De-Professionalizing Teachers

Today in education you may hear people talk about "professionalizing the profession".   It dawned on me recently that the teacher's role in education has been historically moving toward de-professionalization and recent conventions have rendered us nearly obsolete.  The fact that we are discussing how to "professionalize" a profession like teaching is evidence of the erosion of authenticity and specialized skills of the modern concept of what it means to be a teacher.  Several events in the history of education have been key moments that have slowly de-professionalized the teacher.

Teachers were originally professionalized by their content knowledge.  They held special knowledge that was not easily available to their students.  Later, standardized textbooks and teacher editions provided a content crutch.  Teachers could lean on this one resource rather than learn a rich body of authentic, specialized knowledge that was once a premium.  The component of content knowledge was stripped away from the profession.  More recently, the Internet has 'flattened' the world and put the collective knowledge of humanity at any students fingertips.  Teachers are no longer needed to be the 'knower of everything' and 'answerer of questions'.

The required professionalism slipped further when textbook companies started to offer resource packages and curriculum guides.  Another pillar of professionalism began to crumble.  Flash to today where many large school districts create pacing guides to be used among all the teachers of a given class.  A dozen or more 8th grade math teachers teaching the same basic curriculum at the same pace.  While I can understand the concept of a guaranteed curriculum, this reduces teachers to a simple deliverer of a one-size-fits-all 'education'.  Large online classes are are natural extension of this model.  In this type of course the 'teacher' simply needs a general disposition to facilitate the provided curriculum.

All of these developments or what I would label education de-form, rather than reform, have created a completely different role for the once professionalized job of being a teacher.  It has also created low expectations.  You don't need to know too much.  You don't need to be able to create authentic course work.  You really don't need to plan a curriculum.  You simply need to implement.  All of the art has been reduced to a calculated, one-size-fits-all science.  The salary (which began low) followed the decent of professionalism.  This has made recruitment of unique talent a difficult task, but then again it isn't really necessary.  Often, when it comes to hiring, schools are more concerned with filling a role.

I am not a role.  I am not a deliverer of a pre-formed 'education'.  I believe many teachers would reject this description, but we are the sufferers of a system of de-professionalization that has come to dominate mainstream education.  The progression of our education de-form has created a culture of low expectations and reliance.

Despite the sad story I've told, I truly feel the tide is turning, or being turned.  Leaders such as Sir Ken Robinson and Will Richardson are changing the conversation.  School leaders and teachers are listening and the ranks of educators that reject de-professionalization is growing.  I was never really aware of all of this.  I accepted the de-professionalized role when I first became a teacher.  It was only when I got connected to Twitter and reading other educators' blogs that I realized a battle was being waged to change the culture.  A great deal has happened since then and the change is clear.  Will Richardson calls for authentic, personalized, real world learning.  He is keynoting 4 of the 17 major professional development conferences being promoted by the Indiana Department of Education.  His message is not well received by traditionalists, so his mere presence is an exciting sign of change.  

How can we re-professionalize the profession?  I think we start by philosophically rejecting the conventions above--textbooks, pre-made pacing guides, workbooks, etc.  A massive gulf exists between connected and disconnected educators.  Teachers need to be connected--not just to those in our districts, but to greater world of education.  We have to be aware of the efforts to reform and deform education, so we can recognize the difference.  We need more educators, student, and parents talking about real education reform.  Teachers need to exercise their professionalism and promote positive reform--in their classroom and publicly in social media.  This is a numbers game and we need to grow our ranks.  We have to change the conversation.  What are you going to do about it? 

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