Teaching as a profession


What is a profession?

A profession is a job, occupation or career that requires specialist training, expertise knowledge as well as ethical behaviour, Total Careers, (2010). Professions are also governed by law or even through membership of a professional body. These professional bodies are responsible for providing a code of conduct which guides their professional behaviour. From this description of a profession teaching is clearly a professional career.

Calderhead (1996) demonstrates that there are four main characteristics which exemplify teachers to be a professional. Firstly, teachers possess a body of knowledge acquired through extensive training and experience. As with other professionals such as doctors and lawyers, teachers rely upon this breadth of specialist knowledge in their daily work. A second feature for professional activity is goal orientation, a teacher’s activity is orientated towards the education of the pupils. A teacher, more than any other profession is answerable to many outside agencies and people which govern what a teacher does. There are high expectations for a teacher such as exam results which often pressures and influences the actual goal in what a teacher aims to achieve.

Calderhead (1995) further explains the issues which teachers have to face are often ambiguous and complex, and professionals must use their expert knowledge to analyse them, make judgements and formulate a course of action accordingly. Such knowledge would be attained from the extensive training which a teacher has had to experience prior to their career and also during their career with up to date training courses to keep their knowledge and understanding current. “Teachers must use their knowledge to cope with a constant barrage of complex situations.” (Calderhead. 1995:136) Therefore a good intuition and ability to act immediately involves skillful action adapted to the context. Through the repeated training and developing of the teacher as a professional, the teacher has developed various specialist and knowledgeable skills. This may not be evident in other jobs which are not deemed to be professional.

Life long learners

“Learning however should not be confined to the early years of a teacher’s career, and we support the proposed requirement for teachers to keep their skills up-to-date throughout their careers.” (The Royal Society. 1999:2) It is important that teachers are central players in the process of bringing about change within the profession, including the development of the curriculum and teaching methods. To be an effective teacher, they need to demonstrate all aspects of professionalism in their approach and in their classroom.

Zwozdiak-Myers, Whitehead & Capel (2004) believe that Physical Education may distance itself from other subjects, and the teachers also may distance themselves from integral involvement of whole school aims and policies. Although, a responsibility of a PE teacher extends beyond the PE lesson, they have the responsibility to contribute to wider educational aims, which will come from the innate professional attitude and behaviour they should display upon training & employment.

A teacher, no matter which subject they may specialise in, is a teacher of pupils and part of a teachers professional responsibility is to produce a steady supply of well-educated school leavers (Spackman. 1991: 94) Therefore, they are a role model to all the pupils they come into contact with and professional behaviour needs to be displayed at all times, these include occasions such as school trips, fixtures, parents evening, and covering other classes. “A teacher must observe punctuality and appropriate tidiness and dress: it is not possible to demand such behaviour from students if the teacher doesn’t set the standards.” (ESL, 2010) Professional behaviour would include smart and suitable attire, the right attitude, using appropriate language to parents, colleagues and pupils and also punctuality all of which set an example to others.

Reflective practitioners

A key characteristic of being a teacher is to reflect and continuously strive to improve practice. This is embedded from the very first year of training and is a predominant feature of a teachers’ daily life. The evaluation of episodes, lessons and even units of learning are aimed at improving where no lesson can ever be deemed as perfect. This skill is another key feature of what is deemed to be ‘professional’

Graham (2001) states that teachers need to rely on their own ability to observe the children to determine what is appropriate thereafter. As a teacher it is essential to be flexible throughout their research study so that modifications can be made if deemed necessary. Lockwood & Newton (2004) claim that central to a teachers’ development, it is important to observe and analyse what is happening in their lessons. Even if they are not undertaking a research project, it is vital teachers continually analyse and adapt their practice. Observations are critical to inform the development of each lesson. “What you observe increases the knowledge which you apply your teaching.” (Lockward & Newton, 2004:59) From this, the evaluation/analysis which is written will need to be critical and flexible to facilitate improvements, as the aim of the research is to improve the teaching and learning.

Research undertaken by a teacher can be part of many programmes facilitating and supporting teaching and learning, for example the GTC Scotland have a supported programme to improve the standards of teacher professionalism and teaching & learning. The purpose of facilitating such projects is to encourage “teachers to be collaborators in revising curriculum, improving their work environment, professionalizing teaching, and developing policy.” (Johnson, 1993) Teacher research has its roots in action research.” (Johnson, 1993) This further concludes the necessity of teachers documenting and evaluating their efforts, which action research suitably does. “Teachers engaging in action research attend more carefully to their methods, their perceptions and understandings, and their whole approach to the teaching process.” (Johnson, 1993) The benefit of such is that it will force the re evaluation of current theories and also significantly influence what is known about schooling, teaching and learning.

The professional development of a teacher should be viewed as a lifelong learning process, Katene (2004). This process begins as a student teacher and is continued throughout their teaching career, which is also known as Continued Professional Development (CPD). To be effective at teaching and learning, the CPD needs to be ongoing . Day (1999) argues this by concluding that the learning undertaking by the teacher is a constant renewal of information whether that be from a natural experience of that of a formal occurrence.

“Evidence demonstrates that teachers who collaborate, learn together, share ideas and model best practice are more likely to remain in teaching. Because they feel valued and supported in their development and in their work.” (GTC, 2003)


In summary to be a professional, and an effective one at that, it takes time, dedication and hard-work. To gain the expertise and knowledge required to gain professional status, requires the ability to research, gain new and build upon existing knowledge. It is the continual pursuit for better practice and innovative strategies to move the profession forwards.

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