Occupational Fields Of Teaching

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In practice, occupational fields possess these characteristics in varying degrees. Medicine, for example, could be said to meet most of these criteria and is generally regarded as a profession. Others, such as engineering, accounting, or nursing, meet fewer of them. Many occupations, such as carpentry and other building trades, and many computer and other technical fields have periods of apprenticeship and require the development of expertise that may be acquired on the job or through schooling, but they are not normally recognized as professions. Furthermore, external circumstances may affect the practice of a profession. For example, some physicians have found that rising costs and changes in the financing and administration of health care have compromised their autonomy. Box 3-2 provides information about efforts to professionalize other occupations.

A review of these criteria suggests that teaching has some, but not all, of the characteristics that social scientists associate with professions, and that the task force was correct in its judgment that teaching is not a full profession. On one hand, public school teachers are required to accumulate a body of technical expertise and usually do so in a school of education. A state-granted license is a requirement for employment in the public schools, although the field itself has only limited influence on the individual states' requirements for licensure. Teaching is also perceived as a calling with an ethical or moral component, perhaps to an even greater degree than other professions, because it involves close relationships with children and youth. In fact, teaching has been imbued with a moral purpose in most contexts.

On the other hand, teachers have been widely viewed as not possessing the degree of knowledge and expertise required of other professionals, and they do not have control over entry into the field or standards of practice. As employees of school districts and schools, public school teachers have comparatively little professional autonomy or control over the conditions in which they work. It is generally the case that teachers unions, rather than professional associations, protect and advance the interests of teachers, a situation that tends to reinforce teachers' status as employees, not professionals.

It is also worth noting that although most teachers before the 19th century were male, the field has been largely female for much of its history in the United States, and only since the 20th century has it edged toward greater gender balance (Sedlak and Schlossman, 1986). The perception of teaching as a women's field has not enhanced its status.

We note also that the goal of professionalizing teaching was articulated by the Carnegie task force and the national board at a time when professionalization was a topical concern in other fields as well. Other fields had been pushing to join the ranks of professions; a 1964 article identified social work, veterinary medicine, school teaching, nursing, and pharmacy, among others, as "in process" of becoming professions or "borderline" (Wilensky, 1964). Sociologists and others were also devoting attention to questions about the defining characteristics of professions, determining how professionals should be trained, and the intellectual relationship between research and professional practice (Schon, 1983; Wilensky, 1964). Thus, the proponents of professionalizing teachers were part of a trend, and they also faced some resistance from those who did not view the field as intellectually rigorous enough to join the ranks of the established professions.

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This article was published on 2011/04/21