Monday, July 20, 2009

The Benefits of Professionalism in Teaching

Teaching has not always been considered to be a profession. Instead, it has been considered a job, not a career. Since the 1970s there have been movements that have tried to elevate teaching to the status of a career. The Holmes Group (1986) dedicated itself to making teaching a “genuine” profession (Abdal-Haqq, 1992). In many ways, that vision has been realized with the teaching profession today. Professionalism is a positive force in the teaching industry, creating a strong workforce of qualified individuals.

There is a debate about what even constitutes a profession. Pratte & Rury (1991) listed four specifications for a career. Those include remuneration, social status, autonomous or authoritative power and service. However, there is much debate about the criteria. A clarification of the definition of ‘professionalism’ provided by Sockett (1990), who stressed that the quality of practice is an important component (1992). In The Threshold of the Millennium, Frymire (1995) outlined six characterizations of professionals. These include:

1. Professionals not only provide service to others, but also help other people.
2. Professionals have special skills and methods that they employ in helping their clients and these skills and methods are taught in the professional schools.
3. Professionals base what they do on the best research practices available.
4. Professionals make decision [sic] that affect other people, and the people who are affected usually do not know if the decisions are correct.
5. Because of a professional code of ethics, the client expects the professional to practice under the highest standards of a particular profession.
6. “True professionals” use their professional organizations to make sure that every member of the group adheres to the highest ethical principles. (Robards, 2008, pps. 18-19).

The benefits of the professionalism movement can be seen by the ways in which Frymire’s (1995) criteria has been fulfilled. Firstly, teaching is undoubtedly a service oriented profession. Teachers create positive citizens, an educated workforce and help shape fundamental ethical and moral beliefs. However, as with any service-oriented profession, teachers can sometimes be blamed for the evils in society (2008). Secondly, teachers need to prove their understandings of content knowledge and pedagogy before receiving certification to teach. Proving Frymire’s (1995) third point, teachers use research in their work with the use of data-driven instruction. In line with the fourth item, students may assume that their teachers are all-knowing or that there is absolute truth in what is taught and how it is taught. That is why there are requirements about the coursework and training a teacher must have, so that a teacher may present an unbiased perspective and thorough working knowledge to create effective lesson plans. Fifth relates to a professional code of ethics, which correlates to the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC) standards. These standards are to ensure that educators are prepared in the pedagogical, psychological and personalized needs of the students. The last requirement is that there are professional organizations that uphold the integrity of the group members. Teachers have various professional organizations across content areas, including the National Education Association (NEA). The professionalism movement has fulfilled the criteria that Frymire (1995) proposed, and has strengthened the teaching profession as a result.
Case et al. (1986) contended that teaching lacked a collegium, which was one of their requirements of professionalism (1992). However, it is not the case that teachers lack an assembly of colleagues. There is an emerging collaborative atmosphere in teaching to focus on the needs of students. For example, there are co-teaching situations, team teaching and specialists who all contribute to meet the needs of students.
Professionalism creates a qualified workforce. In New York State, teachers must first receive an initial certification before they receive a professional certification. To receive the initial certification, one must pass three exams that focus on pedagogical and content-related information and complete a student teaching experience. For the professional certification, which is a permanent certificate, one of the requirements is completing a Master’s degree. With many other high-profile professions (including the President of the United States), a Master’s degree is beneficial but not a requirement. The fact that one needs a graduate level degree indicates that teaching is a profession.

The fact that professionalism requires a solid foundation of knowledge is beneficial to students. When Leighton & Sykes (1992) were outlining recommendations for professionalism to be incorporated into the Kentucky Department of Education, they described a the tendency of unprepared teachers to either, “circumscribe lessons carefully to include only those areas that they have mastered or to present skills without the conceptual underpinnings that students need for generalizing to other applications,” (Leighton & Sykes, 1992). Unprepared teachers may hinder their students from developing enduring understandings about the information.
Great strides have been made in the world of teaching since it was challenged as a “true” profession. As a group, teachers are dedicated to meeting the needs of students of all levels and abilities. The rise of the professionalism movement has created a strong pool of highly trained and educated individuals. Professionalism is a benefit to the teaching industry that is manifested across all levels in schools today.

Abdal-Haqq, I. (1992). Professionalizing teaching: Is there a role for professional development schools? ERIC Clearinghouse on Teacher Education. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED347153). Retrieved July 17, 2009 from

Leighton, M.S. & Sykes, G. (1992). The professionalization of teaching: Centerpiece of Kentucky reform. Policy Issues. Charleston, WV: State Policy Program, Appalachia Educational Laboratory.

Robards, S.N. (2008). Teaching as a profession. College Teaching Methods & Styles Journal 4(5), 17-20.

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