Professional or employee?

PD sessionI spent the day today with teachers from seven Nelson schools that are in their second year now of an ICT PD cluster programme, and then this evening, participated in the executive meeting of a professional organisation I belong to  (the Distance Educational Association of NZ – DEANZ).

The cluster meeting affirmed my confidence in the professional integrity and ability of those teaching in our schools, and also affirmed my beliefs about the effectiveness of well designed professional development that is based on addressing both individual and collective goals.

The DEANZ exec meeting caused me to reflect on one of the key parts of my address to the Nelson teachers – what it means to be an education professional. I was inspired to include reference to an article in this morning’s Christchurch Press by John Fletcher (an old colleague of mine from the College of Education days when he was the head of the secondary division). In his usual eloquent and well informed way, John  expresses his concerns about the government’s national standards for schools, focusing his attention on the role of teachers, as professionals, in taking responsibility for establishing and maintaining high standards in the work they do. Fletcher quotes a section from the Marshall Report, (Department of Education,1978) that lists three key characteristics of a profession:

  1. The acquiring of specialised knowledge by study, training and practice, and the recognition if this qualification by a degree, diploma or membership of a professional body,
  2. Maintaining high standards of achievement and conduct in the practising of the profession, enforced by disciplinary provisions,
  3. Accepting that, while a person practices a profession in order to earn a living, this consideration should take second place to serving the interests of the client.

If ever there was a time for those of us working in the education space to stand up and be counted as professionals, this is it. But that means more than simply saying so or making lots of signs and banners. It means being deeply and completely committed to fulfilling the three basic tenets of being a professional as outlined above. Sadly, there are a few within our ranks who fail to do so – as there are in all professions. But that is one of the responsibilities of the profession, first to support those people to ‘step up’, or, if such efforts fail, to put in place procedures that remove them from the profession.

Failure to do so means that we might as well forget about being considered a profession and professionals, and accept a role merely as ‘public servants’, government employees who do the bidding of our employers, in much the same way as factory workers do for theirs.

5 thoughts on “Professional or employee?

  1. “Maintaining high standards of achievement and conduct in the practising of the profession, enforced by disciplinary provisions”

    Although I strongly agree with this key characteristic I feel that the true profession must discipline and regulate itself with the power vested in a body run by respected members. A court of law would be an ultimate arbiter but a profession which is seen to manifestly care deeply about it’s standards is far superior to one imposed by a government.

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    1. This is the critical issue, Malcolm. We shouldn’t rely on (or even expect) that a government should impose the standards for a profession. The very nature of a profession is that they should do this themselves.

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  2. It is a real pity that something worth discussing, like how to creatively make schools more accountable to the Government (which is essentially what this boils down to IMHO) has degenerated into a slanging match that shows that our Minister, Prime Minister and Mr English have no trust or faith in the sector. Maybe the approach and method needs to be looked at… there must be a way of renewing that trust?

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    1. You have a point about accountability here Isaac, and I agree that there is something important to explore about the relationship between the profession as providers of a service and the government as the purchaser of this service, but I think the issue of professionalism goes much deeper than this. In the ideal world the members of the profession will act with intrinsic interests to maintain the standards of the profession, not simply to meet the requirements or expectations of an external body.

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  3. Agreed, however to me, the whole reason the external body is doing this is because they don’t trust the profession to do it themselves. Hence there is no dialogue, consultation (of any creatively collaborative worth) or sharing of ideas…

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