I spend a lot of time talking with teachers and other educators, and invariably, in the course of doing so, we end up comparing and contrasting elements of my world – that of a former military officer and former career intelligence guy – with their world, that as teachers and educators. And one thing that comes up, often, is the debate over whether teaching or even just educating is a profession.
In many ways, just the fact that anyone is even having the debate, is indicative that it isn’t. Just as “Do these pants make my ass look fat?” is actually a trick question.
But there are two things that I want to explain, that I often cite, that I think will illustrate my point. The first is about professions in general, and the second is about being a professional.
There are a few fields that are commonly – and easily – recognized as being professions. The legal field, the medical field, and the religious field (but that’s usually just men of the cloth, since even in this profession, women seem to take a second seat) are ones we commonly recognize as being professions.
One thing that each of these fields share is that they each have their own code of professional ethics. It’s a code that is shared across all of the profession, embraced commonly by all (well, most if not all) of its members, and is a single code.
It’s a single code of ethics. One code. Not one in this hospital but different in that, or modified to apply to this law firm but not that, or a code that varies greatly across a single religion.
Teachers, and education, don’t have one. There are some codes of ethics for teachers, or for educators, but there certainly isn’t one. Some schools and districts seem to have their own. Tennessee has its own, as an example. But not one of these is for all of the profession and certainly none have been adopted by all members.
Teacher to teacher, educator to educator, school to school, state to state – there is no consistency, there is no commonality, there is no code of ethics that binds the practitioners, as there is in other fields. What it means to be a teacher, what it means to be in the education fields, varies based on who you are, what you do, and where you do it, in no small part from a lack of things like a code of ethics.
When I’m not giving this example, the other one I give is from my time as a Soldier and as an intelligence professional. It’s about knowing and being a professional within the whole of the field. Which is something that does not happen in teaching and education, at all.
Somewhere during my time in the Army and in my time in the intelligence field, I stopped being one of the 1000 monkeys at a keyboard, and I started becoming a member of the profession. There’s a transitional point, wherein a new member of the field embraces the profession, and it stops just being a job and it starts truly being their profession.
One of the things I did was pursue advance training and education – we all do that within our fields, but we all do that especially within a profession. It’s part of what makes it a learned profession. It wasn’t just to make me better at executing the tasks associated with my job at that moment, it was to immerse me into all of the profession – the parts I had used, the parts I was using, the parts I might someday use, and even the parts I realistically thought I would not ever use.
One of my good friends did two stints in the Army’s Recruiting Command. And he’s call me when he had people interested in enlisting in the Army, into Military Intelligence jobs, but they had questions above and beyond what he thought he could answer. “I need you to talk to them,” he would say, before putting them on the phone.
And I would field their questions. And Military Intelligence job in all of the Army, fielding any question and potentially new recruit might throw my way. “What Military Occupational Skill (MOS) are you signing up for, and what do you think that’s going to be like?” I would ask them, before then going into the other things that really would matter. “Do you know what the progression is like for advanced training for this MOS, as you make rank?” or “Where are you with regards to completing you college degree, and do you know what sorts of degrees goes best with this MOS?” or even “Would you like to hear my thoughts on this MOS, after having worked with some of them in Iraq?” Every time was a marathon session, and every time I sought to make it as rich and as informative as I could – this was, after all, just another part of my profession, and I was speaking to a future member of it.
When I tell this tale to and cite this example for teachers and other educators, and I ask them if they could do this for all of teaching or all of education, they invariably balk. It’s too big. There’s too much variation. I’ve only ever taught my one grade, or a couple. But I remind them that I’ve only had a few jobs, too, but that didn’t stop me in my pursuit of personal and professional development within my profession, to get to that point. And the Army and the intelligence fields, I would offer, were as big if not bigger than the teaching or education fields, and I damn well was doing my best to be a professional and learn them.
But most, many, even a lot of teachers don’t view the field of teaching and education in this way. They don’t see the need for or want to learn about the whole of it, not in the way I wanted or felt I needed to if I were to truly become a professional within my field.
And here’s the other thing: the comeback can’t be to say, we’ll that’s different. Doctors don’t say that. Lawyers don’t either. They may settle into one aspect of their profession, but in preparing to join their learned profession, they are immersed into it all. They learn it all, or a lot of it, before heading off to specialize. Teachers don’t even make the argument with me that they do that, before settling into their teaching roles and getting on with their teaching careers.
It’s why teaching won’t be a profession, until the culture within teaching and education change.