donderdag 14 maart 2013

Teaching, professionalism and responsibility

Is teaching a profession? Many teachers and many others writing on education seem to consider it a very important issue. Of course, as teachers, we want to be taken seriously, we want to be heard, we want to influence education policy.

But why is it important that we are considered professionals? It can be argued quite reasonably that teaching is not a profession. Personally, I cannot be bothered whether it is or it isn't.

In my view, what is more important, is that teachers as well as politicians and all who mediate between them, come to the understanding that the responsiblity for the educational process lies with the teacher. If anything hinders him in doing what needs to be done, than he is the one responsible to raise the matter with his colleagues, his schoolleader, with administrators, policy makers and politicians.

It is the job of the teacher to take care of the development of his pupils. He is closest to that process, and if he cannot do what in his judgment needs to be done, then it is his responsiblity to raise the alarm.

This understanding of teacher responsibility has consequences for the way teachers see themselves, and also for the way schoolleaders, administrators and policy makers relate to teachers. 

It means, that teachers should examine themselves and their educational practice in order to find what needs to be done, what is their task, what they judge to be the meaning of good education and the meaning of quality. It means teachers ought to learn to formulate their thoughts on these issues and argue reasonably in dialogues with their colleagues and superiors, seeking a common ground to foster good education.  A common ground - to be sure - that will always leave room for further discussion.
Someone said: "But research has shown what good education is, so what is this all about?" In my opinion, that is quite an irresponsible thing to say. Quality and the good are subjects that can never be decided on once and for all. And that is not a problem, as long as we take our responsibility and keep talking about it, openly. It becomes precarious as soon as we assume that the meaning of these terms is fixed, and that we all know without saying what they mean. It becomes precarious when we stop asking questions about the current interpetation of them. 
Responsibility also means, that the teacher cannot hide behind all external attributions he could think of to explain why he cannot do what is needed for the development of his pupils (too high a workload, lack of intelligence in the pupil, behavioural issues of the pupil, class size, social background of the school population, incompetent schoolleaders, misguided politicians, onreasonable inspection...). No matter what, it is his responsiblity to climb the barricades and protest if he judges that the way things are organized is wrong, and to defend what he thinks - and is able to argue - that is right.

On the other hand, responsibility also means that schoolleaders, administrators, the gouvernement and its advisors should act in service of the teachers, and that they should lend their ear to the teachers with trust in their critical thinking and their ability to take prime responsibility for the educational process.

If at this moment in time it may be so, that not all teachers deserve this trust, it is my belief that those who cannot bear the responsibility will soon disconnect as soon as they are burdened with this trust, whereas the good teachers, the responsible teachers, will finally find that they are taken seriously, and they will flourish.

Whether they are called professionals or not, is not what it is about for these teachers. They wish to speak freely and they wish to be heard. They want to shape education and education policy. They do not want incidental consultation, but to be full partners in the dialogue that is conducted at the highest level about what is needed in education, what is the pedagogical assignment of society, what is good education and how we will go about realising our common goals. 

1 opmerking:

  1. Dit is een mooie reactie op het idee van professionalisering. Positief gebracht en toch kritisch. We moeten denk ik inderdaad oppassen dat professionaliseren en verantwoordelijkheid geen loze kreten gaan worden. Daar is het veel te mooi en belangrijk voor.