A Year Ago

I wrote:

I can count on one hand the number of educators I’ve met (in real life or around here) who believe that hard work trumps passion in this job, that the latter follows the former, that caring’s the easy part, that “passion” has become loosely defined through overuse. And even then I’d have three fingers I wouldn’t know what to do with.

Our shot at professional credibility still seems like a long one but in the week preceding my last post I read some extremely encouraging assessments of teaching’s present and future state. I bring you excerpts.

Marc Dean Millot

Marc Dean Millot puts the professionalism angle to rest with an outstanding twofer:

His model of peer review is a stunning display of good sense.

Assume a teacher is charged with the educational equivalent of malpractice after a half dozen students failed to achieve proficiency as measured by state tests. The educator’s case would be reviewed by his peers, against a standard of care established by teachers, applied to the circumstances surrounding these six students.

Like a lawyer or doctor, he would not be accountable for student failure per se. The professional question would be whether this teacher did what any teacher should have done in this situation with these students.

What a teacher “should” do will obviously be the subject of intense debate, but the question is far from unanswerable.

He ends with a glance at my bedside diary:

It seems to me that teachers should not only welcome this approach to a review of their individual performance; they should be clamoring for it.

Grant Wiggins

Over at The Faculty Room, Grant Wiggins places blame for teacher attrition on the equal compensation (financial and otherwise) enjoyed by good and bad teachers alike, as imposed by their union, which, of course, puts this all back on NCLB.

We will never attract the best and brightest in large numbers under typical school working conditions. And as long as union contracts keep up the fiction that we are equals, that we are “all” professionals, then teachers will be treated more as laborers than experts with appropriate executive control over important decisions. (Don’t you see that as long as we are all equals, there can never be 6-figure pay for the really excellent among us?) We are going to need 2 million teachers soon. Anyone who truly values creative control, collegial collaboration, and professional decision-making opportunities would properly think twice about teaching as a career — even if those of us who still think of teaching as a calling are offended.

George Parker

The president of the Washington Teachers’ Union offers a self-recriminating op-ed which goes just to the line of saying, “Our priorities have sucked.”

As president of the Washington Teachers’ Union, I have a duty to represent more than 4,000 teachers. I also have a responsibility to work with our schools chancellor to improve the learning environment for students and teachers. At times it may appear that my duties of teacher advocacy and management collaboration conflict, which is not the case. The old-school paradigm of union rigidity must give way to a new-school approach of working productively with school leaders to improve student achievement.

Sarah Weisz

Sarah Weisz worries we scare off a lot of talent by obliterating “training” at the expense of “calling” in this job.

When we think about attracting new people to the profession, people who may want very much to teach without feeling “born to teach,” I think it’s important that we make a place in the rhetoric for them, too.

Deborah Meier


To dramatically improve schools, we need to transform the profession–making it attractive to thinkers and do-ers.

Maybe We’re Better Off Without Them

I won’t ask you to alter your vision for this job to reflect mine. I won’t even put a value – positive or negative – on either vision. I will make two closing claims, though:

  1. You likely overestimate the intersection of those visions. It makes sense to me – intellectually and anecdotally – that the teachers who are most motivated by the intangible rewards of this job will most resent tangible assessments of their performance. Moreover, whatever improbable combination of the two you harbor in your heart, the predominate rhetoric surrounding teaching emphasizes intangible calling over tangible training.
  2. Both groups inflict profit and loss on teaching but, put plainly, any corps that emphasizes emotional feelgoodery over the scientific method (to the overwhelming extent that teaching has) will suffer the endless resignation of effective, coldhearted curmudgeons.
I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. I’m fairly new to the teaching thing. I’m still figuring it out.

    What I do know, though, is that the teachers i see complaining that they’re not being treated professionally are the ones who would absolutely fail if they had to work in a true professional environment.

    Maybe I’ll go complain to my union guy tomorrow.

  2. dan are you an effective coldhearted curmudgeon?

    i’m committed to being an effective teacher, and i know that i have a ways to go. but i laugh out loud at least once per lesson. middle schoolers are just plain old nuts. does that make me less effective, to show what i’m thinking / feeling more often than not?

  3. I find myself the happiest (I’d say fulfilled but I hate that word) when I have a combo of passion (chucking what was planed and winging it because it seems better/right/different/fun) and professionalism (well thought out planned lessons/activities). My struggle is with the %s. I’m a better teacher when I’m well prepared, but I have this ‘wing-it” mentality that has led to some great classes/weeks as my kids and I make up a lesson/project on the fly. (And I must confess some real duds that leave me swearing to never do that again…until next time.)

    I also work for a non-profit overseas organization (average class size…6, multi-grade, I teach in the 7-10 grade range) I think I couldn’t get away with what I do in a more ‘normal’ system.

  4. In general I agree with the idea that we as educators need to embrace more rigorous professionalism.

    What I don’t understand is the underlying tone of disregard or denigration of teaching as a calling. Dan, you say, “motivated by the intangible rewards of this job will most resent tangible assessments of their performance” – I don’t see the logic. I think you are assuming you understand other teachers’ motivation and that type of assumption is dangerous. I know teachers of the “hippy dippy” variety that seem to be motivated by a cosmic love of their students (or some other intangible) – and they hold incredibly high standards for both student achievement and their own professionalism.

    Which doctor would you rather go to? The consumate professional motivated by status, profesionalism and external reward, or the doctor with a love of healing (a ‘call’ to heal) that _due to their calling_ are highly motivated in their professionalism, training, etc?

    I want the healer over the medical technician, just as I want the teacher over the instructing technician.

    I think this discussion is entering the area of holistic, systems theory versus scientific analysis.

    or to put it more simply –

    teaching children is an effort of love and that love drives the teaher to be the best they can.

  5. Why can’t the scientific method lead to emotional feel-goodery? Your argument is comparing two separate things (a method and a motivating factor). It absolutely does not stand to reason that a person with a particular motivation will almost always eschew a particular method. I know many teachers who are so ruthlessly scientific in their approach precisely because it leads them to the land of good feelings. But that too is anecdotal evidence. Logic, however, is not on your side here.
    Are you merely saying that teachers who never plan their lessons and just assume that their love for their students will carry the day are less effective than those that work hard every day to better themselves? Because that’s kinda obvious. I am distressed by the dismissive attitude of “rational” and “scientific” teachers towards anyone who seeks more from their career than the satisfied feeling of a job well done. We have enough division in the profession as it is.
    We do need to stress rational methods of teaching (I completely agree that this is not being done nearly enough). We do need to improve the efficacy of the training young teachers receive. We do need to strengthen our standards of professional assessment. But I have yet to see anything to convince me that we need to censor motivational rhetoric.

  6. To clarify my argument above (since I made a bit of a leap): I am assuming that following the scientific method to teaching demands a preference for stronger professional assessment standards. Thus the scientific teacher who works hard (and scientifically) because he gets warm fuzzies from seeing his students engaged in the material would welcome scrutiny both because he wants to become more effective and because he knows that he has nothing to fear.

  7. I would disagree with the articles by Marc Dean Millot in one respect…

    Arguably the most successful, cost effective enterprise in the world is the computer industry. Inarguably, the inhabitants of this endeavor are degreed but decidedly unlicensed. This group of folks have brought exponential improvements year after year with exponential decreases in consumer costs.

    Where they differ from our ‘industry’ is they inhabit a world of relentless competition, externally and internally. That, it would seem, is a mechanism completely capable of self policing. I would make the observation that public education is an example of hijacked language. The only thing public about it is the way it is paid for. Outsiders have little to no clue how it works (or not).

    Give me 30 kids and the $300,000 per year to accompany them and I’ll get them an education that will get them into any college in the country. I’ll put up a new building every year to house them and after 13 years I’ll sell all the buildings and have enough money to put them through college. And oh by the way I’ll pay a team of teachers twice what they get now in the process.

    I’m convinced that you could plunk a 19th century teacher in today’s classroom and they would get along just fine. As long as reform is being forced to happen inside the creaky structure we have today, it aint gonna’ happen!

  8. The rhetoric is a constant frustration for me, because I know I certainly don’t feel called to be a teacher. I just like it.

    But because it dominates the faculty lounge, I feel forced to sing along. I feel sick afterward.

  9. @jeffreygene, I’m not saying efficacy demands coldheartedness. I’m saying the rhetoric surrounding teaching disenfranchises a lotta talented folks whose motivations for teachings don’t print easily on a coffee mug.

    @bcarrera, I admit immediately to a ratio between a tangible scientific method and an intangible ethic. There has to be a balance. That balance, whatever it is, is nowhere to be found in the edublogospheric writing.

    @jon, so jealous of you edulawyers right now. Awfully serendipitous post over there.

    @matt, “teaching children is an effort of love” is the sort of presumptive rhetoric I worry keeps a certain talented, though emotionally cool, crowd from picking up the chalk. I mean, teaching is only an effort of love as long as good/bad teachers practice side-by-side, compensated by the same measure. If a peer review board maintained minimum competency and if teachers made into the high-five/low-six figures, how weird would “teaching children is an effort of love” sound.

    @q, I can’t bring myself to claim there aren’t teachers who traffic in both tangible/intangible methods to this madness. I will claim (again) that the teaching PR machine favors one side of the spectrum heavily, if only because it’s just tough to write a compelling rant or an enthusiastic puff piece on effective data-based decision making. Not that I haven’t tried.

    @paul b, you have that blog up and running yet?

  10. Dan:

    LOL. I fired it up this week. It’s not ready for prime time yet but you’ll be the second to know.

  11. When we speak about these issues, and the differences we perceive in and among educators, I think we’re seeing a difference in means vs. ends.

    Those that pen poor poetry, hang apple-themed decorations celebrating the role of teacher, and make a mess of staff meetings every time their hearts bleed all over the floor, see the relationships, caring, and (gosh!) love as the end to all the work they do. That’s why they man a desk. They see this is as a high, pure, clean reason to do the job, and all the talk of gross, impersonal data just devalues and un-romanticizes the relationship building and the connecting and the life-changing, like spray-paint on the Venus de Milo. Think Pirsig’s romantic quality vs. classical quality. The traffic in the currency of caring, but it’s a limited caring that, in the name of whole person supporting, never seems to get around to the academic aspect of that whole person.

    On the other hand are educators who, far from rejecting the power and importance of relationships, see them as means to a greater end: achievement. Fist-pounds, and back-slaps, and smiles, and jokes, and the kid who comes back three years later with big grins and cool updates are all well and good, say the educators in this group, but if those things don’t take us closer to learning and advancing and progressing academically, then we’re just camp counselors with delusions of grandeur. To the extent this get-along-so-they-learn thing is a manipulation, they’re fine with that. They teach manipulate their asses off, daily. Not that they could get away with manipulating in the absence of verifiable connections; kids can smell that kind of rat a mile off.

    Why are we here, truly? What gets your rocks off? I love when my IB kids come back, those achievement gap closing kids, to invite me to events and graduations. It’s great when I get asked to the quincenera or the football game. Even the shitty times, the times you have to go to the hospital to see your kid with his stomach stapled back together after a stabbing, or see your guy, the one you teach for, incarcerated and asking for books, those are the times you remember, and talk about when people ask why you do what you do.

    But you talk about them because that’s what people understand. What they don’t understand is how you feel when you see the CST quintile pie-chart, and it’s so eff-ing full of green (interquintile growth) that you cannot sit in a seat and you run out and get drunk on whiskey because that’s what you did together. What they don’t understand is how you feel when you hand kids the first essay they wrote, and place it next to the final essay, and watch their faces because that’s what you did together. What they don’t understand is maybe those invitations — to football games, and parties, and graduations, and jail cells — wouldn’t be as forthcoming if the other part wasn’t there, vibrant and strong.

    I received a student survey back at the end of my second year. It’s the most valuable piece of paper I own. The kid ripped me a new one, strongly disagreeing all the way down the page. On the back, in the comment section, she wrote:

    “I hated this teacher. I don’t know why, but I just did. He thinks he’s funny, but he’s not. He gets butt-hurt about everything.”

    Then there’s a five-line pause, and she writes these last two sentences, which allowed me to calm down over the next four years, and do this job much, much better:

    “But I gotta admit he’s a damn good teacher. He taught me, like, everything.”

    See, I’ve taught far more kids like this, kids who didn’t come ready to be cool with me, who didn’t need it and didn’t want it. Kids who’ll never come back and visit, kids I never saw again (except that time her brother was being put in the back of a cop car), but you still have the opportunity to teach them, like, everything.

  12. When I was taking my Diversity in Education class, the teacher brought in a middle-aged African-American educator who said, “If you are in teaching because you want to be ‘friends’ with the kids, you need to become a camp counselor and stay out of this profession. You aren’t here to be their friend.” She was dead-on about that assessment, but I’ve actually seen very few teachers who have made that mistake in my now almost 10 years teaching. I’ve seen teachers who had agendas that were more about their notions, than what the kids needed. Teachers who were surprised that students seemed ungrateful at what they were offering, and teachers who liked the idea of being a teacher, but weren’t good, or didn’t actually enjoy teaching.

    Passion (either too much or not enough) rarely seems to be a problem. I think you are right that not having standards, practices, procedures, and other professional ways of doing things is a problem (and I’ve experienced that). I think you can be very passionate, but also very focused and professional, it’s not an either-or. For myself, I find that going through professional routines helps when my passion flags more than the other way around, but that’s me. Other folks I’ve taught with find that passion helps them be focused and professional through trying times in the classroom. I’m not fond of the “Mary Englebriet” aesthetic myself, but most of the teachers I’ve run across who subscribe to it are pretty standards focused.

    I’ve read a lot of the articles you cited (have to check out that one from Washington) and they were good. Probably blog on this myself.

    You’ve come pretty much straight into teaching rather than going through other professions/careers first. I don’t know if you can appreciate how different I (and others may) feel about teaching (a career I love) in comparison to my other professional experiences, and how important “passion” for this job and my students is in my job satisfaction (it’s not the whole thing, but it is a big part).

    I don’t want to sound dismissive of you, because you are asking some very good and important questions and getting a lot of interesting comments.

  13. @TMAO, according to a quick Amazon query you haven’t written that book yet. What gives.

    @Alice, again, this is less about how anyone actually experiences teaching and more about how the current teaching PR offers little purchase to someone who, say, is looking for a challenging job post-college but who doesn’t feel an overwhelming burden for these kids.

  14. I’ve thought that standards and demonstrable outcomes are a way to demonstrate success and professionalism. It seems as if many teachers espouse professionalism — but it’s the ‘I know best’, one room school house model — it’s not’s a best practice, out-come based, value added, with honest feedback about practice.

    As one who “evaluated” teachers for 15 or more years, I found it rare that the process resulted in meaningful feedback. Often, teachers are more concerned whether the teacher in the classroom next door allows students to use the bathroom, wear hats, or chew gum in class–compared to how much learning is actually happening in the classroom.

    I don’t think NCLB influences the teaching profession much one way or the other. The union certainly does, but I’m unsure about models of competitive pay.

    Given the right group of 30 students, $300K per year would work great for 30 students. Ofcourse, many schools don’t get that amount per students, and public schools take every student, including those with expensive disabilities, criminals, and more.

  15. As a trained scientist, I cringe whenever I see “scientific method” applied to teaching. I have books upon books, provided to me as part of my in house professional development about scientifically tested strategies to teach students. True, a robotic Direct Curriculum isn’t WORSE than what we are doing now, but nor is it BETTER.

    Everyone is different. Therefore, everyone needs different strategies to meet their needs. Much like a doctor adjusting medications for individual patients, we teachers are professionals, adjusting strategies for individual students.

    But if you make teachers professionals, then you have to take away NCLB and high-stakes testing. Teachers are professionals much like dentists are professionals. To determine a teacher’s efficacy by the results of test scores by their students would be the same as judging a dentist’s efficacy by the number of their patients who (really and truly) floss every night.

    And I’m more than ready to be a professional by the same standards a dentist has to meet:
    (1) Professional qualifying test. Yep. In my state we call it the Praxis and I scored within the top 10% in the nation.
    (2) Continuing education in my field. Yep. We call it “in-service” and make jokes about passing from this world during it.
    (3) Low number of law suits and complaints to our accrediting board. To date, no law suits OR complaints to my license issuing board.

    Yep. I’m a professional.

    What would malpractice for a teacher ammount to? Students would have to learn absolutely nothing. Students would have to lose previously learned information. Students would have to be in a more dangerous situation in the classroom than at any other point of their regular routine. Oh, and I should not teach any lessons that even come close to my standards. Other than that, I’m good.

    My school of Ed threw teacher malpractice around as if it were some sort of threat. But you have to look at malpractice in other professions (medicine, law) to see that you REALLY have to screw up for it to be malpractice, and those are firing offenses anyway, even if you have tenure.

    I do not love students. To me, teaching is not a labor of love. It is something that brings me joy, however.

    While I won’t convince you to come to my side, I do hope that you will grant that to be a good teacher you have to meet the following criteria:
    (1) Enjoy your job.
    (2) Never settle.
    (3) Face all challenges as learning experiences and opportunities for change.

    I do not think that teachers can be programmed, which is – probably wrongly – the vibe that I’m getting from your description of where you stand. I also do not think that effort is the main need for a good teacher. It is, instead, the desire to put in that effort (which you clearly have, even if you won’t admit that you are motivated by something :). After all, we are being “graded” on our results, not how many hours we’ve worked.

  16. Evaluating a teacher based upon the learning of her students is like evaluating a coach based upon the performance of her team.

    If a dentist’s role was educational — which clearly is not the core function — then evaluating performance based upon the actions & choices (to floss or not) of the patients would be exactly appropriate.

    I believe that as a teacher internalizes that it is the choices and actions of his or her students that matter, that this moves a teacher to reflect on what influences, which conditions for learning, what daily decisions he or she makes that clearly impact the success of the students in the classroom.

    Passing an academic test, sitting in an in-service, and avoiding lawsuits might make a professional, but it doesn’t make for a successful teacher.

  17. Aw no, man, really?

    I got a little excited by your first sentence, Joel, when you wrote, “Evaluating a teacher based upon the learning of her students is like evaluating a coach based upon the performance of her team,” because man, that’s EXACTLY how we should evaluate teachers. You had this time and these resources, these walls and these minutes — what did you do with it? What can they do, what do they know, what do they understand now, in time-2, that they could not do in time-1?

    Your analogy, which you apparently disavow, is a perfect parallel. A coach’s job is ensure the team performs at its highest (win). A teacher’s job is to ensure the kids perform at their highest (learn). A coach whose team fails to win is a poor coach, just as a teacher whose students fail to learn is a poor teacher.

    Does a coach have external factors affecting game outcome? Yup. Do teachers have external factors affecting student performance? Yup. Will a perpetually losing coach keep his or her job? Nope. Will a perpetually under-teaching teacher keep his or her job? Nnn- oh. Right. Of course they will. Bummer.

    The dentist is not evaluated on flossing, man. Naw. The dentist is evaluated on the quality of diagnostics, procedures, and the level of outcomes. Would that our profession rise to such a level. Instead, we exist in a perpetual pre-med condition, practicing procedures divorced from outcomes, like med students cutting up a cadaver. Eventually, the med students graduate to a place and a type of evaluation where outputs matter as much, if not more, than inputs; a place where you can defend yourself with I-did-the-right-thing-its-not-my-fault-the-patient died every once in a while — you just can’t make a career out of it. Teachers, never reach that place. It sucks for most of us, but it sucks for the kids who rely on schools for the majority of their learning much, much more.

  18. I completely agree on the coaching analogy– it’s how I’ve defined teaching, and principaling too– as educational leaders we are evaluated on the performance of our teachers–and they on the performance of their students.

    TMAO–you’ve got it!

  19. @Dina, that one night every six months that Karaoke and Dollar Pints coincide at my favored speak-easy.

    I don’t really see how that applies here, though.

  20. The problem with the coaching analogy is that team members want to be playing the game, want to be on the team (they try out for it), are the top among applicants (the rest get cut), and have the external pressure of getting benched or bumped and the internal pressure of wanting to win the game.

    If you’ve got a bunch of people who really want to be doing a thing, and have already demonstrated some basic skill/aptitude for that thing, and you can’t help them improve at that thing, you deserve to be fired.

    Clearly, the analogy doesn’t really work for teaching in the average public school classroom …

  21. I believe the coaching analogy absolutely works.

    Ask students in public school how far they will go in school. Almost 95% say that they will go to college.

    That’s a vision! That’s wanting to succeed! To be there!

    Yes, public school gets everyone (the same rules, just as coaches have), but that doesn’t change the universal value of success in school. Perhaps it’s the reality of what’s happening in the average public school classroom that’s to blame–not the students.

    It’s not as if the parents are keeping the good ones home.

  22. Ask students in public school how far they will go in school. Almost 95% say that they will go to college.

    I dunno about that. I think that’s because teachers are asking the question, and by now students know the right answer.

  23. TMAO, coach works better than dentist, but learning is not as black and white as winning vs. losing a game.

    Here is my latest contribution, call it a tale of two teachers:

    Lets take two theoretical teachers that I think are not well suited to my school situation (PI elementary in the hood, whole school free lunch, history huge of teacher, admin, and student turnover). One is very competent, and professional (has lots of extra degrees in how to teach reading, etc.), but does not seem to like the kids (specifically dislikes the students he has — who are very annoying, btw, but they are six, so a little tolerance would go a long way). I think the kids know that teacher does not like them, and are acting accordingly (and not learning much). Students came from one of those all heart teachers. Someone who should not be in the profession, and certainly not introducing young children to schooling. She had many of the students that the first teacher has “schooled”. Of the two, obviously the second is worse, but I wonder how effective the first one is. You need to have your head in the game, but most good coaches also have their heart in it too.

    I write more comments at your darn blog than I post on my own, sigh. Lots of sad friggin’ news going around about the budget.

  24. @dina, your comment made me laugh out loud. Think i know what you’re getting at here…something to do with why dan seems to profess an aversion to passion in teaching.
    @dan, why are you so up in arms about this? Do you think that the good teacher who doesn’t care at least a smidgen about the well-being of others, and particularly of their students, exists? Think that you’re trying to create a thin line in comment 14 that exists more in your head than reality…

  25. @Jeffreygene: something like that, yes. But more to the etymological point, the Greeks had four words for love; at least one of them is parallel to Dan’s emoto-free standard of thoughtful action on behalf of another, I think he would be surprised to learn. The Greeks don’t run Dollar Pint specials, last time I checked, though, so I think this distinction might be lost on him.

  26. @Jeffrey, “aversion to passion” and “up in arms” fundamentally misread both my point and tone here.

    @Dina, I’m not unfamiliar with the Greek’s multifaceted approach to love. I’m not sure where my teaching would fit best (though I’m sure of the worst fit) but let’s say “agape.”

    The job isn’t done yet. Whatever I feel must act as some sort of propellant toward the actual, measurable, evaluative, and much tougher act of teaching.

  27. See there? Was that so painful? Dude, I’d wish you’d just start off your position statements by defining your terms. Hacking into them with a chainsaw from the get go by equivocating willy-nilly may wildly entertain your readers, but it sure isn’t *mathematical*.

  28. Passing an academic test, sitting in an in-service, and avoiding lawsuits might make a professional, but it doesn’t make for a successful teacher.

    You and I are in agreement. Professional not= successful teacher.

    I was trying to subtly point out that the term “professional” is the flag that is hoisted when “successful teacher” should be, instead.

  29. @Dina, if I knew the best way to say exactly what I mean the first time through, I’d shutter the comments for good.

  30. @ TheInfamousJ:

    I have to take issue with your characterization/definition of a professional.

    (1) Professional qualifying test. Yep. In my state we call it the Praxis and I scored within the top 10% in the nation.

    The Praxis is in no way on par with the qualifying exams of most other professions.

    (2) Continuing education in my field. Yep. We call it “in-service” and make jokes about passing from this world during it.

    In the same way, most “in-service” sessions don’t begin to meet the qualifications for “continuing ed” in other professions (as your “passing from this world” quip makes clear).

    (3) Low number of law suits and complaints to our accrediting board. To date, no law suits OR complaints to my license issuing board.

    Umm … so not getting sued is a defining characteristic of a professional? Sheesh.

    @ Joel:

    Passing an academic test, sitting in an in-service, and avoiding lawsuits might make a professional, but it doesn’t make for a successful teacher.

    Obviously, I wouldn’t agree that those three things make someone a professional, and I don’t think other professionals would agree, either. More troubling, though: are you (or TheInfamousJ) proposing that successful teachers are not necessarily professionals? Because people that don’t want to give teachers respect or increased pay would love to agree with you (as would the teachers who want to avoid any professional accountability).

    The problem with these terms, and particularly with “successful teacher,” is that we have no common understanding of what they constitute. If you want to make some differentiations, I could agree with making “professional” a subset of “successful teacher,” but that only starts us down the road to the main issue of this thread: success as defined by external standards and not by “effort” or “passion” or “concern.” The teaching “profession” has too little professional accountability, and the “calling” angle only helps teachers continue to slip that accountability.

    The “calling” angle also enables the public to think of teachers as something “other than” professionals and provides teachers with too many “outs” in terms of accountability (one example: the right to boast about “winging it,” as if that’s proof of the calling).

    @ Dina: Perhaps you’re just being playful (if so, apologies up front), but I suspect Dan isn’t intentionally “equivocating” but is instead looking for a way to get a handle on this issue, which I find pretty unwieldy myself.

  31. To shift focus slightly, I wanted to point out that I think Dina’s angle is appropriate mainly because this “chainsaw” method is divisive. Those who agree will nod vigorously while those who disagree will get their backs up, or worse, abandon the discussion. We young guns need to build bridges with even the most crotchety and ineffective of our peers just as pressingly as they need to open up their ears and their eyes to the institutional flaws of our profession. By attacking them, I fear we will only deepen the animosity within the teaching ranks, which is no way to make progress. Attacking them with birdshot only exacerbates things by increasing the odds of accidentally shooting our hunting partners in the face.

  32. @ Eric Let me try and rephrase my argument, because I didn’t spell it out too clearly. Thank you for having the patience to help me clarify it.

    >>I think that “professional” is a low, and attainable bar for the teaching profession. In fact, I think it is one that has been met.

    I think that what we need to strive for is not professionalism, but success in teaching.good doctor.

    Much like good doctors are a subset of all doctors, I think that good teachers are a subset of all teachers. The term “professional” is not used as a subset of the population of doctors, lawyers, accountants, dentists, etc., so why should there be a double standard for teachers.

    And speaking of double standard, I completely agree (so much that I used italics for emphasis) about the lack of rigor of the Praxis and professional development. I’d love to see some educational researchers with policy-pull get to work on those. If only …

    So yes, I also agree with you that we need a set definition of professional that is cross-curricular and can be applied to anyone who wishes to claim the title. I tried to define it based on the medical, dental, legal, and accounting professions (tried to see what they had in common), because even a working definition is a start. I tried to use the dictionary, but it uses the word “profession” in the definition which seemed too circular to me to be a list of requirements. By all means, let’s hammer out a good definition/criteria list.

    I hope that makes it somewhat more clear? I never was very good at the educational jargon.

    (By the way, the American Heritage Dictionary uses as an example for their word “profession”, the teaching profession. :) )

  33. I made a coding error which ended up eating part of my post where I said that the population of doctors, lawyers, dentists, and accountants are automatically granted the term “professional”. Teachers should be, too.

  34. The trouble with the term “professional” is that it can get in the way of discussions about “practice” — the “what works” in achieving student learning. Too often the phrase, “I’m a professional” comes out when there is a discussion about what’s happening in the classroom. Schools can function as a collective of “artisans” who individually determine the actual curriculum — the how & what that students experience daily — as well as the assessments of what matters.

    As an example, the use of the zero in grading on a 100 point scale for late or missing assignments is a practice which I don’t believe can be justified by any fair review. However, I have experienced teachers raising objections — couched in “professionalism” — of a decision to restrict individual teacher autonomy around such an issue.

    Certainly I have great respect and value about teaching; however, I’ve found lots of emotion and a wide array of meanings around the “professional” term — so much so that it seems to lose meaning.

    I was reviewing “John Adams’ Promise: How to have Good Schools for All Our Children, Not Just Some” by Jon Saphier, which I think has some good answers about what matters–what it means to succeed as a teacher or school. I don’t know if this is still available as a pdf download, but it’s a great read.

  35. @Eric Hoefler (33):

    the “calling” angle only helps teachers continue to slip that accountability.

    OK, as many commenters have pointed out, being a teacher who feels a calling to teach does not mean that you’re a woo-woo touchy-feely teacher with no interest in student achievement. I don’t think teachers are using the idea of a calling to deliberately avoid accountability.

    But I do think that rhetorically the teaching profession has made something of a misstep. Otherwise how on earth would a profession devoted to excellence be perceived as a profession for passionate flakes who avoid accountabliity?

    What I see reported in the media is a debate with two unequal sides:
    1. The government and business community who support standardized testing as the primary and best means of assessing student performance and, by extension, teacher performance.
    2. Teachers, who just really think that’s bad.

    The problem is that teachers are not proposing an alternative. A loud, public, well-defined, usable alternative. We are arguing against instead of arguing for, and it puts us in a weakened position.

    I think its perfectly within our rights as professionals to say learning is more than what can be tested on a single standardized tests. That teaching quality is more than that. But we have to start saying what it is and how to measure it.

  36. @ Sarah: I agree with you. I think some of those conversations are starting to happen, but need to happen more.

    The push on these threads so far is to first recognize that feeling called to the profession, or caring a lot about kids, or loving your job is not enough … in fact, is irrelevant to the problem you define. Certainly, calling, passion, and concern are great motivators, like the engine for a train. What’s missing is a solid set of tracks.

  37. Coincidentally, this popped into my inbox today:

    According to the website:

    What are the elements of a profession? What makes someone a “professional” as opposed to an employee? Or a manager? Or an artist?

    Knowledge based expertise that derives from academic training. Professionals are tested for entry and frequently retested for continued competence.
    Code of ethical behavior (on and off the job)
    A moral commitment embodied in a public service (beyond the desire for profit)
    Higher than average standard of living
    Relative independence or autonomy
    That autonomy limited — if at all — by licensure and the standards set by professional organization
    High status in the minds of ordinary citizens

    What are the privileges of professional life?
    Self-regulation/self policing
    Advancement on the job
    Independence of a particular employer (portable benefits)
    Right to choose their clients, their hours and set fees
    Time set aside for research, professional development, self-improvement, and collaboration