Teacher: The Iconic Profession

Teacher: The Iconic Profession

Going Back to Zero

Enough already! As a nation, we generally agree that the teacher is the single most important variable in the education of children. However, very little has been done since A Nation At Risk was published in 1983 to improve the status of the teaching profession.

So what is, you may ask, the definition of a “profession”?

According to Webster’s Dictionary, a profession is a vocation based on specialized educational training. A “professional” is defined as engaged in one of the learned professions, usually characterized by or conforming to the ethical standards of a profession. Some of the generally accepted characteristics of a professional teacher are:

  1. Skills based on extensive theoretical knowledge.
  2. Professional association.
  3. Extensive education and training.
  4. Testing of Competence
  5. Licensed Practitioners.
  6. High Status and Rewards (I know, I know).
  7. Legal authority over activities.

So to all the teachers out there, do you feel like you are a professional? A professional teacher?

I think most of us teachers feel that we are professionals and our job is critical to the future of our students, our community and our country. However, if your experience as a teacher is similar to mine, then you know that our view is not always shared by all. Now, there are some exceptions to this but as I talk to my colleagues across the nation, I get a similar response to the question.

A quick Google search on education reform brings up many topics such as Teacher Leaders, International Benchmarking, Teacher Retention and Evaluation, Economics and the Workforce and many, many others. Some of these current education reform efforts incorporate the teaching profession but few of them focus solely on elevating the profession itself.

While there are so many important and well-intentioned reform efforts underway, I propose that the first reform agenda item that needs to occur is reform focused on the profession of the teacher. Given the many parties involved in reform and their respective political needs, it seems to me the most cost effective and practical approach is Going Back to Zero.

Going Back to Zero suggests that we start with a blank slate and begin to rebuild the main components of the teaching profession, knowing what needs to occur now and for the next century. These would include initial recruitment, training in pedagogy and core subject areas, ongoing professional development, evaluation, reward and compensation. Best practices are all around us in the United States and throughout the world. It’s up to us as teachers to determine the most important features for professionalizing the teaching profession, discover where the best practices for doing so exist, and recommend to policymakers that those best practices be implemented.

As a policymaker, how can you begin the process of Going Back to Zero?

One of the best suggestions I have seen so far comes from Mckinsey and Company in their report, “The Economic Impact of the Achievement Gap in America’s Schools”

“Given the complexity of the issues, and the regional and national dimensions of the talent pool, the research also suggests there would be benefits to creating a National Teaching Talent Plan. A commission assigned to this task might propose next steps and timelines for phasing in changes in how we recruit, prepare, retain, and reward teachers, informed by global best practice.”

If you are a policymaker or administrator and you believe that the teacher is the single most critical factor in the success of children in the classroom, then this publication is a must read. I would encourage you to engage teachers in a genuine way by Going Back to Zero within your own school, district or state by asking the question, “what could or should the profession of teacher look like?” If we don’t start asking ourselves this question soon, we may experience a future that is similar to what the National Commission on Excellence in Education saw in 1983:

  • Too many teachers are drawn from the bottom quarter of graduating high school and college students.
  • The average salary after 12 years of teaching is only $17,000(1983) per year, and many teachers are required to supplement their income with part-time jobs.
  • Severe shortages to certain kinds of teachers exist such as math, science, foreign languages, special education and dual language.
  • Master teachers are not significantly involved in the professional aspects of their vocation.

Note: This blog is a first in a series of blog postings on Teacher: The Iconic Profession. Future posts will include more specific pieces of the puzzle including recruitment of teachers, training and development, evaluation, rewards and compensation. Enjoy and Engage!

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