By Jessica M. Vasiliou
Teaching as a profession has become a huge concern in our society. I would think all parents would want their children to be taught by a professional. However, teaching as a profession is the question that remains to be answered clearly. The academic society needs to spell out a sense of professionalism in order to ease this concern. “Unlike other professions where you make ‘machines’ work, this profession allows one to deal with the most complex phenomena on earth. Ranging from most studious to most mischievous students, the teachers need to maintain a balanced attitude and approach in transforming them to mature individuals” (Kishore, 2000, paragraph 4). Professionalization of the teaching workforce is a major concern that needs to be addressed because it is a field of significant knowledge. The process of teaching can influence the lives of many students.
The Definition of Profession
Eliot Freidson, author of Professional Powers (1986), cautions, “a word with so many connotations and denotations cannot be employed in precise discourse without definition” (Freidson, 1986, p. 35). In trying to break down the debate about teaching as a profession, we must first look at the concept of “profession.” Originating from the Latin, professio, profession originally meant "the declaration of belief in or acceptance of religion or a faith" usually related to religious beliefs (Dictionary.com). However, by the sixteenth century, this rather narrow meaning expanded to include “body of persons engaged in some occupation” (Dictionary.com). The meaning of profession seems to be very unclear which is why people still cannot determine if teaching can be known as a profession.
The noun profession, referring to an occupation, also dates back to at least the sixteenth century, and is equally vague. Profession as a noun is defined as “a vocation requiring knowledge of some department of learning or science” (Dictionary.com). It is compared to a “learned profession” such as that of medicine and law (Freidson, 1986). “Inherent within this context is the elite and prestigious connotation many hold of ‘the professions’ to this day” (Freidson, 1986, p. 3). As Freidson said, “the original professionals addressed each other and members of the ruling elite who shared some of their knowledge and belief in its virtues. They did not address the common people or the common, specialized trades. So it is our time” (Freidson, 1986, p. 3).
If we as teachers are going to be “professionals” in our occupation, we need to realize that professionalism is for the most part a state of mind. Preparation is vital in the teaching world in order to provide every student with a proper education. Hence, one who calls themselves a professional teacher would want to conduct their classroom with character and dignity. A professional teacher would take the time to produce an intellectual exchange within their classroom. Professionals in education would want students to learn from the methods, ideas and lessons presented in their classroom.
A Professional Teacher
It is not easy to find someone who is opposed to the concept of teacher professionalism. Juliane Brown, a teacher in Lancaster, Pennsylvania said, “I believe I am a professional because I am a master at what I do, I love what I do and I make a living at what I do. I engage in this activity known as teaching so much that it is what I live for. Therefore, I believe that I am a professional.” Teachers are no longer being seen as people who simply transport packages of knowledge. Rather, teachers are evolving in a way that they are seen as information-holders and knowledge-makers, possessing much skill, which newcomers to the world of teaching must strive to obtain through experience, study, thought and reflection. Professionalism of teachers will insure our students with the finest education yet.
“I believe I am a professional because I am a master at what I do, I love what I do and I make a living at what I do. I engage in this activity known as teaching so much that it is what I live for. Therefore, I believe that I am a professional" (Brown,2008, January 28).
Teaching-Not a True Profession?
Some people have concluded that teachers need more training. For example, a Bolton-born education expert claims, “Teaching should not be considered as a profession because not enough training is given to those who go into it” (Bolton-born education expert, Teaching not true profession, 2005, paragraph 1). Possibly to get to the point of teaching being a true profession more in depth education may be needed. Many think that teaching cannot compare to that of a career in medicine and law in terms of professionalism because it “has a shorter qualification route” (Phil Revell, Teaching not true profession, 2005, paragraph 2). Perhaps in the future more years of education will be needed to become a teacher.
Professional Versus Non-professional
A professional could be said to be a person who has an extremely developed talent or skill (Buijs, 2005). All professionals whether it be a professional dancer or doctor receive pay for what they are doing. On the other hand, a non-professional or amateur may not receive pay (Buijs, 2005). A more significant contrast is that “being a professional conveys the connotation, not only of a high level, but of a consistent level, of performance. Professional athletes or professional entertainers, for instance, can be counted on to perform in diverse, and sometimes adverse, circumstances; they can, and often do, perform regardless of personal mood, motivation, or even injury. Neither the expectations nor the level of performance of a professional is demanded of an amateur” (Buijs, 2005, p. 331). What is trying to be explained here is the fact that there is a certain standard of performance for professionals that should be met, but does not have to be met by that of an amateur or a non-professional.
What is the American Government Doing?
The American government is very involved in improving the education systems (Denlinger, 2002). However, the government may not be concerned with the right issues when it comes to teacher professionalism. “Instead of looking at the real problem-poor working conditions and low salaries- the government is arguing that we need to become tougher on our teachers, demand more in terms of work, and do more testing to see if teachers are doing their jobs” (Denlinger, 2002, p. 116). Low wages is the true dilemma in this field, which our leaders are refusing to admit (Denlinger, 2002). “Bush has proved this by his approach to another, similar problem: low morale in the armed forces. To cure that problem, has he argued that we need to demand more of our soldiers? No… Instead, Bush has decided that we need to increase the salaries of our armed forces” (Denlinger, 2002, p. 116). Denlinger went on to say, “His business logic is self-evident; the only way to draw the best talent is to pay the best wages. It’s not that the talent isn’t there to staff our armed forces-they’ve just chosen to go where the pay and appreciation matches the job’s demands” (Denlinger, 2002, p. 116). This is happening with our college graduates who are graduating with a teaching degree. These graduates choose to enter a higher-paying job and a career that they will have competitive wages, are appreciated and gain rewards. If the salaries became more competitive in education perhaps there would not be such a scarcity of teachers and “the quality of education would improve markedly” (Denlinger, 2002, p. 117).
In the world of education, teachers are a guiding light to students. I think teachers are miracle workers when it comes to trying to get every student to pass a test. Do doctors get all their patients to pass their tests in terms of being healthy and physically fit? If they did, I would consider doctors miracle workers as well. Teachers are also knowledge workers, transporting much knowledge while shaping the minds of our youth and thus have a responsibility and image to uphold. In today’s work force, there are many options available and college graduates are choosing careers simply because of the pay rather than choosing something that they love to do. Whether looked at as a profession or not, teachers should be respected for what they are doing just as doctors and lawyers are. In order to maintain some structure of professionalism in the educational environment, education systems need to take steps to make sure they handle this task efficiently.
According to Valeri R. Helterbran, EdD, an associate professor in the Department of Professional Studies in Education at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Indiana, "identifying and engaging in professional strategies to develop one’s own level of professionalism is important to the overall understanding of this topic and may be the lynchpin that makes the difference in determining whether or not a teacher is a professional. Teachers must decide who they are and how they want to be perceived in the classroom. Becoming increasingly professional implies a commitment to change, to strengthen, and to grow as a person and as an educator. It is equally apparent that it is imperative for teachers, individually and collectively, to consider what they can do to ensure that they are practicing the art and craft of teaching in a manner that is of service to children’s achievement and society. A more thorough understanding of the attributes of professionalism can serve as an introduction for preservice teachers and a reminder to both novice and seasoned teachers to ensure that they conduct themselves as professionally as possible. Professionals take ownership of their job responsibilities, assignments, and personal conduct. Being a professional is a matter of personally emulating and modeling the qualities we demand of our students and colleagues as scholars, contributors, and owners of personal destiny. (Valeri R. Helterbran, Professionalism: Teachers Taking the Rein, 2008, p. 126)"
-Train teachers regularly
-Create Teachers’ forums and encourage teaching communities
-Pay teachers adequately
-Treat them with respect
-Maintain schools properly
(Kishore, 2000, paragraph 6)
“Education is the only investment that will have highest return on investment”
(Kishore, 2000, paragraph 6).
Bolton Evening News. (2005, April). Teaching not true profession. http://archive.asianimage.co.uk/2005/4/1/438290.html.
Brown, J. (2008, January 28). Teacher. (J. Vasiliou, Interviewer)
Buijs, Joseph A., (2005). TEACHING: PROFESSION OR VOCATION? [Electronic Version]. 331. Retrieved Jan. 29, 2008 from Wilson Web database.
Denlinger, Steven L., (2002). Teaching as a profession: a look at the problem of teacher deficits [Electronic Version]. 116-117. Retrieved Jan. 29, 2008 from Wilson Web database.
Dictionary.Com. 2008. Lexico Publishing Group, LLC. 30 Jan. 2008 <dictionary.reference.com>.
Freidson, Eliot. (1986). Professional Powers: A Study of the Institutionalization of Formal Knowledge. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 3, 35.
Kishore, C.S. (2000, January). A Noble Profession. Retrieved January 28, 2008, from www.cskishore.com/teaching.htm.
Helterbran, Valeri R., Professionalism: Teachers Taking the Reins, Clearing House; Jan/Feb2008, Vol. 81 Issue 3, p123-127, 5p.