Johanna Larsson defends her thesis on trainee teacher identities in the discourses of physics teacher education


On 4 June 2021 Johanna Larsson, PhD student at the Department of Physics and Astronomy, and the Centre for Gender Research, defends her PhD thesis 'Trainee teacher identities in the discourses of physics teacher education: Going against the flow of university physics'. The external reviewer is Maria Vetleseter Bøe, University of Oslo.

The thesis defence takes place on 4 June, 14.00 via zoom. Read more about the event here

The thesis is availabe to download here


This thesis investigates what is involved in being recognized as a legitimate physics teacher-to-be in a Swedish physics teacher programme. Drawing on in-depth, qualitative interviews with 17 physics teacher educators and 17 trainee physics teachers, this thesis sees learning to become a physics teacher as a process of performing professional identities. It demonstrates aligning discourses of educators and trainees, and outlines a number of challenges that trainees have to negotiate when learning to become physics teachers.

The first part of the project analyzes the discourses of teacher educators. Four discourse models are identified which demonstrate how the talk of physics lecturers portrays the default goal of learning physics as becoming a researcher. Choosing to become a teacher in this system, means diverting from the expected path of a physics student, and moving backwards towards school physics. In such a system, trainee physics teachers are described as less competent and ambitious than other physics students, and can be understood to be incomprehensibly “going against the flow” of university physics by aiming towards school physics.

The second part of the project shows how physics courses are experienced by the trainee physics teachers as primarily meeting the needs of other student groups. The educators’ talk about trainee teachers as less competent and ambitious is mirrored by trainees who see no incentive to try hard for good results. The analysis shows a physics study culture that emphasises brilliance and nerdiness, resulting in a passive classroom culture and high stress. Deepened analysis of the identity negotiations of three female interviewees shows how trainee teachers are resourceful in navigating this study culture. Combining positions of feminine woman, trainee teacher, and physics student, these students create practices of relaxed and constructive physics learning that challenge the elitist physics discourse.

The education of physics teachers is important for many reasons. There are projected shortages of trained teachers, and physics teachers have the power to affect how physics, a field that is lacking diversity, is perceived by young people. By exploring how becoming a physics teacher is entangled with discourses of competence, femininity, and the status of the physics discipline this thesis takes a novel approach to the education of physics teachers. The findings suggest that physics faculty in their role as teacher educators examine assumptions about physics teacher education and trainee physics teachers, and can be used to empower trainee physics teachers to challenge norms of brilliance and masculinity in physics.

Last modified: 2021-09-10