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Teachers, the reluctant professionals?

A call for an individual response

Alison Jackson

St.Martin’s College/ESCalate ITE

Paper presented at the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, University of Warwick, 6-9 September 2006

ESCalate – the Education Subject Centre of the Higher Education Academy Advancing Learning and Teaching in Initial Teacher Education

The new standards for classroom teachers(1) come into effect in September 2006. These standards use the word ‘professional’ in relation to teachers over fifty times, suggesting that teachers are viewed as professionals by the state. And yet I want to argue that the notion of ‘professional’ is not a concept which sits easily with beginning teachers. My research carried out with Newly Qualified Teachers (NQTs) between 2002 and 2004 discovered that teacher professionalism as set out in policy documents does not automatically transfer to the practitioner. There is a significant suggestion that teachers need to be actively engaged in the definition of their own professionalism. It is important to note that this suggestion, although drawn from time limited research, is not confined to the limitations of that timing; I would argue that it describes a basic need, fundamental to the commitment, motivation and contentment of teachers.

The question of teachers’ professionalism formed part of a case study of ten NQTs over the first two years of their career in a large comprehensive school in England. My research was prompted by the profound changes taking place in education policy, particularly from 1997, and the effect that this was having on the teacher’s perception of self. In a paper written in 1999, Ball suggested that teachers were being ‘re-made‘ (Ball, 1999:2) and I was curious as to the effect of this ‘re-making’ on the new generation of teachers. Ball was referring to global, managerial trends which ‘are changing what it means to be a teacher. Managerialism stresses competitiveness, accountability and audit:

stressing productive efficiency, producing an elaboration of explicit standards and measures of performance in quantitative terms that set specific targets for personnel, an emphasis on economic rewards and sanctions, and a reconstruction of accountability relationships. (Fitzsimmons, 2005:1)

And it seemed to me that global trends were surely also changing what it meant to be a professional. What form was this new professionalism taking from the perspective of the new generation of teachers?

My research question asked simply, ‘Are you a professional?’ expecting an affirmative answer and a conviction of response and it found neither. My participants had proclaimed themselves to be autonomous, albeit an autonomy defined within the bounds of their acceptance of government frameworks and prescriptive policy, and they were very sure of their purpose and vocation. But when I asked this question about their professional identity, it unearthed a lack of clarity about the word itself which ranged from total rejection of it as a descriptor of teachers to a supposition that they must be professionals but had no idea what that meant either in government terms or as part of their own definition of self. In this paper I will first set out the historical context for teacher professionalism by considering elements of Grace’s paper on ‘Teachers and the State in Britain’ (Lawn and Grace, 1987:193-222) and then by looking at recent government documentation, pertinent to the participants at the time of my research. I will then investigate traditional and managerial images of professionalism and go on to explain my research design and give an analysis of the data I collected. I will explain how I feel that Critical Theory and Interpretivism give possibilities to teachers to critically engage with government definition of professionalism and, at the same time, build their own personal response. I will then offer some recommendations for practice suggested by my research.

The search for professionalism amongst teachers is not new and the notion of ‘trust’ is fundamental to that search. Teacher professionalism has been a contested terrain since the early years of the twentieth century when elementary teachers’ first claim to be regarded as a profession triggered a reaction of constraint and control from the state, followed by militancy from the teachers (Grace in Lawn and Grace, 1987:201). The policy of ‘trusting’ teachers’, endorsed by Percy, President of the Board of Education (1924-9) sought to separate politics from the practice of teaching and engendered a relaxation of state control, defusing potential conflict rather than creating confrontation, and brought about ‘legitimated professionalism’ in the 1930s. This form of professionalism:

implicitly involved an understanding that organised teachers would keep to their proper sphere of activity within the classroom…and the state, for its part, would grant them a measure of trust, a measure of material reward and occupational security and a measure of professional dignity. (op.cit:208)

Teachers were accorded the status of one of the accepted ‘lesser’ professions.

Teacher professionalism seems to have been given a boost after the Second World War as education policy makers realised that education could be transformational. A partnership between state and teachers to ‘regenerate the nation’ should have cemented a firmer professionalism than it did, but the state was reluctant to reward teachers with either increased salary or better conditions of service, so that trust between them continued to be elusive and by the 1960s militancy was to the fore as the path of professionalism that had distanced itself from trade unionism was seen to be weak. ‘Legitimated professionalism’ was rejected by unions as it had been accepted as a settlement with the government in the 1930s and was now seen as weak when it came to wage bargaining, and the ‘measures’ of professionalism and reward it offered were rejected as insufficient. However, professional autonomy, that is to say the lack of central directives in pedagogic matters rather than economic matters, was the one aspect of the ‘profession’ with which teachers were content. Unfortunately, radical factions who were far from apolitical were seen as ‘exploiting school and classroom autonomy to the full and for the wrong reasons’ (op.cit:214) and the result was distrust again between state and teachers, and significantly, because of negative media attention, the start of a critical distrust of teachers from the general public. There arose a blame culture where teachers were ‘the culprits for the economic failures of the 1970s’ and ‘standards were being betrayed by a significant sector of teachers’ (op.cit:212.) The effects of this erosion of teacher professionalism in the eyes of the public as well as the state still has its repercussions today and precipitated increased state control. This leaves the question of trust – that is to say the amount of trust granted by the state to the teachers and the amount of trust given by the teachers to the state - at the heart of teacher professionalism.

The government White paper Excellence in Schools, issued in 1997, made it clear that teaching and professionalism were congruous in government eyes:

We are committed to ensuring that teaching is seen as a valued and worthwhile career for our best young people; a profession that is recognised and valued by the wider community. We will play our part in raising the profile and esteem of the profession. (DfEE, 1997:5.4)

And four years later, the pamphlet, ‘Professionalism and Trust’ (Morris, 2001) set out ‘a new era of trust in our professionals’, but it would seem that the government is setting the parameters of this ‘trust’. In this pamphlet, it is acknowledged that the aims and ambitions of a ‘world class’ education system in the UK are impossible without the help of teachers. There is an acknowledgement of teaching as a profession, albeit a new ‘professionalism for the modern world’ (op.cit:19), making a definitive break with any ‘old’ professionalism of legitimacy through qualifications, such as might have existed previously:

Gone are the days when doctors and teachers could say, with a straight face, ‘trust me, I’m a professional’. (op.cit.19)

The notion of trust is displaced, no longer automatic and we see the juxtaposition of the ‘old’ trust tempered by monitoring and accountability:

It is important to trust our professionals to get on with the job. That does not mean leaving professionals to go their own way, without scrutiny – we shall always need the constant focus on effective teaching and learning, and the accountability measures…But what it does mean is that we shall increasingly want to see professionals at the core, to join us in shaping the patterns for schools of the future. (op.cit:26)

Thus the definition of the professional teacher is a ‘cast-iron’ government ‘vision’ (op.cit:28) that will be shared by all and not be diverted by ‘the opponents of change’. Trust is given within the bounds of scrutiny and ‘we’ will be working together, that is to say joining the government ‘mission’.

Trust formed the basis of the traditional interpretation of professionalism, not just in education but in other spheres. Dent and Whitehead, writing in the present era of what could be called an ‘audit-based professionalism’ give this definition of what the ‘trusted’ professional used to be:

The professional was someone trusted and respected, an individual given class, status, autonomy, social elevation, in return for safeguarding our well-being and applying their professional judgement on the basis of a benign moral or cultural code.
(Dent and Whitehead, 2002:1)

But this trust and respect are now earned, not through qualifications and expertise, but through the ability to perform to performance indicators; to fulfil objective external criteria, rather than use subjective ‘gut’ feeling. This managerial professionalism is accountable, it has rules and outcomes and it is still continuing to be written. It is as if professionalism is being written by governments because the trust that was afforded to ‘gut’ feeling can no longer be trusted. Clarke and Newman (1997:78-80) make a distinction between ‘old’ and ‘new’ professionalism; the ‘old’ traditional professional is professional by dint of expertise, trusted simply because the word ‘professional’ implies trust without the need to question, the ’new’ managerialist professional is constantly held accountable through measurable performance. Interestingly both these definitions of professionalism suggest certitude; traditional through internal feelings and managerial through external prescription. One would expect therefore a convinced description of ‘professionalism’ from beginning teachers. But Carr and Hartnett suggest that the situation in schools has been removing certitude from professionalism:

The tasks for which teachers and schools are being held responsible have accumulated at such a rate as to destroy any hope that they can all be achieved. In these circumstances it is unsurprising to find that there is now a growing confusion in the minds of teachers about the limits of their professional responsibilities and the nature of their educational role. (Carr and Hartnett, 1997:1)

To investigate whether Carr and Hartnett's somewhat pessimistic view of the 'confused' professional still pertained among the ten participants in my research I firstly attended their induction programme in school and then followed this up with a series of individual and group interviews over two years. I chose open-ended, semi-structured interviews to allow the interaction to be free and open and soon found that my research took on an emancipatory intention because of the enthusiasm of my participants who were eager to engage in the interviews and were anxious to discuss and evolve their own sense of teacher identity.

The school I used as the research site is a mixed, split-site comprehensive of 1500 pupils. The school is over subscribed and the economic and social background to the school is generally above the national average. The management of the school at the time of the research could be described as managerial. Thus the school management supported the 'new' accountable professional as there was an emphasis on performativity with wide use of Ofsted type observation of lessons to monitor teacher effectiveness. The main mission of the school was focussed on a culture of achievement and government directives with a commitment to formally measure improvements on an annual basis. There was an insistence on the need to improve external examination results at all key stages to evidence improvement and witness success in comparative league tables. Management had been keen to recruit a high percentage of NQTs in a bid to change the age profile of the staff which had become 'top heavy' with a large number of teachers who were nearing retirement age. There had been conflicts between the ‘new’ performance-driven professionalism of management and the traditional ‘old’ professionalism of the staff in post before the new management had arrived. The latter were anxious to retain their autonomy and suspicious of prescriptive policies and audit-based practice. The participants in the research would be aware of these tensions and be confronted with arguments for both types of professionalism in their day to day work.

My research is limited in scope. I accept that case study findings are criticised as a weak vehicle for generalisation but feel strongly that they are relatable. Bassey (1981:86) expresses this sentiment in this way:

If case studies are carried out systematically and critically, if they are aimed at the improvement of education, if they are relatable, and if by publication of the findings they extend the boundaries of existing knowledge, then they are valid forms of educational research.

I was fortunate to be able to approach ten Newly Qualified Teachers, three men and seven women whose experiences, I would suggest, are typical of the broad class (Bryman, 1988:91) of NQTs. Any subsequent research could then focus on the validity of the propositions in other milieus. For the purposes of this paper, I will refer to the participants by using a pseudonym to protect their anonymity.

The school and the Local Education Authority (LEA) were keen to implement the government directive to give a full induction programme to the NQTs(2) and, interestingly, there were already signs of ambiguity in the definition of ‘professional’ in the advice offered to the NQTs. The induction programme brought together a worthy range of established members of staff who told the NQTs about various aspects of school life. At these meetings, there were some oblique references to the government which alluded to the fact that what we were doing was different to the past and unavoidable because it was the government who was setting the agenda, but there was no overt mention of government definitions of professionalism. Mostly the NQTs were given a knowledge base of the way things were, with interesting occasional hints of some indistinct autonomous ‘professional’ possibilities; an Assistant Headteacher responsible for pastoral matters suggested:

‘What you do in registration is up to you.’


‘You can put them on report if it is your judgement to do this.’

The irony here was that there was no guidance at all as to what was meant by their professional judgement. They were prescribed in virtually every situation and suddenly expected to have the kind of ‘gut feeling’ professionalism of experienced teachers to deal with putting children onto report. Trust was handed out sparingly here because ‘we’, that is to say the school, were following government direction. The sudden invitation to be trusted to use professional judgement suggested that ‘old’ professional values were still lurking somewhere amongst prescriptive policy.

In the induction programme, there was no evident distinction between advice and compulsion. It was extremely rare for anyone but the speaker to speak, so there was monologue, not dialogue. It could be argued that a valuable opportunity to engage the NQTs in the formulation of their new identity as teachers was lost. In the same Autumn term of their induction year, I started my interviews with the participants on an individual basis. Now they showed themselves to be articulate and enjoyed the opportunity to discover their own thoughts on identity; this enjoyment increased over the two year research process as they became more comfortable with the research process.

The first time that I asked ‘Are you a professional?’ it was immediately apparent that ‘professionalism’ was a difficult concept for my participants. Gill stopped and stared at me:

‘How do you define professional?’

I explained that I was hoping that she would have her own definitions and declined to answer. However, throughout the interviews I had to share the onus of response with the participants to help them unravel their thoughts, not mine. Throughout the whole debate on professionalism there were constant hesitancies from all participants, suggesting that the outline provided by the government of a partnership of pressure and support was either not known or not accepted by them. Carol seemed quite surprised that she did not know whether she was a professional or not:

‘It’s very strange. It’s a strange terminology.’

There was discomfort with the word; it was not part of their vocabulary, as witnessed by Rachel:

‘It’s really hard. Plumber’s a trade. I don’t know. That’s really got me thinking now. I wonder what it says in the dictionary.’

Inadvertently she had picked on the whole point, which was to get them thinking about their professionalism.

Emma started out with absolute surety:

‘Teaching is definitely a profession,’

but immediately capitulated when I eagerly asked her to define what she meant by that:

‘ … ’ (total blank and then) ‘maybe you’re focussed. Um, I don’t know really.’

‘Is any job a profession then?’

‘I don’t think you could definitely say yes or no to be honest, it’s hard.’

This suggested that for Emma the surety of the ‘old’ professional had been eroded; even if the word was acceptable, it had no substance. There was some debate over the difference between professional as a noun and professional as an adjective. The latter use was easier for them to deal with:

‘You have a professional manner. It’s being fair, not getting angry, remaining calm, not letting your feelings cloud your judgement in a situation.’ Sandra

But Sandra was not keen on the word professional as a descriptor of her identity and was looking for another and, even though we tried together, we could not find anything which satisfied her.

As I evidently was not going to let the question go away, the participants started to find definitions. There was a notion of professionalism implying distance and ‘being a role model’, recalling ‘old’ professionalism where one is trusted because one is a professional by dint of expertise:

‘It’s being a role model. Professionalism is about boundaries – it’s about having the best relationship you can with the kids without being "matey".’ Maria

At first every job was a ‘profession’ for most participants:

‘Anyone who can do the job to the best of their abilities, irrespective of qualification and irrespective of job.’ Edward

But as the discussion continued, some participants began to consider that teachers were different and that teacher professionalism was exclusive. Rachel certainly did draw a distinction between teaching and other ‘jobs’:

‘I know it sounds really snobby but I wouldn’t say if you’re a cleaner you’re a professional. I get annoyed when people undermine the teaching profession because you do a damn good job and you work hard and it’s an important job – I mean, we teach the professionals.’

Simon put a training time limit onto the definition of professional as he searched for some exclusivity:

‘How I would define professional is somebody who is trained to do a job …but then so would most people be …so I suppose you could draw a line at 2 years training or 3 years training, an arbitrary line.’

The problem of an elusive exclusivity went on to confuse his definition:

‘Somebody who has the ability and authority to make their own decisions … but I guess in most professions people are or in most jobs people are.’

Every way he turned with his definition, he allowed all other jobs in:

‘I am in charge of my own development, but I guess in most professions people are or in most jobs people are.’

He did finally find an exclusivity in teaching which sets it apart from other ‘traditional’ professions such as doctor or lawyer through two specific things; one was the raw material, that is to say the children and the second was the structure and intense accountability:

‘Kids are assessed and assessed and assessed and the work we do is assessed and assessed and assessed and it does feel we are assessing for the sake of assessing, producing figures and targets and levels for the sake of it.’

This difference was addressed by Chris:

‘I think it is now a profession and the expectations that are placed upon us are very rigorous. We are held accountable now for not only predicting where they (the pupils) are at but where they should be and we carry the can if they don’t achieve.’

He implies that it did not use to be a profession when there was little or no accountability and so is suggesting the ‘new’ professional image rather than the ‘old’. He explained this further because:

‘Now you have to have a degree.’

This further qualification raised the stakes in his eyes to create a profession rather than a job. His conclusion was that professionalism equated with responsibility, and the teacher’s responsibility is huge:

‘If you try and compare us with lawyers, they are responsible for the outcome of a particular case but ours is an extended version of that – we just have many more cases.’

Thus ‘professionalism’ for these participants in the early days of their career was something of a closed book, but two significant things had emerged; firstly that teachers are ‘different’ and secondly that the participants were starting to consider professionalism and to formulate their responses to it.

By the end of the first year I expected that the participants would have adopted a firmer stance with respect to their definition of themselves in professional terms, but, when I asked if they felt any closer to being sure that they were ‘professionals’, the question was greeted with total silence. Evidently the concept of ‘professionalism’ remained a closed book, irrelevant or unfathomable. Interesting as the silence was as an indicator of resistance to the concept of professionalism, I decided to outline more specifically the concepts of ‘old’ and ‘new’ professional to generate debate. I therefore explained ‘old’ traditional views of professionalism as endowed with trust through expertise and ‘new’ managerial professionalism which demanded accountability through measurable criteria. There was consensus that professionalism should be accountable in this way, regardless of the fact that their ideals, values, love of ‘gut instinct’ and desire to be trusted without scrutiny expressed in other parts of the research had suggested that this would not be the case. Emma expressed it in these terms:

‘Why should I be paid the same as someone else and they don’t do any work?’

This would back up the government outline of a professionalism which needs to be closely monitored and defined (Morris, 2001). The idea of defining professionalism was taken up by Maria:

‘If you can’t define it, you can’t measure it.’

A teacher’s accountability to society had to be uppermost and their professionalism must be ‘proven’:

‘A professional should know what they have to achieve and achieve those results. I can be trusted but not all teachers can be.’ Emma

Sarah took up the idea of trust, stating that a professional should be left to get

on with the job and be trusted – the ‘old’ professional – and then immediately contradicted this, saying that teachers should be monitored – the ‘new’ professional – because:

Being monitored is negative because I don’t like being observed, but the end result, if it’s done well, is good because I can improve and I’ll do a better job and the children get more out of what I’m doing.’

Hence the uncertainty over professionalism was still evident, the participants seemed to want both ‘old’ and ‘new’; they want to be trusted and have autonomy but they not only accept accountability and close monitoring but they almost demand it to prove their worth and make the system ‘fair’.

My next interviews were with individuals in the Autumn term of their second year. This time I deliberately deleted the word ‘professional’ from my questions to pursue other aspects of my research, but now the term kept recurring, initiated by the participants. When it was not under the microscope and being dissected, the word ‘professional’ had to do, for want of anything better, to express the uniqueness of their chosen path and the lack of boundaries to the commitment it demanded. For example, Rachel who had wanted to look up ‘professional’ in the dictionary now claimed teaching as a ‘profession’ without demur:

‘It’s an individual profession, you’re independent.’

Gill, who had wanted to quiz my definition of ‘professional’ rather than commit to her own, suddenly used the word unthinkingly as if it was a normal descriptor of a teacher:

‘I’m a teacher 7 days a week whether I like it or not – as a committed professional

your work does not stop at 4.30.’ Gill But the word ‘professional’ had been used as a subconscious expedient here, not as a convinced and well-defined concept so I did not pursue this. However I noted that the use they were making of the apparently indispensable term did imply ‘old’ professional values, not audit and accountability.

I returned to the question, ‘Are you a professional?’ after a year without mentioning it in the Summer term of their second year. A definitive answer was still not available but the participants had now considered their ideas and there were no silences. Significantly, they wanted to find a definition, to invent a way to describe their professionalism from their experience of their trade. All the participants tried to formulate a definition but there was still that feeling of unease within the word itself and, this time, no desire to embrace the ‘new’ professional. There was a yearning regret for the ‘old’ professionalism which did not surprise me because of the number of times throughout the interviews when ‘gut feeling’, trust, autonomy and caring for the child rather than the statistics had been mentioned. Emma, for example, was hesitant when faced with the word ‘professional’ again, but then chose the ‘old’ values of uniqueness and dedication as the definition of professionalism:

‘Teaching is a job that no one understands unless they have done it and I’d say the dedication that we have to put in … we have to be totally engrossed, you can’t wake up with a hang-over on Monday morning and come in.’

When I suggested ‘new’ values of competency and performativity she replied:

'It demeans it rather,

rejecting any attempt to merge new ideas into her concept of professionalism.

Other examples of the participants’ attempts to define their professionalism were still the ‘old’ concepts. Simon claimed autonomy over decision making:

‘I see myself as a professional because I want to make decisions that I will justify as my professional opinion. I don’t refer to people before I make those decisions.’

Although this is undeniably possible, it must be acknowledged that this kind of professional autonomy is limited and that the decisions that teachers make are influenced by and dependent on the current climate of managerialism. The contradictions evident in their acceptance and rejection of ‘new’ professionalism are perhaps explained by Simon. He made a definite distinction between the ‘old’ and ‘new’ professionalism, taking the former as true professionalism and the latter as something else entirely. Getting the results did not belong to professionalism:

‘I wouldn’t define that as professional, I would define that as effective.’

Finally, one group debate illustrated the problem of the ‘new’ professional very well. As no one wanted to fully commit to being a professional, they decided that the word ‘professional’ was inadequate. Therefore the only thing to do was to create a new word for a new concept:

A teacher could be classed as an academic to make a distinction. You need a new word to distinguish – a professional academic – an ‘acafessional’’. Gill

In the induction twilight meetings, the Headteacher had suggested the need for teachers to ‘distil’ the directives coming from the government, but these participants had distilled very little with regard to teacher professionalism. They gave no impression of ever having considered the term, let alone its definition or its applicability to them. Dent and Whitehead (2002) suggest that professionalism has lost its exclusivity and, at first, the participants were reluctant to separate teaching from any other job. But, as they struggled to define their professionalism, they began to contradict themselves and gradually reclaimed exclusivity with vehemence. For them, teachers are unique, dedicated, committed, accountable, role models. Teaching is dependent on training, it is ‘different’, not the stereotypical concept of a professional. Society’s image of them mattered, they were proud of their job.

Willis (2002:15) asks if we speak language or if language speaks us. If we are defined by external forces we surely are being spoken by the language of those external forces, whereas if we assume a type of professionalism that insists on self-definition, then we begin to devolve our own vocabulary and syntax, which is precisely what happened to these participants by the time ‘professionalism’ came round in the final group sessions. As NQTs they had been neither ‘re-professionalised’ nor ‘de-professionalised’, because they were just starting out, but they most certainly had not been ‘professionalised’. I do not mean this to be an external formulation of their professionalism, but rather an internal realisation; the concept was not in their self-image, they had no conception of their professional identity and gradually became eager to discover it. The overall impression was that the participants needed something that the word ‘professional’ had once fulfilled but was no longer able to and that they wanted to define it and name it, to claim ownership of it, to endow it with trust and dignity. There seemed to have been nowhere, except in these research dialogues, that they had had the opportunity to begin this quest and they were anxious to continue the debate to gain self respect and a truer sense of self definition than they had at present.

To underpin my research with the Newly Qualified Teachers I used aspects of Critical Theory and Interpretivism in a complementary way. I started my investigation of professional identity from a clear premise – my own conviction that a personal understanding of one’s own professionalism will prevent the ‘confusion’ which Carr and Hartnett (1997:1) thought would be the evitable outcome of work overload and questionable limits of professional responsibilities. I would argue that the participants’ ‘need’ for something, encapsulated within their ill-defined concept of ‘professionalism’, confirms this. Cox (1980:128-130) explains that Critical Theory stands apart from the prevailing order of the world and questions its inception; it challenges the status quo. If one does not know or understand the status quo, that is to say in this situation the government definition of teacher professionalism, how can one challenge it or accept it? Case study research by Bottery, (1998:40) into professionalism amongst teachers reported:

What is perturbing is … that they (the respondents were a cross-section of experience and seniority of the staff of two schools) failed to locate their own problems within a wider context, which would have helped to explain their genesis and effects more clearly, and allowed them to understand and perhaps even cope better with the situations they found themselves in.

A deeper understanding of the forces behind daily practice makes for a far more rational and measured approach to effective practice at all stages of a teacher’s career.

There is danger with Critical Theory’s challenge of the status quo and that is that it tends to dictate terms, replacing one concept with a new and ‘better’ one. This would negate the emancipatory effect of challenging external views on professionalism as one definition is not necessarily any better or worse, simply different. It is essential that the status quo is never discarded cynically and that beginning teachers are invited to probe current thinking deeply with the aim of agreeing or disagreeing, but, most importantly, being convinced of good reasons for their accord or disaccord. For this reason I turn to the Interpretive paradigm to aid the individual’s search for professionalism because Interpretivism uses language to question and keep the debate alive. The term ‘professional’ has different currency, depending on who is using it; there are differences between each individual teacher’s interpretation of the word and the definitions proposed by government. I would argue that this is a healthy state of affairs. An Interpretive questioning alerts beginning teachers to explore their professionalism in a way which is vibrant, constantly changing, and constantly developing.

My recommendations for practice are born of my research and my participants’ struggles with their professional identity, but I freely admit that they are influenced by my own professional values and my concern for the professional values of my colleagues. As a teacher starting out in an era when there was little prescriptive policy and few documents on teacher professionalism, I must report that a convinced professionalism did not magically appear before me; I had to struggle for my own way of positioning my professionalism without any forums to aid my endeavours. What I suggest here is that this was not helpful then and is not helpful now. Teachers should be encouraged to actively engage in the definition of their professionalism. This should start in training, continue through the induction year and be followed up through Continuing Professional Development throughout their career. This is not suggested as a time-consuming adjunct where no extra time exists, but as a focus engrained in the culture of teachers and teaching. Encouraging all teachers to embrace their job as a ‘profession’ and involving them in the articulation of their own professional identity would raise self esteem and re-define ‘trust’ as a positive feature between government and teachers. It would give confidence to the individual who would work to limit the contradictions within his or her own personal definition of professionalism. On a wider scale, there could be significant repercussions to the benefit of the retention of teachers within the profession because they had developed the concept of teaching as a profession for themselves. Bottery and Wright (2000:124) suggest that:

A teaching profession that has been duped into a false professionalism will be unable to decide or recognise where it is being led.

A teaching profession which has defined and embraced its own professionalism within the external framework will, I suggest, be able to lead itself in a more effective partnership with the state.


1. Draft revised professional standards, April 2006, available at (accessed June 2006).

2. Qualified teacher standards, (TTA, 2002a) and Induction pack, (TTA, 2002b)


Ball, S. (1999) ‘Global Trends in Educational Reform and the Struggle for the Soul of the Teacher’, Paper presented at the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, University of Sussex at Brighton, September 2-5.

Bassey, M. (1981) ‘Pedagogic research: on the relative merits of the search for generalisation and study of single events’, Oxford Review of Education, 7(1), 73-93.

Bottery, M. (1998) Professionals and Policy: Management Strategy in a Competitive World, London, Cassell.

Bottery, M. and Wright, N. (2000) Teachers and the State Towards a Directed Profession, London, Routledge.

Bryman, A. (1988) Quantity and Quality in Social Research, London, Unwin Hyman.

Carr, W. and Hartnett, A. (1997) Education and the Struggle for Democracy, Buckingham, Open University Press.

Clarke, J. and Newman, J. (1997) The Managerial State, London, Sage.

Cox, R.W. (1980) ‘Social forces, states and world orders’, Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 10(2): 126-155.

Dent M. and Whitehead, S. (2002) Managing Professional Identities, London, Routledge.

DfEE (1997) Excellence in Schools, London, The Stationery Office.

Fitzsimmons, P. (2005) Managerialism and Education, University of Auckland,  (accessed 12.10.05).

Lawn, M. and Grace, G. (1987) Teachers: The Culture and Politics of Work, London, The Falmer Press.

Morris, E. (2001) Professionalism and Trust, DfES, London, The Stationery Office.

TTA – Teacher Training Agency (2002a) Qualifying to Teach, London, TTA.

TTA - Teacher Training Agency (2002b) Supporting Induction for Newly Qualified Teachers, London, TTA.

Willis, P. (2000) The Ethnographic Imagination, Cambridge, Polity

This document was added to the Education-Line database on 07 September 2006