This research attempts to explore how African immigrant teachers in South African schools reconstructed their professional identities. In this study African immigrant teachers are those teachers who have undergone teacher professional training in an African country other than South Africa. The study was qualitative in nature and utilized narrative inquiry and the case study approach. Data-gathering techniques included a mix of semi-structured interviews, observations, focus group interviews, field notes and a researcher’s journal (multiple variable sampling of five different South African public schools- one African immigrant teacher per school; school principals and focus group interviews of learners who were students of the immigrant teachers). Data analysis made use of grounded theory and content analysis.
Findings from the study were fourfold: First, African immigrant teachers in South African schools cultivated good relationships with colleagues and administrators in order to reconstruct their professional identities. Second, they developed special traits such as perseverance and resilience. Third, access to opportunities, resources and materials in their schools were useful. Fourth, immediate employment on arrival in South Africa was available. Apart from factors that promoted the reconstruction of African immigrant teachers’ professional identities, there are also factors that opposed the reconstruction of their professional identities, namely their immigration status, their employment status and the attitudes of indigenous learners towards them.
The new knowledge that was generated indicated that African immigrant teachers in South African schools are considered desirable and indispensable partners by employers, colleagues, administrators and learners. This is in contrast to the general perception in the literature that immigrant teachers are mere work seekers; opportunists and desperate individuals who are not an asset to the host country.