Why True Professionalism Is 'Critically Worthwhile'

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In his recent Commentary, James M. Banner Jr. concludes that efforts to make teaching a true profession are "against the historical grain, probably impossible, and most likely not worth the effort" ("On Transforming Teaching Into a 'True Profession,"' Oct. 23, 1985).

By the structure of his argument, in which he describes the core components of a true profession and presents several major obstacles to achieving that status for teaching, he would have us think that his gloomy conclusion follows from his analysis. Not so. His "conclusion," in relation to his prior argumentation, is at best gratuitous and at worst an invitation to a serious misdirection of efforts to improve learning, schooling, and teaching.

Mr. Banner's assertion is gratuitous because the very points he makes about the components of a true profession can, with imagination and energy, be translated into a plan for enhancing teaching.

However, instead of moving his analysis of professional problems toward potential solutions--many of which are currently being discussed by educators and policymakers--Mr. Banner proclaims professionalization efforts most likely worthless, dismisses serious issues of teaching and learning with an appeal--suggestively egalitarian--for labeling teaching "an honored occupation," and calls this "a great enough step forward" that would protect teachers from getting their hopes up.

What Mr. Banner purports to offer with one hand (improvements in teaching and in the status and working conditions of teachers), he effectively takes away with the other (by dismissing efforts to make teaching a true profession).

Contrary to Mr. Banner's retrogressive premise, efforts to enhance teaching's professionalism are critically worthwhile. The fundamental issue is not the set of obstacles Mr. Banner poses, but rather the pressing need to improve schooling by significantly enhancing the performance and position of what he calls "the instruments of general education," namely teachers.

Making teaching a true profession is essential not because it promotes the welfare of teachers, but because it encompasses a comprehensive set of major policy and professional actions critically important to sustained improvement in education. The professionalization of teaching and the achievement of excellence in education are not two separate issues, much less are they at odds with each other. Providing teachers with the conditions of a true profession is directly in line with the public interest.

Enhancing the teaching profession requires concerted action by policymakers, educators, and the public in 10 interrelated areas:

Attracting high-quality candidates to teacher-preparation programs. Achieving this basic personnel objective, so obviously important to effective classroom learning, would be accelerated by improving teaching's professional status and is, in turn, indispensable to accomplishing true professionalization.

Improving both the intellectual and the experiential components of teacher preparation. A high level of specialized knowledge and competence is the very soul of a true profession, is essential to effective schooling, and poses a continuing challenge to those who prepare teachers and contribute to the body of pedagogical knowledge.

Strengthening the accreditation and approval system for teacher-education institutions. A maturing profession has a responsibility for setting and adhering to high standards of professional preparation. A rigorous accreditation system provides the institutional structure for sustaining, scrutinizing, and upgrading such standards.

Establishing fair and rigorous licensing procedures, including testing, for entry into the profession. The public has the right to expect teachers to enter the profession, and be identified as professional teachers, through a process of examination and licensing under public authority. The present certification procedures and basic-competency tests are clearly inadequate.

Providing a strong and supportive system of expert supervision for beginning teachers. We are failing to provide beginning teachers with sustained, systematic programs of supervision. Instead of more screening programs, states should fund programs to ensure that every novice teacher receives each week a minimum of one hour of in-class observation, one hour of individual supervision, and one hour of professional discussion with experienced educators.

Making teacher salaries competitive with those of comparable professions. This is required as a matter of justice and as a means of attracting and retaining good teachers.

Expanding the number of allied teaching personnel in the schools. For teachers to function and be treated as professionals--given the schools' diverse responsibilities--support personnel are needed for tasks nec-essary to schooling but tangential to teaching.

Ensuring that teachers' working conditions are conducive to personal and professional growth. Dramatic alterations are needed in the allocation of facilities and resources within schools--such as office space and access to phones--and in the assignment of teaching schedules and student loads--allowing more time for collegial interaction and private study.

Providing opportunities for continuing professional development. Mr. Banner correctly emphasizes the need for teachers to have a lifelong commitment to learning. Continuing professional development should stimulate and utilize teachers' creative intelligence and ensure that their professional competence is enhanced as their experience increases.

Developing a system of professional self-regulation in collaboration with administrators and under public authority. Despite what Mr. Banner argues, making teaching a true profession must and can go forward under the principle of public authority over schooling. Professional self-regulation--inextricably linked to the education and welfare of children and unswervingly dedicated to the public interest--requires significant new mechanisms, such as the creation of professional licensing boards and the establishment of collegial teacher-administrator collaboration in school governance.

Action in these 10 areas is admittedly a large agenda. Achieving success with such an agenda requires a comprehensive, coherent approach to the complex problems related to the improvement of teaching, learning, and the status and conditions of teachers' work lives. That is what the true professionalization of teaching is about. And the need for sustained improvement in schooling, as well as fairness to teachers, makes the effort most worthwhile.

Vol. 05, Issue 14, Page 16

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