people interact in different social contexts, they utilise Transportable Identities (Zimmerman, 1998). As teachers, we are not merely teachers; we each have various identities which both compliment and contradict our professional teacher identity. A quick look on my Facebook page and one can learn that I am a husband and father, a few more clicks and someone could discover what kind of music I like, who my sisters are, where they live and whether or not they are in a relationship. It would also be easy to find embarrassing pictures of me or to read a post which expresses some kind of strongly worded opinion. When I accept students as friends on Facebook, I do so knowing that this is uncharted territory, and as such I have taken pains to learn about online security and how to keep track of my so-called Digital Shadow. I have also tried to become aware of the phenomena known as ‘oversharing’ (Agger, 2012). In this presentation I will draw on both published research and personal experience to reflect on the place of these types of online interactions and the inevitable consequences they pose.


Transportable Identities (Zimmerman, 1998)

  • Situated identities, which are explicitly conferred by the context of communication, such as doctor/patient identities in the context of a health clinic or teacher/student identities in the context of a classroom;
  • Discourse identities, as participants orient themselves to particular discourse roles in the unfolding organization of the interaction (e.g. initiator, listener and questioner);
  • Transportable identities, which are latent or implicit but can be invoked during the interaction, such as when a teacher alludes to her identity as a mother or as a keen gardener during a language lesson. (Richards, 2006; Ushioda, 2009, 2011)


Agger, B. (2012). Oversharing: Presentations of self in the internet age. New York: Routledge.

Farrell, T. S. C. (2011). Exploring the professional role identities of experienced ESL teachers through reflective practice. System, 39(1), 54-62. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.system.2011.01.012

Glatthorn, A. A. (1975). Teacher as person: The search for the authentic. English Journal, 37-39.

Goffman, E. (1959). The presentation of self in everyday life. New York: Anchor (Random House).

Richards, K. (2006). ‘Being the teacher’: Identity and classroom conversation. Applied Linguistics, 27(1), 51-77.

Sacks, O. (2013). Speak, Memory. The New York Review of Books, February 21.

Ushioda, E. (2009). A person-in-context relational view of emergent motivation, self and identity. In E. Ushioda & Z. Dörnyei (Eds.), Motivation, language identity and the L2 self (pp. 215-228). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Ushioda, E. (2011). Motivating learners to speak as themselves. In G. Murray, X. Gao, & T. E. Lamb (Eds.), Identity, motivation and autonomy in language learning (pp. 11 – 25). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Zimmerman, D. H. (1998). Identity, context and interaction. In C. Antaki & S. Widdicombe (Eds.), Identities in Talk (pp. 87–106). London: Sage.