What does it mean to be professional?
I never believed that having credentials following my name earned me the right to be called a professional. On the other hand professional athletes are not all college graduates. Often comparisons are made with how hard teachers work or their tremendous responsibility for shaping young minds. Surely teachers qualify as professionals if we mean white collar.
How hard do professionals work?
My brother is a surgeon who works about 70 hours per week and is usually on call. So am I. I choose to be available on to my students and families on that basis because I have the time and enjoy it. There are also doctors and teachers who self-impose limits on their work hours. There are contexts which create pressure to work those kinds of hours and contexts that do not. We all know teachers who race the students out the door and rarely bring home work, but does that make them less than professional? In a professional environment, should those who are all in be treated differently than those who compartmentalize? How so? Can we quantify that?
Are the demands on teachers unreasonable?
There is no doubt in my mind that what is commonly expected of the public school teacher is logistically impossible. My students’ parents are often surprised to learn I do not grade all 20 questions of 120 math homework assignments along with tests, explorations, and exit slips every day. Suppose I spent 3 minutes grading and recording each homework assignment. That would be six hours after a seven-hour day. But unreasonable expectations are becoming widespread in companies all across the US. If we focus on what we cannot do, most of us will be miserable.
How are professionals compensated?
My brother cares for the body, I care for the mind. He makes a lot more money than I do but he also went to school until his mid thirties and graduated with huge debt. On the other hand, he makes a lot more money than I do or ever will. He loves his job and I love mine. Even with Obamacare, our society still has some choice in health care but has little choice about taxes to pay for school. Teachers are never going to flip that around. Our society values their health and remains unconvinced that paying more taxes will help children’s minds. So if a teacher is unable to live contently within the pay grade, the only options I see are to get a different job. Being short of cash day in and day out is no way to live and expending energy fighting for the union is not the reason I went into teaching. University of Missouri is now staffed with around 80% adjunct (temporary, part-time) instructors. Adjunct math instructors are some of the best because they are into it solely for the love of teaching. In my mind, they are most definitely professionals. Is it fair to pay them less than minimum wage for the hours they put in if part of their motivation is that teaching is a fun hobby? Why should students pay higher tuition for full-time, well compensated instructors when so many are willing to help save the students money? Is this an issue where I want to get paid well for doing what I love no matter what it costs someone else? Please don’t hate me: I’m just asking.
What does it matter?
Because some teachers race their students to the door, use up their sick time because they can, and mentally check out of professional development, I am subjugated to administrative checks and accountability that seem demeaning at times. I feel profiled. When I sincerely need a way out of a norm, I find exceptions are nearly impossible because once the precedence is set, many more teachers will abuse it. From talking with other professionals, rigid expectations are becoming more common in other workplaces, as well. In my opinion, it is because fewer people believe there will be any kind of reckoning beyond that of their existential context (e.g. truth and justice are relative to the perspective of individuals so there is no fear of God). I am never going to flip that around.
Why I still feel like a professional
I have time to go beyond the classroom and invest in broader impact. I’m working on my Ed.D., have National Board Certification, contract with Ed Reports, and participate in global discussions online. Every day I skim the headlines of education news and read 2-3 articles of importance. I understand what the issues are. I cheer on my administrators and district staff because I know their goals and initiatives for student achievement are backed by the news and research I read. Because I understand the issues and can read pertinent research, we are able to exchange ideas on a level professional plane. This does not make me a better presenter/communicator than the teacher in the next room, nor does it mean I care more or better for my students. It just feels different.
Why I don’t recommend doing what I do
Most teachers have many responsibilities and joys outside the classroom. To do what I do could mean having horrible priorities. Most teachers have families and others who need their time. They may be coaches or have hobbies they love that have nothing to with education. When I was their age, I was a stay-at-home mom working part-time as a secretary. Few in my life were less professional than I, but I felt loved and appreciated. Feeling loved and appreciated is ultimately what we are all looking for. Sometimes we are looking in the wrong places.