Reprofessionalising Teachers

What do doctors do?

They specialise in certain fields, they engage in research. They become knowledgeable in diagnosing, treating, and monitoring. The public know this, and respect the profession.

Doctors engage in public health campaigns to educate the public. They appear on TV shows to give expert opinions. They challenge unhealthy lifestyles. They feel no shame in engaging with industry and academia for the purpose of research.

Doctors hold themselves to high standards. Their professional bodies examine best-practice and disseminate it. They measure success rates and survival rates – not just while the patients are in hospital but they are often monitored for years after. If there is a failure and a patient dies, there is a post-mortem, and the failure is thoroughly analysed and lessons (usually) learned.

So what do the public think us teachers do? My entirely anecdotal responses:

  • We have long holidays (first thing people mention to me).
  • We teach kids stuff (i.e. we write stuff on the board and kids copy it down and ‘learn’ it)
  • We tell off naughty kids (they say “I just don’t know how you cope with all those kids, I think I’d want to kill ’em”)
  • We spend evenings marking work.
  • We’re quite sweet really (“I think it’s great what you do, you’re so dedicated – you’d have to be really.”)
  • We moan about the government a lot, and about our workload, and about the kids… and their parents (“Going on strike again are you? Holidays not long enough eh? Hah!”)
  • We’re dedicated, some people think we’re probably fairly clever but a bit mad
  • A lot of people remember teachers from their school days – a couple of teachers they loved, and lots of teachers they hated.
  • We are cogs in a ‘failing system’. The public have totally bought the tabloid line that education is in crisis.
  • Our views are entirely represented by our vocal unions who are seen (often) “as fairly introverted and self-serving” (a great quote from Nick Wells, @NSMWells)

People do, of course, say lots of other positive things about teachers, but I do think this represents a good slice of public opinion. Add on top of that the general feeling that kids are rioting and exams are totally devalued and you have a toxic mix.

How did we let this happen?

It’s all too easy to point the finger of blame – the government, the unions, maybe even parents. I’m certainly not an expert in the history of education (although I’d love to hear informed opinions on how we got to this point). However, I’d like to suggest that we should take a long, hard look at the medical profession, learn some lessons, and start doing something about it.

Here are some suggestions for starters.

  1. Found (by ourselves, not government) a new association of education professionals. This would be an entirely non-union and non-government body whose job is to represent the interests of quality education for all. It should aim to become the dominant and expert voice, as the British Medical Association (and AMA, etc.) has become in medicine. It would include representatives from all teaching unions, education professional associations, but mostly be made up from fantastic, expert teaching professionals and researchers.
  2. Begin public information campaigns about how we learn, and how we can help our children become more successful adults. Engage with the media to create and run more newspaper columns, tv shows, blogs, etc. which entertain and educate the public about learning.
  3. Invest properly in long-term outcomes research to find out which schools are creating confident, competent, successful adults, and which are churning out exam statistics.
  4. Forge strong links with business and universities and create centres of expertise in new understanding of teaching and learning, and new technologies.
  5. Engage with all the professional bodies to start creating new ways of teaching more effectively that utilise our brightest and best teachers, and acknowledge and reward expertise and advancement, rather than time spent at the ‘chalk face’. Perhaps we could allow, for example, Junior Teachers, Chartered Teachers, Consultant Teachers?

You may not agree with all the ideas, and I agree that much of this would be resisted by teacher unions, but I cannot help but think that this is the correct way forward.

I’d very much welcome your thoughts, opinions, criticism, etc.

5 Replies to “Reprofessionalising Teachers”

  1. One of the reasons why this is difficult to achieve is the sense that teachers work for, and are ‘owned by’ their school rather than belonging to a national network of educationalists. Being a ‘National Health Service’ has meant that doctors usually see themselves as a professional who just so happens to work at a particular hospital, unit or research centre at any one time. Teachers tend not to think so independently and are increasingly encouraged not to do so by schools that won’t give time for PD activities or allow you to share resources with other schools [I can’t tell you the amount of colleagues who have recently said they can’t share materials because their Head now ‘sells’ their work to others].

    One thing doctors can do that is more difficult for teachers is manage their time independently – they are able to move around appointments, and be more flexible about when they see people. In GP practice, for example, one can cover another GP reasonably easily – or in surgery one can book our days when you will not see patients – in order to take part in PD activities. This is not the same in education and is something that needs to be thought about.

    Some simple things could come across from Medicine into practice though. I agree that Post-Mortems are important, but also ’rounds’ are a highly effective way of sharing information and asking questions of each others practices. I know you are keen on sharing data and working collaboratively – I do wonder whether teachers should be expected to give a ’round’ at least once a week where they give a quick summary of where a class is up to, discuss their current thinking about what they are doing to improve the class and invite question/comment from others.

  2. I find many of your ideas very intriguing – and would love to discuss them further.

    The idea of having one, non-ideological, professional, representative teaching body is an alluring one. I agree with you that some (especially those who have defined themselves along union lines) will find the concept hard to stomach!

    Let’s use some of our “long holidays” to move this idea forward, David! DM me on Twitter for other contact details…

  3. I have to agree with a lot of what Laura is saying. Teaching – or good teaching anyway- is totally consuming and leaves little time for other work. I do not know the work of Doctor well, but I do not get the sense of planning, marking and all the other demands that modern education makes of it’s teachers. In fact one of the issues seems to be balancing the NHS day job with more lucrative private work… A sweeping generalisation that I almost apologise for.

    When think of the time my colleagues spend in roles that are tangential to what happens in the classroom I am bowled over by two things. The first is how much they care about INDIVIDUAL students and the second is how much they are prepared to do to support those INDIVIDUALs beyond what we might regard as “teaching”.

    In my experience parents DO recognise this (for the most part) and are wholly appreciative. Some media and this government have not been able to see this work and this is why we are having the debate we are.

    In my opinion teaching is every bit as skilled and professional as other roles. So we do need to build on your point 2. The trouble is that everyone has a view on teaching based on their misunderstanding of what we do. There is a general perception you have to go to a doctor to get better, but anyone can teach… “I help my kids with their homework, how hard can it be” attitude that misses the point and skill of the modern teacher…

  4. One problem with your thoughts might be that it may create yet another layer of administration & separation. Even the terminology “professional” places the teacher outside rather than within.

    Change comes through collective action; sharing and collaboration should be at the heart of the education process.

    The development of a school that is used as a resource base for the social and the community can help achieve this.

  5. Thought provoking blog, you definitely have some very interesting points. It’s great to look outside the teaching profession to draw inspiration from others, such as doctors. Laura points out some of the important difficulties of this though. Time and budgetary constraints mean that teachers are unlikely to be able to do ‘rounds’ in the same way as doctors, but I think enabling teachers to “discuss their current thinking about what they are doing to improve the class and invite question/comment from others.” Is really important in terms of PD. Technology does make this easier, with video for example teachers can film their lessons and share will colleagues to reflect on, analyse and share their practice.

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