The Teaching Profession

Flickr Photo “Teaching” by Adriaan Bloem

In an ongoing conversation at Will Richardson’s Weblogg-ed blog, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach commented on March 23,

I think it is a hard sell to say teaching as it is currently structured is a profession– it is at best a semi-profession for the very reasons you cite.

I would like to respectfully and conditionally disagree.  If you think of teaching as something you do in one room, beside the room of another teacher, beside the room of another teacher, delivering content or directing skill development, checking off standards sheets, and doing pretty much the same thing year after year — then I would agree with Sheryl.  Semi-profession might actually be generous.  Much of the job, especially as addressed by NCLB, is more like being a technician, applying prescribed, researched, and government-approved techniques on students, based on high-precision measurements.

I suspect that the term professional, has described teachers because they’ve earn a college degree, and years ago they were among the only people in many communities who were educated to that level.

It’s an interesting conversation that Will has instigated, because it asks us to think hard about what a teacher is and does in this technology-rich, information-driven, and rapidly changing world.  As I think about it, it seems that teaching well and appropriately to these new conditions involves:

  • Constantly researching and re-experting yourself in your subject area.
  • Continually accessing, evaluating, and appropriately applying new techniques and strategies with your learners.
  • Engage in action-research to test original and class situation-specific strategies.
  • Engaging in ongoing and constructive conversations that extend the knowledge and experience of individual educators to group knowledge.
  • Skillfully finding and developing authentic learning resources and sharing them with a greater education community.
  • Remaining aware of current events, advances in technology, and social conditions and engaging in ongoing and collaborative curriculum development that addresses and leverages change.
  • Liaising with the local community to bring the village into the classroom, and to project the classroom out into the community.
  • Engaging in professional development, including self-directed, local school authority opportunities, and larger conferences.
  • Practicing a learning lifestyle, sharing personal learning within your professional environment, modeling lifelong learning.

As I stated in my comment on Will’s original post,

I think that we have to start emphasizing to our communities that being an educator today involves more than standing in front of the classroom (keeping their children). In our blogs, classroom web sites, newsletters, Tweeted picts, and in every other way possible, we need to include images (picts/texts) showing teachers engaged in professional development, self-development, research, collaboration, liaising with the community, materials development, evaluation of assessment, planning, …

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13 thoughts on “The Teaching Profession”

  1. The question is whether or not teaching is a profession? It is difficult for me to understand why this would be debated. After reviewing the links the only conclusion I can come to is that people are confusing “professional conduct” and/or “professional development” with the profession of teaching. There is no question that teaching is a profession, and indeed our most essential profession. How that profession continues to evolve over time, and what criteria determine teaching excellence are of course worthy of critical thought, but I think it is essential to be clear about what questions we are really asking.

  2. I suspect most readers of your blog would agree with the list you’ve developed. The major question is how to take what we know and inform the group knowledge building you mention? It is not just a matter of having enough PD time. We can’t assume that if ever teacher had more time they would jump into this mode of teaching. There are different educational philosophies and models at play and we need to be speaking to them. At the building and district level it will involve reflective (sometimes difficult)conversations with our teaching peers.

  3. I think is important to make the distinction between:

    1. Professional conduct
    2. Professional development
    3. Teaching as a profession

    These are all very different aspects of what we do, and they seem to be used almost interchangeably in the debate. Whether teaching is a profession or not is (at least to me) a ridiculous question. It is one of the most essential professions we have in our society. I think the real question is (and perhaps has always been) what it takes to remain current and effective within our profession.

  4. I think an even bigger problem is that we are not always treated as professionals by our superiors. Too many administrators (not all) take teachers for granted. They treat them worse than they do the students. They also come up with least common denominator rules because 2 or 3 teachers don’t act like professionals, so they punish the entire group. If we are ever going to become a profession, it is going to require that we are treated like professionals.

  5. Teaching isn’t a profession? Uhh… hooray for semantic fundamentalism! 😉

    More seriously, the contention that teachers aren’t professionals smacks of arrogance and ignorance – the exact tendencies *we* undercut (when effective). I can’t even take it seriously.

    However, I really resonate with your contention that teachers need to present themselves better, and think each of the suggestions you made are justified.

    I found my way here via Twitter – through Web20classroom. I’ll definitely be adding your blog to my reader app! 😉

  6. According to the National Labor Relations Act (1935), a job qualifies as a profession if and only if it meets a specific set of criteria. Contrary to its sometimes vociferous critics, teaching does in fact meet these criteria and should therefore be accorded the same social status and respect as its more glamorous, and higher paid, professional counterparts of, for instance, law and medicine.
    Teaching satisfies the first criterion— “a profession must be an intellectual endeavor”— by definition. For B.O. Smith’s “descriptive definition of teaching” delimits teaching as “imparting knowledge or skill”, (Webb, Metha, and Jordan, 4) which of necessity entails an intellectual or cognitive dimension. That teaching covers the second criterion, or that it “involves discretion and judgment”, also leaves no room for doubt given that teachers must design lesson plans and curriculum based on federal mandates, state standards, school-wide and departmental requirements, and district policies. The negotiation of these curriculum parameters within the teacher’s own lesson plans and unit construction necessitates a high-level of individual discretionary ability. Whether or not teaching fulfills the third criterion— “the profession must have an output that cannot be standardized — may be relatively debatable but the fact remains that a teacher must resourcefully conduct a daily, student-oriented give-and-take. Each student’s individual needs demand a dynamic flexibility and autonomy that cannot be reduced to a simple, endlessly reproducible formula or rote, micromanaged procedure.
    Where classifying teaching as a profession may encounter some resistance lies nested in the fourth and fifth criteria’s requirement that a profession requires “advanced knowledge” and “a prolonged period of specialized study.” Unlike law or medicine, teaching does not have a system of independent review for failures or violations of an established code of basic practices as determined by an appointed commission or some other authorized body of professionals in the field. (Webb, Metha, and Jordan, 30) Complaints or problems lodged against teachers, however, are monitored by professional practice boards composed of community members, college professors, and civic leaders. Moreover, teaching is becoming an increasingly codified area of specialized knowledge as assessed via certification processes. Certification requirements most often a include baccalaureate degree in teaching or the completion of a year-long teaching training program from an accredited institution, as a passing of a test such as the Praxis I. That teaching necessitates advanced knowledge and prolonged study is also confirmed by national board certification and the concomitant incentives that such advanced certification may afford. Schools then also help to develop and enhance professional standards through conferences, workshops, lesson study, learning walks, faculty study groups, action research, and mentoring programs.

  7. Wow, ” If you think of teaching as something you do in one room….and doing pretty much the same thing year after year,” I would agree that semi-professional is a generous label. I think that kind ought to find a real job. I had one of those in college; sat on a stool and went over the same tired outline he had used for a zillion years. Yuck. Cristy

  8. Teaching is a semi proffession given the fact that many clients look down upon it since it entails redoing the very piece of work year in year out.
    many people are on their way out of this profession as it doesn’t have set entry standard like other professions.i think it is a weak profession.

  9. teaching is one of the good, mind bloying, intelectual job in which teacher should teach the students good things impressing the students clearyfying the topic.
    your answeris very good

  10. What I think will be interesting to see is how the current generation teaches in the future, growing up with these technologies.

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