Is Teaching A Profession?

(One of the arguments for a College of Teaching is that it will raise the status of teaching as a profession. Do I want teachers to have higher status as a profession?     


From the oldest profession to the newest ones ‘professionalisation’ takes its toll. Wage slavery sucking the life blood out of the servile ones, judging and being judged with payment justifying all crimes against the humane. Do we really see teaching as a profession, all tied into targets, managerialism, and ‘deliverology’? This is the lowest common denominator. What we want is the humane and wonderful, and for all to flourish in the day to day, by teaching children to know, to think, to question, to practice, to take part and to tell.

Many people fall into teaching, it seems to discover them rather than they discover it; for many it might be a last ditch attempt at a form of respectability and a regular wage. Then they discover a relationship with the work. Can one love teaching? We all hate it sometimes, but love it many times too. Teaching is emotional.

Teaching is not a profession, if it is anything it is a vocation: a calling (even a ‘falling’) it involves dedication which has its own sense of worth through its very nature. A vocation has more status than a mere profession. A vocation has a claim towards a teacher’s autonomy from the managerial machine. This machine likes to manipulate professionals, it requires efficiency and delivery and it won’t tolerate imagination or eccentricity. The machine is systematic and is therefore susceptible to the worst effects of science, whereas a vocation responds to emotion and is more at one with the arts. A teacher answering the call of vocation is drawn to Athena, she loves her subject and wants to share its knowledge, rather than the professional who submits to and obeys the machine, no matter what…

The machine should only exist to allow the best teaching to occur, unfortunately the machine has a voracious appetite and tries to gobble up the humane and replace it with mechanical instruction. It goes so far that many theorists of the machine led view of education want to replace teachers entirely with technology and its way of working. Sir Michael Barber thinks: “The learning revolution will lead to fewer teachers and an ‘explosion’ of data.” He wants us to follow Singapore rather than tradition and embrace a new paradigm. In this new paradigm professionals are clearly replaceable. Professionals are replaceable, that’s part of the deal.

People who have answered a call to become teachers are not replaceable. A vocation is a way of being, Barber cannot stop teachers teaching no matter how much data he can accrue.

Will an explosion of data lead to fewer parents? Will data bombs lead to fewer artists? Will data splat eradicate emotion?

The vocation of teaching would never see children or their parents as customers, a school is a valued institution, not a business.


Teaching is an art, not a science.

Teachers must love science but not be in thrall to it.

Teachers must value the machine that frees them, not the one that defeats them.

Teaching is a vocation, not a profession.

Data will not replace teachers… Don’t even let ‘them’ try.



(added 14th Dec. 2014) This post has generated a lot of debate on twitter, it is probably my most controversial posting so far, therefore I thought the following might help the debate…

The Oxford English Dictionary (online) defines profession as: A paid occupation, especially one that involves prolonged training and a formal qualification: ‘his chosen profession of teaching’; [TREATED AS SINGULAR OR PLURAL] A body of people engaged in a particular profession: the legal profession has become increasingly business-conscious

And it defines vocation as: A strong feeling of suitability for a particular career or occupation:
not all of us have a vocation to be nurses or doctors; A person’s employment or main occupation, especially regarded as worthy and requiring dedication: her vocation as a poet; She was also a teacher in inner city London – a vocation which requires real dedication. The teacher does not hold the prospect of wealth but is accorded respect for his vocation and dedication to the care of the young.

In the longer version of the online dictionary profession is described as vocation and vocation includes profession, over time they have become synonymous.

In the Chambers dictionary of etymology vocation is defined as a noun meaning: occupation, profession. Both profession and vocation have religious roots, profession, before about 1200, was the vow made by a person entering a religious order. Before 1430 vocation was a spiritual calling. Profession was a public declaration and a calling… in 1541 it took on the meaning of an occupation requiring professional skill or qualified training. In 1553 vocation is recorded for the first time as meaning one’s profession. 

Interestingly profession is connected to the word ‘professor’ e.g. a person who professes to be an expert in art or science and teacher of the highest rank.

Here is a piece about ‘vocation’ from a Catholic viewpoint.

There is clearly much confusion around and so when I try to separate the meanings difficulties arise. However, I believe this is a conversation worth having. I am making a distinction between the two, vocation, to me, is profession plus, profession, to me, is vocation minus… Meaning that the feeling one has for teaching is vital, the calling if you will. In a spiritual sense, in a secular age, I am thinking about how this calling should be about the ‘pursuit of wisdom’, the calling is from ‘Athena’ as defined in my talk: ‘Athena versus the Machine’.

As for whether education is an Art or a Science, this is an ongoing debate. Daniel T Willingham has an interesting video addressing this question.

3 thoughts on “Is Teaching A Profession?

  1. A profession is an age-old way of giving communities access to specialist expertise. Traditionally, a professional is someone who has a thorough grounding in the theory of their domain of expertise, has demonstrated their competence in the practical application of that that knowledge, and who is deemed sufficiently skilled by experts in their field to practice without supervision. Autonomy is a core feature of professionalism in the traditional sense. Professionalism is exactly the opposite of command-and-control bureaucratic systems that use targets, managerialism, and ‘deliverology’.

    Changes over time in the use of the word ‘professional’ don’t change the fundamental expertise-based concept of professionalism. Many teachers are professionals in the traditional sense, but teaching in the UK isn’t, as a whole, because whenever there has been a shortage of teachers, the system has relaxed the entry qualifications. True professions always maintain standards of expertise. That’s the point of them.

    I have seen no evidence to suggest Michael Barber has a good understanding of expertise, nor of the well-documented dysfunctions of bureaucracy. John Seddon’s critique of the target culture Barber fostered is well worth watching


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