Thursday, July 21, 2011

Teachers As Professionals: Conclusions Drawn From Stuff I Wish I Had Written

A long time ago, Robert Littell used the sentiment that "a professional is someone who thinks that if something is worth doing, it's worth doing well; an amateur is someone who things that if something is worth doing, it's worth badly" as an epigraph to his novel The Amateur.

Yesterday, a Howard Gardner piece in the Washington Post expanded that definition a bit.  Gardner writes,
A professional is a certified expert who is afforded prestige and autonomy in return for performing at a high level, which includes making complex and disinterested judgments under conditions of uncertainty. Professionals deserve to live comfortably, but they do not enter the ranks of a profession in order obtain wealth or power; they do it out of a calling to serve. Be it law, medicine, auditing, education or science, the expectation is the same: professionals should work hard to gain the requisite credentials, behave ethically as well as legally, and when they err, should take responsibility for their error and try to learn from it.
Seth Godin adds another element to the definition:  "the professional asks questions... What's next? How to improve? What's this worth? Why is this happening?"

The current political climate allows teachers to be condemned for their errors but it doesn't allow them to ask questions, nor does it afford them prestige and autonomy.  That combination of factors has caused educator Vicki Davis to observe,
Doctors take an oath to “do no harm”; and yet with education, we’ve created a scenario where we’re asking teachers to do harm because we’re missing the big picture as a nation.
When empowered in my own classroom to follow research-based best practices in lieu of testing, I have fallen in love with teaching again. This is what I want for every student and teacher in the country I love: freedom. Freedom to teach, and freedom to make learning come alive for a generation that I am afraid will one day accuse us of educational malpractice.
Gardner points out that the idea that the size of one's bank account is the measure of professionalism as one culprit.
I would be naïve if I did not admit that this picture of professionals is not as vivid today as it was in 1950 or even 1980. The reasons for the decline of the professional are complex, but certainly the hegemony of market thinking is the dominant factor. If one thinks of professionals simply as individuals thrust into a market place, subject to supply and demand, and seeking to accumulate as many financial and other resources as possible, then they are indistinguishable from individuals who are not by definition professionals—such as business people or artists or athletes.
John Spencer has alluded to one other problem.  Spencer tweets that his version of reform "wouldn't confuse unity with uniformity or standards with standardization."  At a practical level, Spencer wants "more nuance and paradox" and "[s]hared values, shared vision, shared strategies of what work, transparency and honesty? Yes! Lock-step lesson planning? No."

Until the current ed reformers and self appointed pontificators learn that greed and unquestioning uniformity are problems not solutions, educators will not be treated as professionals; reformers will not get the results they claim they want, and students will not get the education that they need.

1 comment:

John T. Spencer said...

Thanks for linking my tweets!

I love your final conclusion that ed reformers have to see beyond greed and conformity. Otherwise, the "solutions" will be a new set of problems.