Warrior argues that ‘professionalism [in teaching] is synonymous with quality and the current practices relating to maintaining and monitoring standards are issues of contentious debate’. While I found her round up of the definitions of professionalism illuminating, I was particularly interested in the ‘contentious debate’ connected with the attempts to raise teaching to professional level by applying standards but how this trend may adversely affect practitioners.
Professionalism can be defined as being ‘not amateur’ (Lindrop 1982). In that sense, it involves being paid, often highly paid, and making a career out of pursuing an activity. It involves pursuing a career, one that has distinguishing characteristics and ‘an element of intellectual training’. Warrior lists two sets of characteristics of professionals, from 1964 and 1982. Both make reference to having a responsibility to serving the public either through having codes of conduct or ‘minimum standards’.
Interestingly, the later definition lists the professional’s claim to ‘exercising personal judgement’. When she examines the teaching profession, she notes that this characteristic is significantly lessened by the impact of external and rigidly enforced standards of quality. These ‘bureaucratic rules and managerial controls’ can be ‘intrusive’ and may result in ‘a severe loss in professional autonomy’. Sometimes this can result in teachers suffering from stress and seeking help for depressive disorders in disproportionate numbers.
Two years ago, I got a new colleague who set about restructuring our department. To my mind, she injected some badly needed systems, procedures and record-keeping which had the result of my feeling more professional and competent. With her backing, I sought and got a regrading of my post with the resultant (dramatic!) increase in salary. The trade off was an enormous increase in bureaucracy and occasional delays in service provision as a result of ensuring the paperwork is in order. I have sometimes decided to turn a blind eye to the threat of an external audit in order to ensure that a student receives urgently-needed support.
All of which suggests that a certain baseline of accountability is required in order to establish standards that can be adhered to and compared. After all, quality does not exist in a vacuum; it is only meaningful as a concept when two or more things are examined using the same criteria.But this need not be restrictive. Once the baseline is reached, they must be room for discretion and rule-bending.
And indeed, both she and I have formally chosen to break the ‘rules’ imposed on us from government agencies. We were upfront about our rationale and unapologetic about our decision. Far from being reprimanded, the new path that we beat was formally incorporated by the government agency the following year. This suggests that, while standards are imposed from without, the expertise of the professional is always within.