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Teaching Profession

Happy ‘Back to the Future’ Day! What Was Teaching Like Back in 1985?

By Ross Brenneman — October 21, 2015 1 min read
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Happy Back to the Future Day! This is the day that Marty McFly travels to in “Back to the Future II,” all the way from the 1980s. Our collective, unstoppable love for pop culture mandates we recognize this moment for its lack of commercially available hoverboards.

It’s a day where we celebrate the endless optimism that the people of the ‘80s had for the future, while confronting the cold, hard reality of now. It’s a day where we send appropriate GIFs around the Internet and on our iPhones, all of which are things that “Back to the Future II” didn’t actually get right.

It’s also a chance to dig through the archives for some reflection on education. If you haven’t seen it yet, our opinion blogger Larry Ferlazzo has a great new set of expert advice on implementing self-reflection into the classroom, which offered a little added inspiration.

So what bold predictions about K-12 were featured in the pages of Education Week in October 1985? Here’s a Commentary from James M. Banner Jr., a historian, writer, and senior research associate at the (now-defunct) Council for Basic Education, written in response to the formation of a Carnegie Forum tasked with creating a “blueprint” for the teaching profession’s future: (emphasis added)

We assume that teaching already is a profession—not a job or occupation or calling, each a status worthy of estimation in its own right—and we do so without concern for the inflation and meaning of the concept of a profession. Yet, in fact, schoolteaching in this country is not now a profession. Nor will it become one, despite what many believe, simply by altering teacher examinations, reforming teacher education, improving work conditions, increasing pay, or changing our approaches to school finance and productivity. ... Make teaching a 'true profession'? It is against the historical grain, probably impossible, and most likely not worth the effort.

Harsh! Too harsh, in fact, for Eugene W. Kelly Jr., the dean of the school of education and human development at George Washington University. Kelly responded to Banner with his own Education Week Commentary, saying Banner’s “gloomy conclusion” didn’t follow from his argument:

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.

Kelly outlines 10 steps toward professionalizing teaching, including attracting high-quality candidates to teacher-preparation programs, strengthening the accreditation and approval system for teacher-education institutions, and establishing fair and rigorous licensing procedures, including testing, for entry into the profession.

Well ... these are all things that are still being worked on. We’ll try to check back in when 2045 rolls around.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.