Comments: A Letter From The Teacher: Is Teaching A Profession?

Teaching *isn't* a profession, any more than journalism or writing are professions. They are trades.

A trade is something where you can pick up the rudiments of the job with six months preparation and perform at a reasonably productive level. A profession requires years of training before you can perform even adequately.

Another standard I use is that a career is a trade if an engaged and enthusiatic amateur can outperform a disengaged and unenthusiastic professional nine-tenths of the time. A career is a profession of a disengaged and unenthusiastic professional can outperform an engaged and enthusiatic amateur nine-tenths of the time.

By the second standard, education is clearly a trade. One has only to look at the success of the homeschool movement and compare the result to that produced by unmotivated and unenthusiastic educators in the public schools.

Medicine, Law, and Engineering are professions. You do not want an enthusiastic amateur conducting your heart operation, defending your liberty, or designing your bridges. Even a disengaged professional does a better job.

Education, like carpentry and machining, is a trade. The military turns out statisfactory instructors with six months training. I taught on the college level (as an adjunct) with no training, yet was regularly among the highest rated instructors in my department.

Classifying education as a trade is not to denigrate it. Like carpentry and machining it is a skilled trade, one that takes only a short time to gain competence, but can take a lifetime to gain mastery. But mastery is a matter of experience and individual effort. Those that stop striving lose their edge very quickly.

But education is a trade.

Posted by Mark L at October 11, 2011 07:32 AM

Worse than claiming that teaching is a profession is claiming that it's a LEARNED profession. Yes, there are a lot of things covered in so-called "education" courses in schools of "education." However, most of them are trade-level rather than professional level. There are no theories of education, in the sense that science, mathematics, engineering, or law involve theories. Instead, "education" tends to involve fads that change every few years. Yes, we expect certain things from tradespeople: competence in their trade, integrity, honest advice. But we don't equate their practical skills with the knowledge required of a genuine learned profession.

Posted by JoeFromSidney at October 11, 2011 04:11 PM

Mark L beat me to the profession vs trade distinction, but there is one more aspect to it -- professions almost always include a formal apprenticeship/journeyman period (law clerking, residency for physicians, experience requirements for engineering licensing, etc.)

Posted by Phelps at October 11, 2011 05:58 PM

Well, so it seems that teaching is not a profession because, for one, no theory lies behind it? For starters, begin with Socrates. Then fast-forward to, oh, through a stone, John Dewey. That will deaden a few days. For fun, skip through the lunacy of Pedgagogy of the Oppressed (or Depressed, if you rise above the vegetable). Education takes second seat to none in the theory game. Oh, perhaps you mean "serious" theory, like "Queer Law" or "Critical Legal Theory" or "Lesbian Law Studies"? Or the legal theories that underpin affirmative action? Or the theory of the humours?

I am sure that you want an "enthusiastic amateur" teaching your son or daughter calculus, which, I know you know, requires but a scant seven days to master after successfully completing the 10th grade.

Seriously, societies that treat teachers as respected professionals have better education systems. I give you Japan and Finland. In America, where the Phelps and Marks snark at teachers, the system is troubled because, to a significant extent, the teacher has little authority or respect. Give "Mark's'" son an F, and he'll be down the poor pedagogue's throat by evening.

Posted by Mr.Chips at October 12, 2011 12:03 AM

"I am sure that you want an "enthusiastic amateur" teaching your son or daughter calculus, which, I know you know, requires but a scant seven days to master after successfully completing the 10th grade."

As a matter of fact, an enthusiastic amateur -- my wife -- taught all three of my sons calculus. She has no college degree (stayed home to raise our sons), but did have some college.

How did it turn out?

Eldest son is a senior systems engineer at a major defense contractor, fast tracked to become a technical fellow.

Middle son (ten months out of college) is a task lead at major petroleum company involved in a pipeline engineering project.

Youngest son is in college at one of the best engineering universities in Texas majoring in mechanical engineering.

On the other hand, of my nieces and nephews, all of whom were taught by "professional educators" in the public school system, none have taken calculus (in either high school or college) and only two out of five have finished college -- and those in subjects like theater arts and anthropology. None of them have jobs paying much more than minimum wage.

The moral of the story is that you want your kids taught by "education professionals" rather than "enthusiastic amateurs" because my nieces and nephews, as the result of their superior education are going go through life supported by the labor of my kids.

At least until the system collapes, and the ants survive while the grasshoppers starve.

Posted by Mark L at October 12, 2011 07:34 AM

The obvious model being used here is that the education industry has seen the definitions for being professional and have created practices that mimic it, thereby creating in the minds of their members the belief that they are professionals, worthy of higher salaries (like doctors, lawyers and engineers), higher esteem in the community and limiting competition.

Yes, there is a higher education requirement to be a teacher, but there is no reason for that to be the case other than an arbitrary policy. If you can't teach grades 1-6 on what you learned sitting in a classroom for 12 years, you failed.

Posted by Professional Hale at October 12, 2011 09:43 AM