For some background, this post is a response to a post from my beloved friend Art La Flamme, who posits that because teaching does not have one standard code of ethics and educators do not understand the whole field of education, it is not a profession. The references below to the military, law, and medicine relate to Art’s original statements.
A profession is a paid occupation, especially one that involves prolonged training and a formal qualification. That’s teaching. Teaching is a profession.
A military code of ethics is a little difficult to compare to education when you consider that of all the military branches, of all the fields, of all the differences, there is only one employer. So the US military has a code. Would you say that mercenaries also follow the US military code of ethics?
Most states acknowledge that teachers are local employees, and when you throw year-to-year contracts into it, there are many locals that do not treat educators as employees but contract laborers. So who makes the code of ethics? The employer? The state? A union? An association? The parents? While you cite a variety of codes and state that “there is no consistency, there is no commonality,” that’s incorrect. Teachers’ codes of ethics are very similar, and I think it’s unfair to say that teaching in one area is a totally different ballgame from another. Twitter PLNs wouldn’t exist if that were true. Educators connect internationally because, internationally, education is the same.
Once you get past having a code, enforcing the code is the next step. Lawyers can be disbarred. Doctors can have their licenses revoked. The military has dishonorable discharge. Teaching has code enforcement; while apparently we have no standard code, states have no problem revoking licenses for violations of their code of ethics. Teachers do not stand with those who cheat on tests, assault and molest kids, or otherwise violate ethical expectations.
The part-and-whole argument is difficult for me to grasp because that is something I can do, and I do it all the time. But before my day job required it, when I was becoming a teacher, I shared classes with elementary educators, high school educators, special educators, technology specialists, even a nurse. Our professors counseled us the way you counseled new recruits. When I taught middle schoolers, I could still tell you what tests the high school students took, what tests the elementary students took, what norm-referenced tests the special ed. department used, and what signatures IEPs and 504s require and who on the team needed to be at the meeting. I could tell a 6th grader who wanted to be a soldier that he’d better pay attention because the ASVAB was only five years away, and there’s not a lot of time to catch up, so you’d better pay attention.
Hell, I knew the field trip paperwork, bookkeeper, and transportation supervisor so well, for two years I filled out virtually every field trip request form for my entire middle school because I could do it the fastest. Now that I’ve taken the steps to become an administrator, I can explain central office workings as well. I can bore you with education law, professional liability insurance, and the difference between fiscally dependent and independent districts.
Now, you could argue that the profession needs more standardization, but so did medicine and law at one point. The difference between other professions and education is that in other professions, the expert is an expert in something that isn’t your child (law, military, banking) or obviously has access to tools that you don’t have (medicine). To think that someone is more of an expert in the topic of Your Child is insulting, and most people don’t realize the tools that educators have access to. But teachers are experts in learning and child development and child psychology. That’s the profession. We are experts in children, generic.
You talk about the point when it stops being a job and starts being a profession. Sometime around the time when a kid throws up on you, or you’re cleaning poop out of a keyboard, or you’re admonishing a thirteen-year-old girl about poor decision-making and “Do you plan to end up pregnant before you hit high school? Because that’s the path you’re on,” or you’re making a giant Get Well card for the student having major leg surgery so he can continue walking, or you’re planning a party because all of your students can read now!!! or you’re sitting in your classroom on your duty-free lunch crying with The Bad Kid about his alcoholic father, or you’re standing in a hallway for an hour keeping your students calm by explaining that in a real tornado situation, you’d be on the ground too and it must be those little kids not doing the drill right, knowing full well that your building is in the path of a confirmed tornado, or you’re explaining to the top student why he can’t say to his biracial friend, “You’re not very black,” or you’re attending a student’s funeral – at some point, education isn’t Just a Job. I’m told education has a really terrible retention rate; I assume it’s because the people who want an easy job hit that transition moment and run like hell. And I’m glad they do; the last thing I want my child experiencing is a hard year with a clock-puncher.
So you can equate your child’s teacher to a part-time mechanic at Jiffy Lube or a knowledgeable, ethical professional who would literally die for your child if necessary. I know which I prefer.