Teaching Is Still a Profession, Right?

With all the attention that Common Core standards are receiving in the news, and all the angst over Indiana’s new “made by Hoosiers, for Hoosiers” academic standards, I have been mulling over the profession of teaching. I often conclude that the concerted political effort robs the role of teacher of its professional credentials…and it seems like that’s been the plan all along.

Simply, there are three criteria that qualify a job to be a profession. A professional must engage in a lengthy, extended education and must qualify within the accredited academic discipline; the discipline must have a complex intellectual component; and the job must provide a socially-necessary, public good or service. Basically, a profession requires an extended college career with a degree, knowledge and experience that few possess, and the product must contribute to the greater good of the society. A profession, based on these criteria, often requires a professional to ascribe to ethical standards, to answer the responsibilities her profession necessitates for her client, and to provide agency for the professional to achieve those responsibilities, based on her professional training, experience, and comprehension.

No-brainer professions include lawyers, medical practitioners, and engineers…and teachers have traditionally been unequivocally included as a profession. However, the government oversight utilized since No Child Left Behind became the law of the land has systematically worked to remove the professional role from the teacher and place it in the hands of administrators and politicians. Teachers are also contributing to the vacating of professional ethics by conceding that their role is a job instead of a profession, by allowing the loss of autonomy and following the edicts of political representatives that do not know better.

Colloquially, teachers are doing what they are told instead of standing up to authority. They are not assuming their professional responsibilities, and the profession suffers as a result…and hell, who can blame them? In today’s workforce, we are conditioned to hold onto our jobs with a death-grip for fear of losing our living wages. If you make waves, chances are you’ll piss off someone in a position of authority, and the pink slip will be in the mail. Thirty minutes to clean out your desk because you mouthed off to the wrong supervisor. It becomes more difficult to teach as more and more administrative bosses are hired to oversee the diminishing workforce of teachers…and every administrator is given more and more authority to tell the professionals what their role and duties are.

I’m so very aware of how this works. I’m a presently-unemployed victim of this dynamic. I’ve had plenty of peers counsel me of how I needed to consider keeping my job over what I defined to be my professional duty. I find myself on the outside looking in…but it is an interesting position to maintain, as I am allowed to observe this alteration of the profession of teaching.

If you don’t believe this is happening, I give you the newly-formed organization Bad Ass Teachers. Apparently, teachers are willing to fight, and when fighting government, a collective is necessary. The Bad Ass Teachers are fiercely opposed to the Common Core standards and feel that teachers are unfairly blamed for the media-propagated “failure” of the education system, considering that poverty is the primary factor for bad grades within this system. Their credo: “This association is for every teacher who refuses to be blamed for the failure of our society to erase poverty and inequality, and refuses to accept assessments, tests and evaluations imposed by those who have contempt for real teaching and learning….”

I am a fan of their mission, but I might reword their credo a bit, to meet the requirements of a profession: “This association is for every teacher who accepts the responsibility for teaching an impoverished and unequal society, resists those who want to reduce the professional criteria for the teacher, and accepts the professional role of designing and providing a quality education for each and every student, who is a client, and not a customer….”

Another interesting parallel can be found in the medical profession. A product of the Affordable Care Act involves a universal system of standards and medical conformity imposed by government oversight…I have spoken to at least one doctor who thinks his professional role has been infringed upon by government policy and administrative ignorance…I’m fairly certain he is not an anomaly.

The developed social norm ascribed for the teacher is that her position is just a “job”…and perhaps here’s the biggest problem in our education system. The standards imposed by government rob the teacher of her professional role. Teachers’ salaries are reduced. Good teachers are leaving the profession to find success in other social roles. Teachers’ autonomy is reduced. New teachers are trained to be facilitators instead of implementers. Universal curricula are prescribed. Teachers’ social function is belittled. We are trained as a society to blame teachers for manufactured failures, and we perpetuate the continued lack of professionalism that is detracting from the position of teacher.

Teaching is not simply a job; it is a profession. We need to turn the tide against this change instituted by government policy and administrative oversight. We need to incentivize the position of teacher to draw young professionals into a much-needed social role. We need to allow teachers to maintain autonomy in their classrooms, based on their training and experience. We need to stop this paternalistic practice of “improving” education through government edict…

…unless, of course, I’m wrong…and teaching no longer qualifies as a profession. I guess there’s plenty of unemployed, unskilled, untrained, and inexperienced people in America that are willing to do what they’re told…and take a job as a teacher. That should fix everything.

{If you appreciated this writing and want to help support the continuation of this blog, please consider sending a donation to:

Scott C. Guffey
P.O. Box 53
Michigan City, IN 46360

For a full explanation of author impetus, blog mission statement, and donations appeal, click About.}

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