Is teaching a profession or a trade?

‘When this question was posed by a speaker at a recent conference, I was somewhat blindsided’, says Luke Dunn, director of technology at Cheadle Hulme School

Is teaching a profession or is it a trade? When this question was posed by a speaker at a recent conference, I was somewhat blindsided. As a society, we have an unspoken agreement that teaching isn’t simply a profession, it’s the most noble of such.

Yet in the vast majority of UK independent schools and academies, very few formal qualifications are required to teach; neither a degree nor a postgraduate qualification are prerequisites. Unlike doctors, accountants and lawyers, any individual with significant personal experience can simply persuade a school to employ them as a teacher.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Banksy suddenly revealed his or her identity and offered to work at Cheadle Hulme School? Would we really say ‘no’ if such an iconic individual offered to teach our children regardless of their own level of formal education?

On this basis, is teaching a profession, or does it simply require ‘professional behaviour’? Professional behaviour and membership of a profession are far from intertwined. I’m not for a minute suggesting teachers shouldn’t behave in a professional manner.

Being ‘in loco parentis’ is the overarching purpose of our role; to act as parents to the children of others. We must behave and act in a professional manner, but so must a bank clerk, delivery driver or care home worker. Does that qualify those roles as professions?

Teaching requires a whole range of skills to achieve effective outcomes. Some are innate, some are learned, some are academic, some are interpersonal. It’s a decathlon of sorts and whilst few, if any, will ever be true experts in every discipline, the vast majority will achieve solid results through sheer grit, determination and the gradual acquisition of a range of abilities over time. Teaching is about wisdom and patience as much as it is energy and drive.

On this level, teaching has more in common with a skilled trade, and I have no objection to this description: a teacher has the proud status of a master craftsperson whose talent is the result of intense practice.

Teaching is about wisdom and patience as much as it is energy and drive. On this level, teaching has more in common with a skilled trade

We have the ability to interpret, contextualise and utilise baseline data – not just to interpret it, but to be beaten with it when the results don’t stack up. All data should be utilised within a broader context. The ability to use it wisely in the planning of lessons and in reaction to both short and long-term outcomes can only be a good thing. It creates an open and honest dialogue surrounding pupils’ abilities and our expectations.

Our assessment design skills are continuously developed: just because someone can teach, doesn’t mean they are naturally able to design a robust assessment. The two are very different skill sets and precious little time is invested in training teachers en masse in how to design assessments.

Terms such as ‘construct irrelevant variance’ should be as commonplace as ‘particular learning needs’ – they are fundamentally as important as each other. It’s not simply a handful of principal examiners across the country that possess the ability to write a great exam.

We have confidence and skill with information technology but we shouldn’t assume that people are digitally literate simply because we have access to digital tools. We invest in our own development and in the development of others in order to harness the power of the tools we’re given.

The average employee loses around 8% of their productive time due to poor IT resources or inadequate personal computer skills. That’s too big an elephant in the room to ignore, particularly for individuals as pressed for time as teachers are.

And last, but most definitely not least, our effective behaviour management techniques are essential for effective teaching. These techniques should be discussed openly and reinforced regularly and we should never be afraid of ongoing debate and regular training.

Is teaching a profession? It’s certainly a divisive question. I admit to being defensive and slightly insulted when this question was originally posed to me. However, I’ve come to not only embrace the description, but be proud of the fact that I am a skilled tradesperson.

It would, after all, explain the addiction to all those biscuits and tea.

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