How do Foreign Language Teachers Maintain their Proficiency? A Grounded Theory Approach

Lorena Valmori


The recent increase in studies using the L2 Motivational Self System (Dörnyei, 2005) to investigate language teachers’ engagement (or lack thereof) in professional development (e.g., Hiver, 2013; Kubanyiova 2009; Kumazava, 2013) shows the increasing interest in bridging the research gap between language teacher education and teacher motivation. With the aim of contributing to this body of motivation research, this interview-based study uses a grounded theory approach to address the issues of how foreign language (FL) teachers in two types of Italian high schools (college preparation schools and vocational schools) experience and respond to changes in their proficiency. Findings show the influence of these pedagogical contexts on teachers’ proficiency and engagement in development as well as the dynamic complexity of motivational processes. When dealing with professional development, FL teachers face two main decision-making moments: 1) deciding whether or not to engage in professional development activities; 2) maintaining their engagement with or without a supportive community. Their decision to engage often depends on the emotional dissonance between teachers’ actual and possible L2 selves. The results have implications for designing in-service professional development courses with a bottom-up approach that take into consideration teachers’ needs according to their school environments and enhance teachers’ L2 selves’ emotional guiding power.

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