The Perception of Professionalism?

By Rejean Larouche
Department Head, Professional Issues

As an MTS staff officer, I get to travel across Manitoba and work with many wonderful teachers who are members of The Manitoba Teachers’ Society. What continually surprises me is the small percentage of teachers that do identify themselves as professionals. Now what I understand about being a professional is that one’s first and primary concern is his or her clients or in the case of teachers, to his or her students.  This is clearly reflected in the Society’s Code of Professional Practice that establishes standards of conduct for teachers.  The first of 13 standards of the Code states that “A teacher’s first professional responsibility is to her or his students” while the second indicates that “A teacher acts with integrity and diligence in carrying out professional responsibilities”.

When I question teachers on their self-perception around professionalism, they often mention that we are not like lawyers or doctors that have self-regulating bodies.  True.  As identified by the Canadian Teachers’ Federation, we do possess many characteristics that other professionals have such as:

  1. skills based on abstract knowledge;
  2. provision for training and education- university;
  3. certification requirements;
  4. a formal organization (MTS);
  5. a degree of autonomy in our practice;
  6. adherence to a code of practice;
  7. altruistic service.

The MTS Model based on the ABC’s of Teacher Autonomy in Professional Autonomy has been in policy for many years.  Professional autonomy is the quality or state of being independent and self-directing, especially in making decisions, enabling professionals to exercise judgment as they see fit in the performance of their jobs.  The promotion of the model has been successful where teachers’ voices have been clearly heard by employers concerning professional development matters and issues.  Please visit our website at www.mbteach.org in the Professional Issues section for more information.

The Educational Administration Act stipulates under PART V of the Responsibilities of Principals and Teachers, section 39(F), that a teacher is responsible for ongoing professional development. As professional, autonomous teachers, we have the right and the responsibility to collaboratively develop the capacity within school communities.  This is done by joint planning and execution of professional development activities.  The access to equitable professional development and resources does directly affect how teachers undertake and direct their own learning and enhance their professional practice (MTS – Teacher Autonomy in Professional Development – A primer).

After having had the opportunity to reflect on their perception and understanding of professionalism, I rejoice in confirming that the small percentage of teachers that had perceived themselves as professionals has grown into an overwhelming majority.  Chan, Fisher and Rubenson (The Evolution of Professionalim - 2007) mention that in Manitoba “the time is ripe for change, our educational partners are on board and what we need now is more infusion of capacity”. Would this infusion of capacity include teachers reclaiming professional autonomy?

Under the law, teachers are put on a pedestal where they are expected to conduct themselves in an exemplary manner at all times.  We are indeed professional teachers 24 hours a day and seven days a week.  Ruetter and Hamilton (Rights, Freedoms and the Education System in Canada – 1989) indicate that “It seems generally agreed among the courts that a teacher should serve as a good model for pupils.” The teacher’s “character of conduct may be expected to be above those of the average individual …”

Because many aspects of teaching are abstract in nature, it should not imply that teaching, and  therefore teachers, is any less professional than lawyers, doctors, chartered accountants or any other group of practitioners whom society readily deems “professional”.