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Scott McLeod

Great post, Dave. For argument's sake, I'm going to say that some teacher unions undermine rather than enhance the professionalism of teachers. It's hard to persuade others that you're a profession when you operate from the mentality of a punch-the-clock line employee... [there, that ought to stir up some discussion!]

Also, Dr. Richard Elmore at Harvard explains why teachers are NOT professionals:


Rob Jacobs

I am going to come at this question from a different angle. What I fist thought of when I read the question was how would my peers outside of education answer the question.

Educators are often viewed as not professional because everyone is so "familiar" with what we do everyday. Most of our friends, family, and associates have gone through school. They have spent kindergarten through 12th grade on one around teachers. Many have also raised children. They think they know how to do what we do.

Most people view lawyers as professionals because most people have not gone to law school, practiced law, or even needed a lawyer. They look at lawyers and say they are professional.

The same could be said for doctors, computer programmers, architects, etc.

By teachers face the problem of familiarity that breeds a view by many that they could do what they do. Add to that the fact that they don't work weekends, have lots of time off, and are guaranteed raises, and the perception is reinforced that teachers are not professionals and that teaching itself is not much more than parenting or babysitting.

I vote yes, but we have an image or perception problem.

Justin B.

There is a difference between being professional, which is like an adjective, and profession as a noun (at least a historical noun). So your distinction Dave I think is right on.

From my perspective, teaching is clearly not a profession as it is understood historically (now, in the corrupt American English use as in someone that does something for a living (think professional poker player), perhaps).

Oddly, I actually spend a lot of time thinking about this question Dave (ok, I am a little weird). After a few years of thinking about it, I think we as educators should continue to strive to be professional in our actions and behavior, but that in the end education will never be a profession. Education can't actually, which is a perfectly acceptable thing. Education, fundamentally, is a public enterprise. Education will never have the self-regulation that law, medicine and accounting have, nor should it, probably, in a healthy democracy. Education is something that is always going to be highly regulated by the government and educators will always be public employees.

Thus, since that is our situation, I think we should take more pride in our public charge and forget trying to be like everyone else. We ask different things of lawyers and doctors and accountants. We ask them to take care of the present. We trust them to keep things running smoothly and to get us from today to tomorrow to the next day. We don't ask educators to do that. We ask educators to mold the future. That is a fundamentally different task that calls for a fundamentally different mindset in how we treat this group of individuals that are entrusted with perhaps our most valuable possession(s).

So here is my suggestion, I think we should take more possession of the noun "faculty." That is pretty much education's own word and can substitute in most of the instances when you would use profession as that type of noun. So you would use it like this, "The faculty of teaching." Think about the trades, the professions, the faculties, the vocations, etc.

It is an old use of the word faculty, as in occupation, but it is a proper usage and I think we should promote the use of it. The label of profession is just not historically correct and as you point out it is not legally correct either. Thus, I think we should just forget it and go with "The faculty of education."

Let's own that word and build it into as respectable a word as profession is today. As a lawyer, I am honored to be a member of the legal profession, but I am just as honored to be a member of the educational faculty. That's how we should be using this word. Let's make it something special. To be a member of the faculty should be as highly regarded (if not more highly regarded) than to be a member of a profession. The faculty is essentially the guardian of the future. When we admit people into it, it should be ceremonious. Just as there is a ceremony for passing the bar, we should have similar ceremonies for joining the faculty. Maybe if we gave it that level of respect, people wouldn't be so quick to leave it behind.

Anyway, that is my 2 cents. We are not a profession, we are a faculty.


I'm confused by your comments whether you are questioning the professionalism of teachers based on what we do with students, or because you dislike teacher unions. I work in a state where teachers are prohibited by law from collective barganing, we routinely work beyond the school day, and we are assigned extra duties without compensation. How does that make us more or less professional educators? That teachers in some places had to resort to unionism for protection is itself a sad commentary.

Why do you consider school administrators professionals, but not teachers? If your view is typical of how those who are supposed to be our instructional leaders view what we do, is it any wonder the more general public is confused.

Dave Sherman

You are fortunate to not have to deal with teachers unions where you live, but I am afraid that you are in the minority. I am glad to read that you act professionally in your daily work.

I do question teachers' professionalism when they put salary over what is best for children. If you want to be rich, don't be a teacher. If you want to teach, accept that it is a higher calling and you may have to put in long hours, give up a lunch to meet with a parent, or join an important committee over the summer and not receive overtime pay. We Administrators are not protected by unions and collective bargaining. If I am called upon to work late, attend a night meeting, or facilitate a committee, I do so because it is part of my job, and I do not ask for extra pay for each hour I put in after 3:30.

A doctor is held accountable for the health of his patients, a lawyer is held accountable for protecting the rights of her clients, an accountant is held accountable for the bottom line, I am held accountable based on students achievement. We are not protected by tenure. My view and modeling of professionalism is what the general public expects from its educators.

dave z

I'm going to agree with Renee. How does being unionized correlate to not be a profession? Teachers are some of the most educated, intelligent, mission-driven people that I know. You talk about teachers as if no one stays past the bell and no one gets up from the lunch table to address an issue. In the many schools I've worked at in multiple states, this has not been my experience. Yes, I can identify a few people who fit that description, but they are not the norm. The norm is someone who stays after school often for trainings(I know this because I am providing the trainings.). The norm is someone who puts in many additional hours after school writing lesson plans, grading papers, speaking with parents, and learning the latest best practices.

This is not an issue of profession vs. non-exempt status. This is an issue of public perception. It is also an issue of school leaders who let the minority of teachers who fit your description stick around long enough to make the rest of us look bad.

I agree that unions and the tenure system make this difficult, but let us not forget that unions also do a great deal of good. First, historically, they came about to protect veteran, qualified teachers from being let go simply because they make too much. They also deliver professional development. I will agree with you on one point. We need our unions to adapt to a new calling. They need to become professional organizations, like the AMA. Let's focus on the professional aspects of the union rather than the negotiating power.

Justin B.

Is this really a battle over who works harder? I hope not, because a whole lot of my lawyer friends are not going to meet that definition of professional (as they stroll around the golf course at 11 on a Tuesday afternoon), yet you call them unprofessional and they might sue you for defamation.

We educators may try to draw a fine line between teachers and administrators, but to the outside world we are all educators. No use in fighting amongst ourselves over who is more professional. Doing so just makes both administrators and teachers look less professional and just provides more evidence that education really is not a profession.

Scott McLeod

@davez: You said, "It is also an issue of school leaders who let the minority of teachers who fit your description stick around long enough to make the rest of us look bad."

One of the reasons that Dr. Richard Elmore says teachers aren't a profession is that they don't take enough responsibility for policing themselves. Reliance on the principal, rather than other peer teachers, to address inadequate teaching is a contributor to the public's view that teachers (and unions) are not professional.

dave z

I can't disagree that teacher unions need to change to stop protecting bad teachers. I also think there are other ways that teachers can police themselves. However, it has been my experience that administrators rarely even try to go through the steps of removing poor performers. Instead they hire teachers and then let them sink or swim for three years and then get rid of some good teachers because they know if they don't do it then, they will have a harder time doing it later.

But as to this issue of policing ourselves, I'd like to know what other professions do to police themselves. Do lawyers come out against bad lawyers because they know that they make their profession look bad? Is this a criteria for being a profession? I think you might be suggesting that a profession sets a high standard for itself so only the best get in. That would be why passing the Bar is considered so difficult or becoming licensed as a doctor. Teachers have created a licensure program to ensure that all teachers maintain certain credentials. The problem is that the programs have become outdated and the skills that are taught are not in line with the needs of 21st century students. But who oversees all these programs to ensure that they meet the highest standards? How do teachers control these issues? Isn't this a federal department of education issue? Or at least an issue of transforming the national teacher's union into a professional organization that sets these standards as the AMA and the Bar do?

What I see in my interactions with teachers is that they act in a very professional manner, they constantly seek professional development, they view their role with a great deal of personal accountability. However, the oversight organizations need to set a better framework for how this looks and what the expectations should be for ALL teachers.


dave z makes an important point. For several years, I have served on the Licensure Commission in our state which hears the cases brought against teachers or administrators and decides whether they should have their licenses revoked. Even though it is relatively straightforward (as compared to a unionized setting) to remove an ineffective teacher, I can count on one hand the number who have actually been brought before us. There is no tenure in this state, every teacher has to renew contract every year, regardless of years of service or past performance.

The major problem appears to be administrators being unable or unwilling to actually document teacher ineffectiveness. It's easier to just let the contracts expire and not renew the teacher, but many of these same administrators will gladly give the offender a hearty letter of recommendation to go somewhere else. Some places, this is called the "dance of the lemons."

Whether it's administrative overload, ineffective evaluation systems, or just plain laziness is under debate. But I suspect that in unionized places, the union and the tenure system may just be another excuse for not doing what needs to be done.


After the full read, I'm ready to jump in and be the "lazy administrator" that allows a contract to expire before tenure. I'll also say that I have non-renewed enough teachers that some have moved and been successful - not the dance of lemons, as my recommendations are accurate - new setting, new opportunities, learning from what went wrong here. I'm also not trying to promote the "who works harder" argument as I believe most of my teachers bust their hump for kids, but in a new law, I am required as an administrator to meet with teacher representatives to distribute teacher money to the unionized teachers. This is so that the tyrants in administration don't unfairly award money to the undeserving - Scott, here is the peer review maybe - and, yes, these representatives are chosen by the UNION, not the faculty or administration or Board. We MUST have equal representation of teachers and administrators, and the teachers MUST be compensated for their time - administration CAN NOT. Equal time, equal effort (plus the administration must then do all of the paperwork) unequal compensation. Union vs. non-union. Maybe my thoughts are more on that topic, but I do believe that Elmore discusses in depth the fact that professionalism has a level of expectation in protocol that we really do not have. His example of landing an airplane (by the way, union you think?) or performing a surgery with a "hey let's try this" brings a tear to my eye as I laugh hysterically. It is so true. In education, however, we call it an "art" so we aren't held to such strict performances. Maybe tomorrow I'll just randomly move students among their math classes to see how that works-Calculus to Basic Math and Algebra I to Trigonometry sounds like a blast, and artistic.


Forgive me if I really don't care one whit whether or not someone thinks what I do is a "profession". I am more concerned about whether or not what I am doing is good for kids.

As a veteran teacher of public schools and private schools (where I had to earn my contract each year) both here and overseas and a future administrator with an MA in Educational Leadership, I am frustrated and appalled at the number of teachers who whine and complain about small issues like the classroom to which they have been assigned or how many times in a week an administrator has walked through classrooms. Appalling again are the numbers of teachers who drag their feet and refuse to collaborate and work with other teachers. They want to do things their own way and NOT look at research or data or share the work load or compromise.

I have to agree with Mr. Sherman on one point that is sure to irritate. I am no fan of the union! I abhor that too many teachers rest on tenure and that the union will fight to protect one of their own, even if that teacher is know by all to be ineffective and resistant to change. I have seen it happen where a union rep will, with one side of her mouth thank goodness that her kid is not in "that" class, but fight tooth and nail for "that teacher" to keep her job when she is written up time and time again. I truly believe that this scenario is much more prevalent than the veteran teacher who "costs too much" getting the boot.

If we really feel the need to be called "professionals" then let's start acting like it and hold ourselves and each other to the highest standards. I should feel responsible for the kids in the room next door to the point that if their teacher is ineffective, I (as a fellow teacher) should step in some way - supporting, encouraging, exhorting, mentoring and chastening that teacher - and as a "profession" we should require that said teacher next door sucks it up and either improves or leaves either our school or the "profession" altogether.

Jan Seiter

I really liked Rob Jacob's comments about the term 'faculty'. Although I belong to a local union, it's more for self-protection than for ideology. I really don't want to be part of one.
I especially like the idea of '...not being like everyone else...' The way we run pub lic school in the US is uniquely American, uniquely suited to assimilate all of our citizens. And in this charge, we are unique as educators.

Randy Rodgers

@Scott Mcleod:
Quote: "One of the reasons that Dr. Richard Elmore says teachers aren't a profession is that they don't take enough responsibility for policing themselves. Reliance on the principal, rather than other peer teachers, to address inadequate teaching is a contributor to the public's view that teachers (and unions) are not professional."

Your statement that it is the lack of self-policing by teachers that hurts their image is very perplexing to me. What, exactly, would you have teachers do? I have worked with co-workers to collaboratively improve our methods of teaching, worked to sort out discipline issues affecting entire teams, served on campus plan boards, and more. I, or any other teacher I know, has the ability to "police" the peers we work with. The best we can do is to hope to influence their practices so that they might improve. I really would like to know what you meant by your comment, if you have the time to elaborate. (By the way, I have always supported any possible changes that would make the removal of ineffective teachers much easier.)

@Dave Sherman:
First of all, I must state that I am an educator in Texas, a right to work state. No unions here, so I cannot relate entirely to that issue.

As for the image problem, lumping the blame on the practices of teachers in general is ludicrous and insulting. While they certainly share the blame, I would like you to consider changes in society as a whole. Consider the atmosphere in the U.S. 50 years ago. Teachers were respected by parents, communities, students, governments, etc. far more than they are today. During the 80s and 90s, as the needs of an information society evolved, the approaches of the previous century were necessarily evolving, as well. Simultaneously, three other trends emerged. The first was a weakening in the system of discipline, both in the home and in schools, largely due to well-intended but misguided psychologists and child-rearing "experts." The second was a new focus on standardized testing. The third was a new practice, largely due to the scathing assessment of U.S. education by William Bennett during the Reagan administration, that made criticism of schools a sporting event. Suddenly, teachers had to simultaneously embrace politically correct methods of (sometimes effective) discipline while focusing on a set of standards that was narrower and less motivating in an unfriendly environment. Unmotivated students, feeble discipline methods, lessened community support--tough task. Still, teachers evolved. The best, especially, developed methods of making these ridiculously narrow objectives somehow exciting, engaging, and relevant. They forged ahead with instruction despite a more time-consuming discipline system and an ever-growing load of paperwork. They shrugged off, at least externally, the harsh criticism. In short, they have made great strides while trying to run in wet sand.

I would ask exactly what efforts the administrators in here have made to publicize the great accomplishments of their best teachers. While our district, for example, goes to great lengths to inform the community of the baseball team's playoff wins or the band's state competition, much less is done to bring focus on the teachers who have challenged and excited their kids, the coaches whose lessons will carry beyond the field, the band teachers who work 70 hours a week, teaching their students the meaning of hard work and discipline (And I'd say ours is a very supportive district.). The students, deservedly, get recognition, but the teachers go silently unrecognized by their employers. Teachers cannot self-promote to the community at-large, either, due to policies requiring communications with the media to come through the central office.

Your dictionary definition of a professional describes the majority of the teachers I have had the pleasure to work alongside. Would they appreciate or even desire more money? Of course! Is that somehow immoral for a teacher? Your post implies that it is. I would certainly appreciate the documentation of each administrator who agrees turning down their next raise. I don't begrudge a dime of my superiors' pay, but I also don't equate a teacher facing rising gas prices and putting 3 kids through college wanting more money, either. With or without unions, incidentally, try to find a profession which counts the seconds when paytime comes more than the legal or medical fields. I can't defend the religious devotion to a duty-free lunch, incidentally--I never could understand that.

Improving the perception of teachers begins with the teachers themselves, certainly, but it must be accompanied by loudly cheering principals and district and state admins. Regardless, public perception does not affect the reality that teaching IS a profession.

I hope this is not too convoluted or rambling--you definitely hit a nerve. Of course, as an avid promoter of blogging in education, I do appreciate this type of topic. Communication is vital!


for me teaching is categorized into two, a profession and a vocation. it can be a profession if a teacher transmits knowledge because it’s the duty or obligation one must perform. They teach the learners for the sake of their monthly salary not because they love to teach but because of the call of duties as a teacher. Whereas, teaching is a vocation if the teacher imparts knowledge because he/she loves to do what he/she is doing

Pius Sarfo

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