What Do Teachers Mean By “We’re Professionals!”?

Scratch any discussion with or about teachers, and sooner or later you’ll come across some variation of:

“We’re professionals, and we deserve to be treated and paid like we are!”

So what exactly do they mean by “we are professionals”?  Especially when the statement is meant to cut off debate.

I can think of one way teachers are not professionals: unions.  Professionals, as traditionally understood,  do not form trade unions. Professional associations, lobbying organizations, yes.  Trade unions, no. To me, that alone voids any argument based on “we’re professionals”.

(And yes, I know that not every state allows closed shops.  But does anyone doubt that teachers in those states would form a union in a nanosecond if they were allowed to?)

Let’s ponder this. Maybe they mean they’ve had years of specialized training. Well, so has a master carpenter, or a master mason. I don’t think they mean to be compared to these tradesmen. Scratch this one.

Perhaps they mean that since their jobs require a college degree, that automatically makes them “professionals”. I think we’re getting a little closer here. A college degree has the aura of respectability and being the ticket to the good life.

Except for the fact that in 21st century America, the college degree is the equivalent of a high-school diploma 50 years ago: certification of basic literacy.  There are many companies where receptionists and file clerks are required to have a 4-year degree.  This can’t be it, not really.  But we’re on the right path now, I think.

I turned to the source, as were.  I asked an exceptional teacher was his colleagues mean when they say “we are professionals”.  His thought is that teachers are put in a leadership role right at the start of their careers, and are not prepared for the unavoidable criticisms.  They then feel they’re being treated unprofessionally.  He also cites increased workloads caused by federal and state mandates with no commensurate increase in pay.

I feel I’ve been going in circles with this question.  Perhaps it boils down to “what is a professional in today’s society?”  Is a professional simply a white-collar worker with a four-year degree?  And if so, why is he entitled to greater respect and courtesy member skilled tradesman?

If this case, the teachers need to come to grips with reality: a degree in “education” earns no respect, largely because of how schools of education select and train their students.  We will take a look at that in the next article.

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