In various historical and societal contexts, teaching has been considered a profession—or not—as the result of a historical process in which teachers have experienced professionalization, deprofessionalization, or proletarianization. This entry discusses the professional status of teachers from functionalist and conflict perspectives.
From a functionalist perspective, professionalism is tied directly to a positive “social fact”: that there are professions (prototypically medicine and law), nonprofessions, and “semi-professions.” In this view, professionals are differentiated from workers in other occupations because they (a) perform an essential service or task; (b) engage in mental versus manual work; (c) function based on an ideal of service; (d) gain their expertise and values through extensive preservice education; (e) operate with autonomy in the workplace; (f) have colleagues (versus nonprofessionals) in control of selection, training, and advancement in the field; and (g) receive a high level of remuneration.
Social scientists and educators, based in a variety of societal contexts, have addressed the question of whether or not teaching is a profession. Although answers to this question have varied somewhat, studies of the occupation of teaching in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and North America have generally concluded that teaching does not fully measure up on the “traits” of a profession, but rather is a semi-profession.
Those adopting a conflict perspective may agree that teaching has not fully measured up to the functionalist definition of profession, but they reject such definitions as ideological. Moreover, conflict theorists view functionalists’ traits—and teachers and other worker-citizens who appropriate the ideology of professionalism—as contributing to the reproduction (perpetuation and legitimation) of unequal class, gender, and ethnic group relations.
Within a functionalist perspective, professionalization is viewed as a universal, evolutionary process, potentially open to all occupations in all contexts, involving the acquisition of the traits associated with the ideal type profession. In contrast, conflict theorists view professionalization as the result of an occupation’s success in its struggle with other occupational groups, the state, and/or economic elites.
Many scholars, policy makers, and practitioners have promoted the idea that the occupation of teaching is undergoing professionalization and/or should strive to professionalize. For instance, in France and Mexico, teachers gained in status and work autonomy—but not remuneration—as rewards for allying with secular state elites in their struggle with the Church. During World War II, teachers’ status increased in England, Germany, and Japan as a reward for their ideological and physical contributions to the war efforts. In Canada in the late 1930s through the 1960s, in England after 1926 but particularly from the mid-1940s to the mid-1970s, and in the United States in the mid-1940s, educators experienced professionalization for helping to defuse and deflect radical movements.
From a Weberian conflict perspective, deprofessionalization involves the reduction in an occupation’s status, autonomy, and remuneration—whether that occupation previously was or was not considered a full profession. Deprofessionalization, like professionalization, occurs as a result of interoccupational, occupation-state, and occupation-economic elite struggles in this view.
The issue of teacher deprofessionalization has been addressed by many scholars. For instance, in Vietnam during the French colonial rule; in India during and after British colonialism; in China—with different ideological emphases—before, during, and after the Cultural Revolution; and in Hungary before, during, and after the Stalinist regime, political and economic elites restricted teachers’ autonomy through training, inspection, and rewards. Moreover, in the 1930s in Germany, some teacher groups lost status and were denied the right to organize for higher wages because they publicly protested against the Nazi Party’s fascist project. Additionally, during the 1990s in Europe and Korea, teachers were deprofessionalized, losing social status and authority in the eyes of the public—as the result of government officials’ and media criticisms.
From a Marxist conflict perspective, proletarianization involves the process by which the work of an occupational group—whether such work is considered manual or nonmanual and whether such workers are more or less educated—is altered regarding (a) separating the conception of work tasks from their execution; (b) standardizing and routinizing work tasks; (c) intensifying the demands of work; and (d) reducing the costs (salaries, benefits, training, etc.) of workers.
Various authors have discussed how teaching and teachers have experienced proletarianization. For instance, in Australia, Canada, England, Mexico, New Zealand, and the United States during economic and political crises of the 1970s and 1980s, the state sought to deskill teachers through various bureaucratic and technical controls as well as to intensify the range and pace of teachers’ work. Ironically, some teachers have accepted the intensification of their work—a key aspect of proletarianization—because they perceive such as a sign of their professionalization.
- Acker, S. (1983). Women and teaching: A semi-detached sociology of a semi-profession. In S. Walker & L. Barton (Eds.), Gender, class and education (pp. 123–140). London: Falmer.
- Dove, L. (1986). Teachers and teacher education in developing countries. London: Croom Helm.
- Engvall, R. (1997). The professionalization of teaching: Is it truly much ado about nothing? Lanham, MD: University Press of America.
- Kale, P. (1970). The guru and the professional: The dilemma of the secondary school teacher in Poona, India. Comparative Education Review, 14(3), 371–376.
- Kelly, G. (1982). Teachers and the transmission of state knowledge: A case study of colonial Vietnam. In P. Altbach, R. Arnove, & G. Kelly (Eds.), Comparative education (pp. 176–194). New York: Macmillan.
- Laudner, H., & Yee, B. (1987). Are teachers being proletarianized? In S. Walker & L. Barton (Eds.), Gender, class and education (pp. 58–71). Sussex, UK: Falmer.
- Race, R. (2002). Teacher professionalism or deprofessionalisation? The consequences of school-based management on domestic and international context. British Educational Research Journal, 28(3), 459–463.
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