Teaching as a Profession

Dr. A. Douglas Eury, Dr. Jane King & John D. Balls

“Teaching creates all other professions.” Author Unknown

“Teaching is not a lost art (profession), but the regard for it is a lost tradition.” Jacques Barzun

We often use the term “profession” in a generic sort of way referring to what is your trade/vocation. Profession is derived from the word “profiteor” meaning to profess. The connotation here is that a professional is a person who possesses knowledge of something and has a commitment to a particular set of values both of which are generally well accepted characteristics of professions. History records the early professions of the priesthood, law, medical/physicians and university teaching. As time progressed, dentistry, engineering, accountants and architects were ascribed “professional” status.

David Belfall, in his article, Creating Value for Members, published in 1999, identifies key characteristics that define an occupation as a profession. These characteristics are an assessment process for entry into the profession, a common body of knowledge, a code of ethics and a professional association.

Eric Hoyle and Peter John in their article, Professional Knowledge and Professional Practice, published in 1995 list as general characteristics of a profession the possession and use of expert or specialist knowledge, the exercise of autonomous thought and judgment, and responsibility to clients (e.g., students, parents) and wider society through a voluntary commitment to a set of principles. The advantage of these characteristics is that they are independent of any particular organizational model or occupation/trade. They can be applied to individual practitioners as well as recognized. Teaching a s a profession

In the authors’ textbook, Rethink, Rebuild, Rebound: A Framework for Shared Responsibility and Accountability in Education, 2nd Edition published in 2011(Pearson Learning Solutions), in addition to the characteristics mentioned above it addresses life-long learning, collaboration and personal reflection as characteristics of a profession. Furthermore, the authors link characteristics of a profession (i.e., teaching) to teaching dispositions forming a composite view of the
consummate teacher. The dispositions listed in the aforementioned text are professional conduct, respect for diversity, high expectations (of themselves and those they teach), respect for others, compassion, advocacy, curiosity, dedication, honesty and fairness. 

Let’s examine in more detail teaching as a profession as defined by the characteristics identified above. To begin, the chart lists the key characteristics of a professional as noted in this article and the authors’ assessment on how teaching stacks up.  

Teaching is as critical, many might suggest even more so, as any profession including medical, law or accountancy to list a few. Dedication to purpose, knowledge expertise and advocacy are core strengths of those in the teaching profession. While, unfortunately, it is not perceived in this great country to be on an equal footing as those professions named above teachers are instrumental in preparing others for those professions.

In Finland only the best and brightest are accepted in their schools of education preparing to be teachers. It is considered one of the most highly esteemed professions in Finland and not surprisingly one of the most competitive in terms of entry. They are compensated well relative to Finnish pay levels.

In the United States, we have work to do to elevate teaching as a profession. From the teaching professionals, including schools of education, to legislators/politicians and the media we need to rethink (and recalibrate) our priorities which the authors believe will result in teaching being elevated to the highest priority. Through serious and honest introspection, the teaching profession needs to adopt reforms necessary to catapult our measures of success to levels of excellence on a sustained basis. This includes transforming our schools of education, instituting rigorous (& honest) assessments of performance and paying for that performance (i.e., merit pay).

Raising the stature of the teaching profession in the United States is an imperative and increasing teacher pay is a major step in that direction. The U.S. needs the best and brightest professionals teaching our children. 

More information on today’s topic as well as a framework for transforming education in the US can be found in the authors’ book, Rethink, Rebuild, Rebound: A Framework for Shared Responsibility and Accountability in Education, 2nd Edition, published by Pearson Learning Solutions, 2011.