Is Teaching a Profession?

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Is Teaching a Profession?

For the last 50 years educators have devoted a great deal of energy to the debate over whether teaching can be considered a profession. Unfortunately, this turns out to have been the wrong question, and so led us to the wrong sort of answers. For example, there was a very heated debate in the 1960s and 1970s over whether teachers could organize strikes and still claim that they were members of a professional association, rather than a union. This controversy only makes sense, however, if one accepts that professions are fundamentally different from other types of occupations, and by the mid-1970s, social scientists were beginning to realize that this was not the case. They argued that the professions had changed so much over the past 100 years that there is now little left to distinguish professionals from other workers.

If the experts are right and there really is no such thing as a profession any more, then continuing to argue over whether education is a profession is not only wasted effort, it is dangerously misleading. As M. S. Larson pointed out in her seminal study, The Rise of Professionalism: A Sociological Analysis,

the conditions of professional work have changed so that the predominant pattern is no longer that of the free practitioner in a market of services, but that of the salaried specialist in a large organization. In this age of corporate capitalism, the model of profession nevertheless retains its vigor; it is still something to be defended or something to be obtained by occupations in a different historical context, in radically different work settings, and in radically altered forms of practice. The persistence of profession as a category of social practice suggests that the model constituted by the first movements of professionalism has become an ideology -- not only an image which consciously inspires collective or individual efforts, but a mystification which unconsciously obscures real social structures...
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