This article reports the findings of a longitudinal study exploring the process of learning to teach modern languages in the changing landscape of teacher education. It employs a postmodern critical ethnographic methodology to examine the experiences of a group of student teachers over the course of a one-year postgraduate teacher education programme in England. The focus is on how experiences in university and in school encourage or discourage the development of creativity. The schools inspectorate, Ofsted, is critical of lifeless teaching which fails to inspire young people to learn languages. However, the pressures of ‘performative’ requirements act as a discouragement to creativity. The data indicates that whilst student teachers express a desire to be more creative, they find it difficult to implement their ideas in school. A post-structuralist analysis of Marx’s theory of alienation is employed to argue that the early formation of professional identity is a process of acquiescence to oppressive external structures over which individuals have no control. The study concludes that it is possible to create spaces where the temporary suspension of alienation can allow individuals to put life back into language learning.
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