In discussing their work, teachers often employ the ideology of professionalism and related concepts: that professionals have an ideal of service, that they have a comparatively higher position in a hierarchy of jobs and remuneration, and that a certain amount of power and authority is attached to their role. This entry explores these commonsense conceptions of professionalism expressed by teachers, teacher educators, and the authors of reform documents and then examines how these conceptions relate to broader ideological and structural dimensions of society.
Data On Attitudes Toward Professionalism
Qualitative studies involving interviews—and sometimes observations—of teachers in Egypt, England, India, and the United States have explored how teachers conceive of professionalism and how they draw on this notion in interpreting and shaping their work and lives in schools and communities. Research has also examined these issues through interviewing teacher educators in England and the United States, as well as through analyzing documents promoting reform in teaching and teacher education in Canada, England, South Korea, and the United States. These investigations make clear that, although there is some variation in conceptions and in evaluations of professionalism in relation to teaching, the idea of professionalism is a salient one within educational discourses, particularly in English-speaking societies.
Teachers, teacher educators, and reform documents articulated conceptions of professionalism related to three major themes: (1) service ideal versus remuneration as a value of professions; (2) professionals’ status relative to other worker-citizens; and (3) power/ autonomy in relation to clients, administrators, and government officials. These three themes connect to what functionalist theorists identify as traits that objectively distinguish between professions and nonprofessional occupations. From a conflict theory perspective, however, these traits are viewed as elements of what is considered the ideology of professionalism, a portrait that distorts or misrepresents currently existing social structures in ways that mobilize or immobilize individual and collective action.
Service And Remuneration
The linkage between commonsense conceptions about teaching and an ideology of professionalism can be seen by looking at contradictions in the categories that people employ in discussing them. For example, functionalists often include as traits of a profession an ideal of service and an expectation of a high level of remuneration. Some educators and reform documents highlighted an ideal of service in discussing professionalism in relation to teaching, sometimes applauding and other times criticizing teachers’ and teacher educators’ degree of commitment to such an ideal.
In contrast, other teachers, teacher educators, and reform documents emphasized a high level of remuneration as a positive attribute of professionalism, usually stressing that teachers are not paid well relative to other professionals. The ideological nature of professionalism is further evidenced when some educators and reform documents characterize remuneration as a negative element of professionalism, instead promoting an ideal of service, which is argued to be the more fundamental characteristic of professionals.
Hierarchy And Power
The linkage between commonsense conceptions of professionalism and ideology can also be seen in the observed disagreement about whether the occupational stratification associated with notions of professionalism is valid and appropriate. For instance, many educators interviewed and most reform documents treated as unproblematic the idea that professionalism is related to a hierarchical division of labor. Sometimes, this hierarchy was justified explicitly in terms of professionals having higher levels of formal education, knowledge, and skill. Other times, these occupational status differences were just asserted as part of a social class structure, defined in terms of mental versus manual labor or membership versus nonmembership in unions. Nevertheless, other educators—particularly those with leftist political ideologies—rejected the stratification of occupations, whether based on some notion of professionalism or for any other reasons.
Further evidence of the ideological nature of professionalism is evidenced in the contradictory ways in which power relations are discussed by teachers, teacher educators, and reform documents. On one hand, professionalism is sometimes associated with legitimate power being exercised by teachers and other professionals and the notion that the latter should encounter no, or only limited, interference by state authorities or their managerial staff. On the other hand, professionalism can serve as a basis for delegitimating the power of professionals; in other words, the idea that professionalism is about following others’ directives. This seems to be the case in India, where the British disseminated a particular form of the ideology during the colonial period, but also in the United States, where some school administrators and policy makers appropriate notions of professionalism for that purpose.
What are the implications of educators drawing on and reproducing the ideology of professionalism in interpreting and developing strategies for their work and lives? First, professionalism is a two-edged sword: It may serve as a resource in teachers’ efforts to achieve professionalization or to deflect others’ moves to “deprofessionalize” or “proletarianize” the occupation, but it can also be used by administrators, other occupational groups, and state elites to criticize or challenge teachers’ claims and aspirations. Second, although the service ideal element of the ideology of professionalism suggests that the interests of professionals and the public are in harmony, the autonomy/ power element points to the possibility that adopting professionalism as a model for educators’ activity may lead to a distancing, hierarchical relationship between educators and community members. Third, even if teaching is not recognized as a full profession, by drawing on and reproducing the ideology of professionalism in relation to a meritocratic conception of educational attainment, teachers help to legitimate social class and gender inequalities.
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