Monday, April 7, 2008

More on Teachers and Professionalism

Thought Experiment:

Envision the perfect school in your head.

What are the teachers like? How do they behave? What responsibilities do they have? How are they treated? Are teachers professionals in this school?

In my last post I asked whether any professionals in high-prestige jobs were subjected to as many directives and interference as are teachers. I still don't have an answer (surprise, not every question can be answered in 24 hours). But I do have more questions (courtesy of commenters).

Whether teachers are treated like people in other professions is, at best, half the story. You'd also need to know why they're treated the way they are and if they behave like people in other professions before you could make firm conclusion about the state of teaching. Of course, short blog posts will never answer complicated questions. So rather than trying to answer all those, I still seek the answer to this one: what is the most prestigious job where people are treated similarly to teachers?


avoicein said...

Teaching is a difficult job to define. On the one hand, public school teachers are civil servants and are employed by the public. This of course subjects us to the will and opinion (and there's a lot of this) of the people.
On the other hand, we are expected to complete a great deal of education. This requires a great deal of time and money. I just finished my second MS and I'm still paying off my loans from the first!
I am doing so on a public servant's salary.
However, I have to admit that there is a culture of immaturity surrounding the profession. I have been a big advocate of the idea that we, as a profession, have to "grow up." For some reason, the profession, and our educational systems in general, remain detached from the "real world."
Some may argue that this is a good thing.
I'm not convinced yet that it is.

Nancy Flanagan said...

What is the most prestigious job where people are treated similarly to teachers?

The question is tough to grasp: my prestigious job (clergy? supermodel?) may be your gigantic waste of time. If "prestige" means opportunity to earn high-status wages that's different from the opportunity to have influence and autonomy.

Teaching has been compared to nursing: a female-dominant occupation with large numbers, essential to society, and with considerable opportunity to do good. Nurses, like teachers, are often on-the-ground decision-makers in crucial situations. Is nursing prestigious? Should be, if the metric for prestige is important, vital work.

Richard Ingersoll says teachers are like factory foremen: with direction coming from above, but responsibility to the students below. Not a flattering comparison, but increasingly apt, given the proliferation of "managed" instruction.

An interesting comparison is K-12 teachers to professors in higher ed. The higher levels of education required are not matched by commensurate increases in compensation, although professors have somewhat more autonomy and professional latitude.

I also think that the way teachers are "treated" has a great deal to do with the way they behave. I'm a teacher--30 years--and I know teachers who are consummate professionals, knowledgeable, dedicated and fully accountable. I also know teachers who seem to think that they are "labor" and the key to respect comes from winning in adversarial encounters with "management." This is not a knock on teacher's unions, per se--teachers in right-to-work states also adopt these adversarial stances, behaving exactly like factory foremen.

I believe in making teachers responsible for their own practice, and setting high standards. You do not mention the National Board standards in your first post--they are a great start toward standards for professional practice in teaching.

Grammer said...

It depends on the job....