kitchen table math, the sequel: Linda Darling-Hammond on teaching as a profession

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Linda Darling-Hammond on teaching as a profession

OK, so I was trying to get the story on Linda Darling-Hammond, who is, with Jeanne Century, the Obama advisor I'm most leary of, and I found this answer to the question of whether teaching is or is not a profession:
In this country, teaching is not yet a profession. A profession really has at least three features. First of all, everyone who is admitted to entry into the profession commits themselves to practice with the welfare of clients first and foremost as their major goal. It's like the Hippocratic oath in medicine. Second, everyone who's admitted to practice in a profession has demonstrated that they've mastered a common knowledge base and that they know then how to use that knowledge on behalf of the clients that they're there to serve. And third, a profession takes responsibility for defining, transmitting, and enforcing some standards of practice to protect the people who they're there to serve. Teaching has not acquired those three traits yet.

Interview with Linda Darling Hammond

That is the simplest and most concise definition of what it is to be a professional I've seen. Ever.

9 comments:

Catherine Johnson said...

I'm thinking that by this definition writing will never be a profession, and probably should not be a profession -- if only because a writer doesn't have clients in the sense that a teacher or a physician has clients, and probably should not have clients.

But I don't know....

Barry Garelick said...

What about textbook writing, in which the clients are the students?

And if you want to extend the Hippocratic oath, then the part about "First, do no harm..." would certainly seem applicable to writers of textbooks.

Then again, "do not harm" is an easy one to get out of. If the math in a math textbook is mathematically correct, but just presented miserably and in poor sequence, the author could say 1) there's nothing in error and 2) it's all there.

Michael Weiss said...

David Cohen, a professor of public policy and education here at the University of Michigan (and co-author of the excellent book Learning Policy: When State Education Reform Works) has made a similar point: In other professions (medicine, nursing, law...) standards for professional licensing are set by members of the profession. In contrast, requirements for teaching licensure are set by governmental officials. In this respect teachers are more akin to, say, plumbers and electricians -- they are skilled tradesmen, not professionals.

Cohen also makes the point that teaching will not be a profession until the day that a group of teachers can rent a building, hang out a shingle, and go into private practice.

Anonymous said...

IT may be simple and concise, but it may also be baloney. According to another definition, a professional is someone who gets paid, as opposed to an amateur. Government backed monopolies remind me of the guilds of merry old England, and we might wonder why being a Lawyer is still protected, but being a Baker is not. Americans are rightly suspicious of that sort of thing, and want it proven that the public really needs more protection than "Buyer Beware".

--rocky

Catherine Johnson said...

What about textbook writing, in which the clients are the students?

Good question.

I've gotta get Ed to explain this to me (there's a historical definition of "professional," apparently....)

I was thinking about a writer's audience, and a writer's allegiance to the truth (or to attempting to discern the truth, or presenting material honestly -- there are various ways to talk about this).

We have the saying "truth hurts" because truth can hurt; I'm not sure quite how to square "first do no harm" with honest reporting....

Writing a textbook does seem different.

btw, one of the reasons I get so worked up over constructivism is that I'm a nonfiction writer by trade (by profession?)

Nonfiction writing is teaching, and the essence of it (usually) is expressing material as clearly and lucidly as humanly possible.

Nobody pays a nonfiction writer to produce a book that requires readers to construct their own knowledge.

A lot of writers write books like that --- and those writers, generally speaking, get paid very little or nothing at all as in the case of many academic books.

Catherine Johnson said...

Hi Michael -- interesting. I'll look into that book.

I love the idea of teachers hanging out a shingle. LOVE IT. I can easily see a day when teachers are like doctors (well, I can easily see it, but I may be hallucinating).

Parents would be doing the choosing and the navigating; parents might also choose to ignore a teacher's advice or practice, as parents can and do choose to ignore a doctor's advice or practice.

But by and large parents would be finding professionals they trust and working together with those professionals to educate their children.

It's a far better model than the top down, "we do what we do" reality we have now.

Catherine Johnson said...

Hi rocky!

According to another definition, a professional is someone who gets paid, as opposed to an amateur. Government backed monopolies remind me of the guilds of merry old England, and we might wonder why being a Lawyer is still protected, but being a Baker is not.

Well----you're preaching to the choir!

I'm not big on guilds or credentialism.

Jane Jacobs is on my to-be-read list.

Catherine Johnson said...

Amy P says 11d has a post up on teachers as professionals (haven't looked because if I do I will spend my morning reading 11d instead of my book proposal).

So I wanted to post this passage from Vicki Snider's book Myths and Misconceptions about Teaching: What Really Happens in the Classroom quickly here:

Teachers aspire to be professionals, but without a shared scientific body of knowledge they remain bricoleur, a term borrowed from French by anthropologist Levi-Strauss (1966). There is no precise translation for bricoleur in English, but according [to] the tranlators note, they are a "Jack of all trades," not a handyman exactly, but a professional do-it-yourselfer. They cannot be called craftsman because they work with whatever tools are at hand to solve whatever problems exist, nor do they have a specialized niche like craftsmen. They must be very intelligent and may, at times, achieve good results, but they are still constrained by their limited and finite assortment of tools and by the extend of their experiences. Contrast the bricoleur to engineers. Engineers have access to a range of tools designed for the specific job that needs to be done. They rely on the cumulative evidence for theoretical and technical knowledge, and use what is known to expand the boundaries of their professional knowledge. They rely on other professionals and specialists to help them do their job and to solve new problems. Engineers specialize--electrical, mechanical, biomedical, chemical, aerospace, naval, civil--and one type of engineer may assist the other, but would never be expected to do his or her job. An engineer is a member of a profession, but a bricoleur is just a clever person. Without a common body of knowledge about best practice, every new bricoleur is just a clever person. Without a common body of knowledge about best practice, every new bricoleur teacher reinvents the wheel.

A profession that is guided by myths rather than by empirically validated principles and practices maintains it bricoleur status. The teaching occuptation will become a profession only when educators replace myth with science and raise their expectations for the success of all students.

ChemProf said...

You've put your finger on something here. My sister teaches in a Liberal Studies (pre-ed school) program, and when I talked to her about DI, her response was "we don't like scripted programs because they treat teachers like idiots." If the whole self-concept of teachers is as "bricoleurs", where cleverness is a key virtue, then a program that doesn't require that cleverness is going to be a very hard sell, even if (or maybe especially if) it has better results than the current system.