One of the constant debates raging in conversations about education in America centers on the idea of whether or not teaching is a true profession.

Many would argue that teaching is a true profession based on the commitment, dedication and training of educators which neatly parallels other professions.  Others see teaching as something more akin to a skilled trade that can be easily mastered by anyone.  Rancor tends to define this debate as advocates vehemently argue in favor of their unyeilding position.

Before answering this question effectively, it is important to define the characteristics of a profession.  Until we come to agreement about shared characteristics of professional fields, it will be impossible to come to consensus about where teaching stands on the continuum of work.

Here’s what I think defines a profession:

  1. Professions have a codified body of knowledge that is defined by practioners and applied in a systematic way.  Think about medicine:  Doctors work together to identify approaches for diagnosing and treating disease that is shared and generally followed by all in the field.
  2. Professions provide differentiated pay for differentiated skill sets.  Again, medicine provides a good example for comparison:  Cardiologists performing open heart surgeries on a regular basis are paid more than podiatrists removing plantars warts.
  3. Professions retain ownership over entry and evaluation standards.  Law is probably the best example of this professional trait:  Lawyers have to answer for their actions before review boards that are comprised of other lawyers and that have the power to revoke licenses.  Just ask Durham’s DA Mike Nifong about the power of legal review boards.
  4. Professionals retain responsibility for assessing and holding themselves accountable for the results of their work.
  5. Professions are responsive to the times, taking an action orientation to their work and continually improving established practices.  Return to medicine:  Treatments are continually being perfected as new technologies and medicines are discovered and introduced by practitoners.
  6. Professions offer practitioners opportunities for continued professional growth over the course of a career.

What do you think of my definition?  Did I include all of the critical elements of a profession?  Would you have included any other key points?  Would you remove any of those that I’ve identified?  Why?

Better question:  By my definition, would teaching qualify as a profession?  Why or why not?  What impact does this have on our ability to recruit and retain motivated young scholars to our field?

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