Teaching as a Profession

Abstract

This reflection explores the ways in which teaching aligns as a profession based on current definitions from four reputable sources. To prove that teaching is a full profession, I have compared and contrasted it to the profession of medicine. This reflection includes practical examples of what it means to be a professional teacher on a daily basis. I believe that through the professional mindset and behaviors of educators, we will be able to shift the mindset that teaching is a semi-profession. Teaching is a full profession and with that right is the responsibility to ensure that all learners exceed and become self-motivated, respectful citizens and adults.

Keywords – full profession, Code of Ethics, professionalism, specialized knowledge, autonomy

Teaching as a Full Profession

            Whether or not educators are professionals is a highly contested topic. The argument against being that, teaching differs from other professions, such as doctors. This argument coupled with the fact that “governments have historically resisted efforts to afford teachers professional autonomy” has resulted in teaching “to be classified as a “semi-profession” (Young, 2007, p. 275). However, I would argue that teaching is a full profession and shares as many similarities to other professions as it does differences.

In order to understand how teaching compares to being an attorney or doctor, we must understand what it means to be a professional. Krishnaveni and Anitha (2007) define a full profession as a career that requires specific knowledge acquired through further, lifelong education, high standards and qualifications, and follows policies, procedures and Codes of Ethics. Furthermore, a high level of consistent and quality work must be displayed (149). Contrary to popular belief that anybody can be a teacher, the skillset needed to understand, motivate and be able to mentor children with various needs, abilities and interests is an extremely rare and specialized skill. Teachers acquire this specific knowledge through teaching programs, internship placements, and volunteer experiences.  This educational journey is lifelong, as teachers attend professional development events, collaborate with their colleagues, are part of professional organizations and unions, collect data about their students, consult research from reputable journals and many go on to receive their masters degree. I intend to get my Inclusive Education Certificate and pursue a masters degree in Educational Psychology; my learning journey is only just beginning and I know that each and every day I will learn from my students.

Krishnaveni and Anitha (2007) believe that “teaching not only requires expert knowledge and specialized skills but it calls for a sense of personal and corporate responsibility for student’s education, welfare and clarity in character” (p. 158). Educators are role models for the next generation and make professional decisions on a daily basis. To ensure that qualified decisions are being made, teachers are required to keep data about their students and explain assessment practices to parents and students. Educators are also responsible to follow the Saskatchewan curriculum, albeit with the freedom to teach the outcomes in a way that meets their learners’ needs.  Furthermore, with initiatives like Response to Intervention, teachers are held accountable for the success of all learners. Lastly, teachers are bound by the moral guidelines outlined in the Code of Ethics. Krishnaveni and Anitha (2007) suggest that this is “the most fundamental tenet of professionalism and the most challenging” because it requires teachers to solve their problems ethically (p. 156). For these reasons teaching meets and often exceeds the definition of professionalism that Krishnaveni and Anitha defined.

Young, Levin and Wallin (2007) describe professionalism in a similar way but they also note that “a profession is an essential service that is held in high regard by society at large; as such, its members are usually afforded high status in society” and professionals “exercise independent judgement in carrying out their work” (p. 276). Teaching is obviously an essential service as it leads to every other career, professional or not, that our society relies on. Teachers are also part of the process of socializing students to be responsible citizens and adults. However, whether or not teaching is valued by Canadian society as a whole relies on many perspectives and in this sense, teaching as a profession could be debated. Young, Levin and Wallin note that “centralization of curriculum, assessment, and [outside] decision making” interfere with the autonomy of most professions. On the other hand, these structures and standards are vital to the overall organization and consistency of education in Saskatchewan. They ensure that every student has an equal opportunity, no matter where their families reside. Although the curriculum is centralized, teachers can teach the outcomes in a way that will meet the needs of their learner. They can differentiate their instruction, assessment measures, environments and tasks using their professional judgement. Teachers also have the opportunity to join curriculum review committees and all teachers have a voice when it comes to what is valued in our classrooms; it was teachers who recently suggested that the curriculum changes were happening too fast and as a result, curriculum changes have slowed down. Since Canada is a democracy, teachers also have the power to elect a party that they believe will improve education. Young, Levin and Wallin suggest that “teachers should take a stand on important issues” (2007, p. 288) and we see this on a daily basis as teachers advocate for resources, smaller class sizes, inclusion and student needs.

Even though teaching meets almost all of the defined criteria, some people argue that teaching is not a full profession. Fenstermacher (1990) believes that teaching differs because we do not “lock away [our] specialized knowledge,” students “must expend effort,” and most importantly, “students are not “cases”” (Young et al., 2007, p. 282). Michael A. Morehead discusses that “as an educator, it is often necessary to step into a professional role” – when dealing with parents, for example – “just like an attorney or a doctor” (1998, p. 24). I would argue that locking away specialized knowledge goes against the professional criteria of lifelong learning and development. Furthermore, if your doctor sends you to a specialist, information is shared. If cancer was cured by a doctor, this information would be incorporated into general practice. Current practices are often assessed by the media and reports are released frequently on things like vaccinations. In this regard, the sharing of specialized knowledge happens similarly in both professions, especially with our globalized world.  I would also argue that, just like students, patients must expend an effort. When doctors give us advice, for instance to stop smoking, it requires patience to listen in order to maintain their optimal health. It is true that teachers do not treat students like clients but this is out of respect for their journey to adulthood and the relationship building that is required to teach effectively, rather than a lack of professionalism.

I find it ironic that although some people argue that teachers are semi-professionals they hold teachers to a higher set of values. Although acting professionally and being a professional are two different things – for instance, I act professionally at my summer camp job but it is not a profession – I believe that these two concepts go hand-in-hand. Young, Levin and Wallin note that “teachers’ private lives are… relevant to their employment” (2007, p. 288). Similarly, because of the caring nature of the job Morehead notes that “students, parents and peers hold educators to a different set of expectations. Teachers are often criticized for the very actions that students or parents may themselves undertake” (1998, p. 25). I believe that regardless of what the general public thinks or the partial stories that the media portrays, educators must believe that they are professionals. Phelps suggests that “we reveal our professionalism when we uphold the highest standards of ethical behaviour and exhibit integrity” (2003, p. 10); teachers are in the public eye – whether we like it or not – and in order to change minds we must first play the part.

I intend to act professionally on a daily basis. This will include dressing appropriately, coaching sports, tutoring students and informing parents of things in a positive way that utilizes my vocabulary. One situation where I think ethics and professionalism comes to play is during graduation planning. Students often make post-graduation plans that involve illegal and risky behaviors. As an educator, I will have nothing to do with these plans. Furthermore, I would encourage and arrange dry or safe grad options. Another example would be if I was out at an event and saw one of my students drinking there. Based on my professional judgement, I would confront the student and call them a cab home. I most likely would not have their parents’ number and I think threatening to call parents would only make students jump into a vehicle, when they most likely should not drive. This does not mean I would not inform parents, but in the moment I would arrange a cab ride. Talking to the students and hearing their side of the story is vital, just like it is when dealing with colleagues. Since I intend to become a Learning Resource Teacher the majority of my time will be spent working with teachers, who may have varying teaching philosophies, to make their classrooms and instruction inclusive. This often results in tension but I would handle these situations by listening to their needs, wants and fears and then providing a solution and support. Instead of getting mad, it is always best to listen and assess why people are acting the way they are so that they can get the help they need.

Beyond dressing appropriately, conducting myself in a professional manner when speaking to parents and furthering my education, I also believe in maintaining professional behavior in my personal life. For instance, I try very hard to make my Facebook posts and pictures appropriate. I do not post negative things about individuals and I am very careful about what photos I am tagged in; even if the photo is of me drinking a pop, if I feel it can be misinterpreted, I delete it. Drinking is not illegal but it is not something I want to promote to the minors in my class. I believe I should be able to enjoy a beer if I am out for a family supper but there is no reason to share this information. I do not want to give anyone any reason to think I am not a professional and even though this is a tension of teaching, I think we must accept the challenges with the positives. Morehead notes that teaching goes beyond the walls of our classroom and for educators to be considered full professionals they must “accept [these] responsibilities related to the profession” (1998, p. 26).

Teaching meets almost all of the defined criteria for a profession, aside from public perspectives in some cases. In many ways, for example, lifelong education, Code of Ethics and specialized skills, teaching is comparable to being a doctor. Even when differences are present, I believe all educators should conduct themselves in a professional manner and view themselves as professionals; these attitudes and actions are the key to changing contrasting perspectives about teaching as a profession. Also, professionalism ensures that the students’ best interests are being accounted for. Phelps believes that “we must renew our dedication and perseverance to move our profession to a higher level of respect” (p. 11). Our professional behaviors must extend beyond the four walls of our classrooms so that they become internalized behaviors. Teaching is the only job that leads to all other professions and careers and it should never be represented as less than a full profession.

Resources

Krishnaveni R., & Anitha, J. (2007). Educators’ professional characteristics. Quality Assurance in Education, 15(2), 149-161.

Morehead, M. A. (1998). Professional behaviors for the beginning teacher. American Secondary Education, 26(1), 22-26.

Phelps, P. H. (2003). Teacher professionalism. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 40(1), 10-11.

Young, J., Levin, B., & Wallin, D. (2007). Understanding Canadian schools: An introduction to educational administration. (4th ed.). Toronto: Thomson.

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