The complexities involving the teaching profession and the importance of the role of teachers in the holistic development of learners require strict adherence to the tenets of professionalism. There are expectations that teachers need to meet and there are qualities that they are expected to possess. These expectations and qualities are the ones that should inform the decision to hire somebody applying for a teaching position.
All the qualities teachers ought to have and what are expected of them can be summed up in one concept – “teacher professionalism.”
“Teacher professionalism” is an idea that can be defined differently based on multiple perspectives and its merits scrutinized according to various arguments. It is considered a broad concept consisting of several dimensions. However, for delimitation purposes, the discussion on the subject in this article is anchored only on the definitions of the term “professionalism” given in the next two (2) paragraphs.
Evans pointed out that “professionalism means different things to different people.”1 The Oxford dictionary simply defines the term as “the competence or skills expected of a professional.”2 It is the level of excellence or competence that professionals should manifest in their chosen fields of specialization.
Tichenor3 explains that professionalism are the expected behaviors of individuals in a specific occupation. Professionals need to conduct themselves in accordance to set standards.
Boyt, Lusch and Naylor4 combined the said views about professionalism when they describe it as a multi-dimensional structure consisting of one’s attitudes and behaviors towards his/her job and the achievement of high level of standards. Similarly, Hargreaves5 defines professionalism as the conduct, demeanor and standards which guide the work of professionals.
The terms associated to professionalism as seen from the definitions and explanations given are as follows: competence, skills, behaviors, conduct, demeanor, and standards. Competence and skills are synonymous and so are behaviors, conduct, and demeanor. Standards refer to the quality or accepted norms for competence and behaviors.
Skills are not the only components that make up teacher’s competence. Knowledge is, of course, an integral part of it.
Skills and knowledge are very broad attributions to a teacher’s competence. What specifically are the skills and knowledge that would make a teacher competent?
As Baggini puts it, “To be a professional or a professor was to profess in some skill or field of knowledge.”6 It’s a given that teachers should have knowledge of the subject matter or expertise in a particular skill. Teachers are expected to know not a little but much about what they are teaching.
What adds challenge to being a teacher is the ability to dig (whenever applicable) into the scientific, philosophical, legal, sociological, and psychological foundations of what is being taught. It is important that teachers are able to relate whatever they are discussing to other fields. Such an ability would enable teachers to enrich the discussion.
But teaching and learning are complex processes that involve a lot more… not just knowing what to teach and being able to connect a topic to other disciplines. What would make teachers truly competent are the corresponding skills that enable them to effectively teach what they know and make the students learn. Such skills are acquired through training in pedagogy.
Pedagogy is commonly defined as “the art, science, or profession of teaching.” Pedagogy informs teaching strategies, teacher actions, and teacher judgments and decisions by taking into consideration theories of learning, understandings of students and their needs, and the backgrounds and interests of individual students.7
Pedagogy, in a nutshell, tells how best to teach and how best the students learn.
Knowledge and expertise in a field would not make one a teacher. Pedagogical skills are needed. Competent teachers SHOULD know, not just the subject matter, but how to set learning objectives, motivate students, design learning activities, facilitate learning, construct assessment, and assess learning.
In addition, another skill through which the competence of 21st-century teachers is gauged is how extensive and effectively do they apply technology (computer) to teaching and learning.
Aside from competence, the other dimension of teacher’s professionalism this article is exploring is behavior.
Teachers are aware that they should behave in accordance with the ethical standards set for the teaching profession. They are expected to speak, act and dress accordingly. Barber8 pointed this out when he identifies as one of the main characteristics of professional behavior a “high degree of self-control of behavior through codes of ethics.”
But the behavior dimension of professionalism among teachers goes beyond proper manner and decorum.
Another characteristic of professional behavior identified by Barber is “orientation primarily to community interest rather than to individual self-interest.” It is no secret that teachers sacrifice a lot to help their students. Teachers work long hours and practice a lot of patience. As Orlin puts it, “ I see it (teaching) as an act of self-sacrifice, as a hard path undertaken for the greater good.”9
Teachers also know that they need to keep learning. They need to have a continuing professional development plan for them to be better equipped in dealing with the challenges of the profession. They need to keep abreast of the current trends and innovations in the field of education.
There are also general teaching behaviors which, according to a study, are the most important for effective teaching (as perceived by students). Hativa identified five (5) of them, namely, making the lessons clear, organized, engaging/interesting, maintaining interactions, and rapport with students.10
Two (2) of the said general teaching behaviors (making the lessons clear and organized) are related to the first dimension of teacher professionalism (competence and skills). The rest are more indicative of the second dimension (behavior).
Teacher professionalism strongly implies the demands and complexities of teaching making it harder to understand why the profession doesn’t get due recognition. Teaching is not just any profession. Not just anybody can be a teacher. Not just anybody can be entrusted the responsibility of developing the mind and body.
- Evans, Linda (2008) Professionalism, professionality and the development of education professionals. British Journal of Educational Studies, 56 (1). pp. 20-38.
- Definition of “professionalism” – Oxford English Dictionary
- Tichenor, M. S., Tichenor, J. M. (2005). Understanding teachers’ perspectives on professionalism. ERIC.
- Boyt, T., Lusch, R. F. ve Naylor, G. (2001). The role of professionalism in determining job satisfaction in professional services: a study of marketing researchers, Journal of Service Research, 3(4), 321-330
- Hargreaves, A. (2000). Four ages of professionalism and professional learning. Teachers and Teaching: History and Practice, 6 (2),151-182.
- Baggini, J. (2005). What professionalism means for teachers today? Education Review, 18 (2), 5-11.
- Shulman, Lee (1987). “Knowledge and Teaching: Foundations of the New Reform”(PDF). Harvard Educational Review. 15(2): 4–14. Retrieved 12 June 2017.
- Barber, B. (1965). Some Problems in the Sociology of the Professions. In K. S. Lynn (Edt.), The Professions in America (pp. 669-688). Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
- Orlin, Ben “Teaching As Self Sacrifice.” Match With Bad Drawing. WordPress, March 10, 2014. Web. 19 July, 2017.
- Hativa, N. (2014). A pratical approach to designing, operating, and reporting, 2nd, Tel Aviv: Oron Publications.