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Why Do You Ask?

From asking questions that require an answer To asking questions that require a conversation.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Why Teachers Aren't "Professionals"

There is nothing behind this post, other than I hear and read educators toss this word around frequently enough that I decided to take some time and think about it.

First, I think when educators want to claim the "underpaid" card, they use the professional term. All too frequently I hear teachers compare themselves with doctors and lawyers. To that I would stop to think that in order for a teacher to enter their chosen field, it takes but a bachelor's degree. Doctors and lawyers must go to a doctorate level in order to begin independent work in their field. Granted they may go through an extended period of time "as a doctor" in their internship, but they are not allowed to practice on their own. Lawyers, in order to practice, must obtain a JD if I'm not mistaken, and I admit I may be wrong. Further, if I had to be on call (like a doctor) or potentially be responsible for the freedom or incarceration of a client (like a lawyer) I would indeed want to be considered a professional. Truthfully, I'm not in that position as an educator...at least not very often.

Second, by the nature of the way the organization is run, the use of my time is dictated by someone else. This, to me, is the beacon of not being a professional. I was in a meeting a few years ago (during a staff development day) when the speaker was discussing the professional attitude we teachers should have. He made a statement something like, "Professionals must attend meetings like this in order to earn their Continuing Education needs to maintain their position. As teachers we should be thankful that we do not have to travel to conferences...the speaker is here with us today." My immediate thought was this is another reason we are not professionals. Usually we do not have the right to make the choice as to what continuing education we need to improve our craft and personal practice. Something I might need to improve my teaching may not be approved by the ones who determine value and credit. This is the reason I choose not to participate in PLUs offered by our system, and instead I went back to school for an M.A. in education, then an Ed.S. in instructional technology. (Am I wrong, or is education the only sector that has this degree between Masters and Doctorate?) I met my continuing education requirements, but I chose programs based on what I thought would best serve me. AND I got an automatic raise, unlike in most professions, who still must produce in order to make more money. I like this advantage. :-)

Third, the way we do business is not the way "professionals" do business. Since I started teaching, I have not been permitted to attend Rotary luncheons, Chamber of Commerce breakfasts, golf with clients (parents of students?), or participate in any other local networking opportunities like I did when I was a professional in the financial industry. Truth is that I don't really miss these times, but my point is simply that teachers are left out of the opportunity to participate in what the public views as "professional community/service organizations."

I admit I have become a cynic as I have aged (birthday is two days away), but I am very suspicious of educators who want to consider themselves professionals. Professionals (and their businesses) are primarily about making money. Schools are not about making money, and if they are, well, we have bigger problems. We are about service. We serve of our students. We are not their servants, but we do serve them. Professionals are more concerned about "being the boss." Teachers are about "serving the public good." Personally, I've been both, and I much prefer serving my kids than trying to be their boss. So I don't mind not being considered or treated as a "professional," because in the education field I'm not convinced professionals are all that necessary.

When my time, choices, and opportunities are dictated to me, I'm just not sure we can be considered professionals by the rest of the world. When those in authority in schools mandate what teachers will teach, when they will teach it, and how much time they have to teach it before moving on, I'm not sure "professional educators" believe teachers are professional either.

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