Teacher Professionalism

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What is it that can make our teachers have a greater sense of professionalism?

I’m reading Flip the System: changing education from the ground up by Jelmer Evers and Rene Kneyber. It’s a brilliant read and I am blogging my thoughts from each chapter as I travel through the book. This post is inspired by chapter 5, ‘On Quality and Professionalism – an interview with Thijs Jansen‘ by Rene Kneyber.

Professional Pain:

In 2005, Jansen published a book called “Professional Pain: Why Holland isn’t working’, which explains why and how professionals are becoming victims of eager governments imposing market forces on their professions, making drastic changes without consulting with the professionals and consistently driving to improve efficiency and effectiveness.”

Does this sound familiar to you in your country/setting? A quote inside the book resonated with the Dutch people:

A decade later, Jansen’s views have evolved. Jansen says:

” I still believe professionals are at times a victim of too eager a government or too eager a management. But I do not think that professionals in part have called this victimhood upon themselves. A horrible case in point are doctors employed by insurance companies, who saw their right to discretion stripped away from them and could no longer exercise professional confidentiality. Yet they only started protesting when they were in danger of losing their company car.”

In many professions – teaching included – we have reached a position where we are victims of professional slavery. We have become inured to our own bad habits, are satisfied with poor quality work as long as we receive average terms and conditions and benefits. For example, long school holidays. Jansen describes this as being “represented by the paladins (e.g. unions) who sustain the status quo by keeping the powers-that-be in place.”

The Quality of Work:

Currently, we are left with the OECD and their PISA rankings defining educational quality outside of national curricula and outside of what teachers have taught. It is “wrong to judge a profession based on norms and measures that are not part of the work itself (John Dewey).”

If I asked the reader, what is a good teacher? Or what is good education? As Jansen goes on to describe in this chapter, “we first need to decide what education and teachers should achieve? Governments should support a profession, but should leave the ‘how’ and the ‘what’ to them.” Gert Biesta details how may we achieve this in chapter 6, ‘Reclaiming Educational Professionalism’. I’ve underlined almost every word!

Professional Honour:

Professionals must hold each other to the highest standards of account in order to (re)gain the trust of society. Jansen illustrates a three-step approach:

  1. Teachers spend long time developing skills and should, not unimportantly, enjoy their work. They should foster a curiosity for improving their practice and follow this through in collaboration with others.
  2. Teachers should have a sense of professional pride In his or her achievements, And will seek ways to gain the acknowledgement from others. However, The outside world – which is market orientated – might have a different set of standards to those of the teacher. Professional pride should therefore always strive to reach middle ground between humility and cockiness.
  3. Professional honour and recognition has to be earnt. Teachers must expect high standards of themselves and each other in order to be trusted by the rest of society. (this should also be clear in online behaviours)
Improving Teaching:

The general teacher council in Scotland is a good example of this. It is a tool of the profession in which the board of council consists of union members, teachers, parents are elected members. We now see the grassroots version of this in the Chartered College of Teaching in England. Jansen highlights “That we should not allow anyone to be a teacher if they have no interest in improving practice. Secondly, to be wary of professional corruption through outside forces. Finally, you cannot allow teachers to say ‘just leave me to my teaching’, because striving for professional honour is the foundation of a good education for all.

The next time an external force or various people online are complaining about the work of a teacher, think twice about the above. Are you working in collaboration with others? Are your colleagues? Do you take professional pride in your achievements? Thirdly and most of all, do you seek professional honour and recognition from those outside of the teaching profession? Because if you do like I do, you should allow others to hold you and each of your colleagues to account. Moaning about pay, holidays and workload is one thing, but striving to help fix the issues within our system is another. And you dear reader, are part of the solution. We all are. Just how we do this, is yet to be defined …

  • Thijis Jansen is a former research at Tilburg University and co-founder of the Professional Honour Foundation.
  • Jelmer Evers is a history teacher in a secondary school and is involved in classroom innovation. He was nominated for the Global Teacher Prize in 2014.
  • René Kneyber is a mathematics teacher in secondary school. He has written the Dutch translation of Embedding Formative Assessment by Dylan Wiliam. In 2015 he became member of the Dutch Education Council on royal commendation.

3 thoughts on “Teacher Professionalism

  1. This is an interesting article that ties into Evans’ (2011) idea that professionalism is a ‘mode of being’ where actions and relationships frame how professionalism is shaped. In short, we have to act with professionalism in order to be treated as such.

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