As an educator for the past four decades there is very little in the way of conversation that I haven’t discussed about what it is to be a teacher. In these discussions, over all of these years, there is one position taken by many people which always gives me cause to think less of the person with whom I am having the discussion. It forces me to question their bias on the subject. The statement that sets me off is usually some variation of,”teaching isn’t really a profession”.
The person at that point of the discussion would usually talk about the hours in the day and the weeks in the year that teachers work as if that had something to do with what a professional is. Ultimately, it always ends up with some comment about the idea that teachers belong to a UNION so they can’t be professionals.
I found two different definitions of Profession and neither mentions a disqualification of status because of time spent working or any union affiliation:
A calling requiring specialized knowledge and often long and intensive academic preparation…
A vocation requiring knowledge of some department of learning or science: the profession of teaching…
I have always taught in New York. There are many different requirements for teacher certification throughout the fifty states, but the common link is a higher education degree. That requires at least four years of college. Many states require a Master’s degree, which involves an additional two years of education. Teachers are required to be content experts as well as education experts all of which entails specialized knowledge and often long and intensive academic preparation to enter this vocation requiring knowledge of some department of learning or science. I would say that teaching meets all the requirements to be considered a profession.
It is the very lack of respect for teaching as a profession that forced teachers into considering unionizing in the first place. We are not far from the days of the Schoolmarm, when the work ethic and morals of teachers had a different standard than everyone else. Teaching was often viewed as a part-time job suited well for women because of the limited hours and an academic calendar. I remember back in the 50’s and 60’ teachers were forced to work second jobs in the summers to support their families. If one’s value to society was based on compensation, teachers had very little. People referred to it as a calling as if because of that calling a salary was of little consequence. Teachers, after all, were civil servants. That implied that they were servants to the people, and a servant is not a professional.
It was that very attitude that forced many teachers to organize. The result was not only a better job and working conditions for teachers, but, as a result, it created a better learning environment for students. The real effect of teacher’s union contracts By Matthew DiCarlo via Valerie Strauss Which was further supported by Teacher Unions Boost Student Achievement According to a New Study in the Harvard Educational Review . Essentially, it stated that states with teachers unions provide a better education for their students.
Of course the other more vocal argument these days is the “BAD TEACHER” cry. That is the label most often used in targeting teachers today. My contact with most teachers spanning 40 years as an educator leads me to believe that the vast majority of teachers are caring concerned and dedicated individuals who have answered a calling. Most are parents as well. They are not bad people or “Bad Teachers”. The profession however needs its professionals to constantly update their knowledge and maintain relevance. Schools need at the very least support this, and in the best case provide it. Professional development however is low on the priority list of schools in need of reform.
The public’s negative attitude toward my profession is further exemplified in its judgment of all teachers based on the actions of a few. It is always a headline story when some teacher does something really stupid. It is stupid to openly blog a rant about one’s own students or, any kids or their parents for that matter. Teachers who have done this are not in the majority. Those are stupid and thoughtless acts of individuals. They probably represent the smallest fraction of a percentage of teachers, yet as a result of the actions of this fraction, we now have places considering legislation banning teachers (only teachers) from having contact with students through social media.
There was a case in Los Angeles recently where two teachers were accused of child molestation. That is a heinous crime and the fact that two people in the same building may have committed it at the same time is astounding. Both of those individuals deserve to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. The district however decided to take it one step further and eliminate the entire faculty of that school before those individuals even went to trial. Again, this is a community that judges an entire profession based on the stupid or illegal actions of a very few.
Teachers are also probably one of the only professional groups to have their salaries printed in local newspapers at the whim of people looking for political gain. Maybe in the interest of transparency, every community member should have their salary posted in the local paper. I am sure that would have great support. That is only one of the indignities resulting in the fish bowl existence teachers must put up with from communities that lack respect for the profession of teaching.
I am a professional in the profession of education. I have worth; a great deal of worth. I am an expert in an area that required me to obtain and document years of education. I have proven my worth in my job every day as a professional teacher. Do not judge me by the actions of a very few. Do not label me a “Bad Teacher” because districts are not supporting fellow professionals with professional development. Many of my colleagues are civil servants, but they are serving a calling. They are not your personal servants. They are professionals in the Profession of Education.