On Teacher Professionalism

Time to try something new.

David refers to five commonly cited professionalism criteria focused in the literature. They are (David, 2000): (a) professions provide an important public service, (b) they involve a theoretically as well as practically grounded expertise, (c) they have a distinct ethical dimension which calls for expression in a code of practice, (d) they require organization and regulation for purposes of recruitment and discipline and, (e) professional practitioners require a high degree of individual autonomy- independence of judgment- for effective practice.

The teaching profession meets the first four criteria. However, there has been an on-going debate over the fifth criteria. Do teachers have autonomy and if they don’t, are they still considered professionals?

In an effort to define autonomy, we could consider Richard Ingersoll’s work, professor at The Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania. Ingersoll provides two views of organizational control in schools.  He explains that schools are viewed by some as highly decentralized organizations in which teachers have workplace autonomy and discretion, while others see schools as top-down bureaucracies in which teachers have little influence over school operations.

His explanation perfectly describes the kind of school I currently work at. It is a mixture of Western and traditional Chinese teaching. On the western side, we have sets of standards to teach but we are not on a lockstep on how or when we should be able to teach those. We are given the autonomy to make adjustments to meet the demands of our students. On the Chinese side, they are required to teach the same topic at the same time. They follow a book that was handed to them and they were instructed on how to teach it. Homework, projects and activities should all be the same.

My Chinese colleagues complain that they feel overly controlled and constrained. They don’t feel like being treated as true teachers because everything they do has to be dictated by the leader. They have little input over how the school operates much more their classrooms. One of them stated that it feels like working in a factory. Chinese teachers are expected to produce cookie cutout-like students.

I realized that I have the autonomy in the classroom and I find it to be very fulfilling both for me and my students. On the other hand, our side struggles to maintain uniformity and consistency across the grade level. Some teachers do more than the others. One parent even commented that getting a hard-working teacher is like winning a lottery. Likewise, parents question why the western teachers have dissimilar activities when they’re just covering the same units of study. As a result, accountability and cohesion are lacking.

Autonomy, as vital as it is in empowering teachers, shouldn’t be given effortlessly and fully for it comes with a huge responsibility. Teachers must disregard self-interest and focus on students’ best interest. Autonomy, when used inappropriately, could lead to isolation. I believe that there should be a balance between having autonomy and control. Teachers should have classroom autonomy but should be held accountable of students in achieving learning outcomes. We need teachers to be trusted that they could do their job well. Schools should have control regarding policies, curriculum, and standards being covered to ensure that all students are given opportunities to reach high level of excellence. This way, both students and teachers will become successful.

Before reading the resources, I had a paradigmatic assumption that professionals are those who have high academic achievement, have secured licenses to practice and have individual autonomy. I assumed that since most public school teachers are being controlled by the government, that they aren’t considered professionals because they have no individual autonomy.

However, through theoretical lens Hargeaves (2000) explained that, “we are now in the post-professional age, which draws attention with the increasing efforts to create strong professional cultures of collaboration to develop common purpose, to cope with uncertainty and complexity and to response the rapid changes and reforms effectively.” We should view professionalism past its traditional definition because our changing world demands more than what it was.

What I want to be is to become an activist professional. Activist professionals take responsibility for their own on-going professional learning, and work within communities of practice, which develop in larger contexts – historical, social, cultural, institutional (Sachs 2001). In my school, we have a professional learning community and more and more teachers are aiming to be more equipped in dealing with the new challenges.

I believe I have been forced to think outside the box and look at myself as a professional. I don’t have a lot of experience but I do have a strong desire to educate my students. Two, I am constantly looking for professional development opportunities to improve myself as an educator and three I am a collaborator. I know that there are more characteristics that I need to embody before I could consider myself a transformed professional.

Moreover, I feel like I have been challenged to look at my own experience and put the school I work at under a microscope. I have discovered that my schools’ learner profile (IB Profile) list of traits that are being taught is similar to the traits of the new professionals. I’m realizing that our school is preparing students to be the transformative or new professionals we need. I do hope that these traits also permeate not only among our students but also in us, their current educators.

My plan is to look closely at the traits that embody a new or transformed professional and draft ways how I could gradually incorporate them in my practice. I think finding a mentor and a teacher that I could collaborate with to receive feedback from and be held accountable for would definitely make this process more attainable.






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