Chapter Nine: Teachers and the Teaching Profession

9.1 Prologue

A small group of teachers stopped for a moment in the board office parking lot on their way out of that evening’s professional-development symposium, which had been sponsored jointly by their school board and the local chapter of the teachers’ federation. “Ok, Sue, you’re not far from my place. I’ll drop you off,” said Larry, a chemistry and physics teacher at Foothills Collegiate. “See the rest of you tomorrow.” As the two of them headed for Larry’s station wagon, the rest of the group ‒ André, Lisa, and Anya ‒ climbed into Garret’s van and fastened their seat belts as they joined the line of cars filing out of the parking lot.

“Well,” Garret asked, “What did you think? I thought he was pretty good.” Garret was the half-time vice-principal at Foothills Collegiate, where Larry, André, and Anya taught, and where Sue and Lisa were currently completing their student teaching placement. The evening’s speaker had been a superintendent visiting from out of the province. In his talk, entitled “The Extended Professional Teacher,” he had described the way in which his district had attempted systematically to stimulate and support professional growth among its teachers.

“Yeah, I really appreciated what he had to say,” added Carol. “I wrote down his definition of the extended professional: ‘a capacity for autonomous professional development through systematic self-study, through the study of the work of other teachers, and through the testing of ideas by classroom research procedures.’ But to hear how they were actually doing it ‒ with teacher research teams conducting their own action research on key issues like student retention or mental health in school, and with teachers actually sitting in on each other’s classes and sharing their experience and expertise with each other ‒ I mean, most of us talk about doing that kind of stuff, but to have a superintendent who not only encourages it but actually provides resources to make it happen, that’s really exciting.”

“I think what he said about making critical links to the existing research was important too,” added André, “so we’re not just throwing around our own opinions but also testing them against the research, and also testing the research against our own experience. I think his district would be a neat place to work ‒ a place where they give you the time and opportunity to sit down and talk about important educational issues. What did he call it? ‘Critical professional discourse,’ I think. We need that sort of opportunity here if we’re going to keep growing as teachers over the length of our careers.”

“Well,” said Garret, “you know we’ve tried to do that with the student teacher project. I know it’s only a beginning, but we do meet on a regular basis about that, and it does link us to the university as partners in designing and supervising students’ practice teaching experiences. But I agree it is pretty much a one-of-a-kind activity. In our district, it’s really up to teachers to take care of their own professional development. Perhaps we should develop some school-based initiatives of our own. I think the principal might go for it, and I’m sure the staff would.”

Meanwhile, as they drove away from the board office, Larry and Sue were having a quite different conversation. “He should have called his presentation ‘The Over-Extended Professional,’ Larry commented. “I don’t know why I came in the first place. I should be home dealing with the pile of marking I have to get back to my chemistry class tomorrow. I’ll be up half the night now. I mean, it sounds all right in theory maybe, but if we’re going to be seen as professionals, I say what we need to do is to get serious about what it is that we do: teach kids in classrooms. If we pay attention to that, keep up on our own subject and on our teaching and make sure that the kids in our classes are learning what we’re supposed to be teaching them, then I don’t see how you can have time for ‘action research’ or whatever. I get quite angry at the number of days that some teachers spend away from their classes on curriculum committees or doing workshops and the like. Sometimes that’s what I call unprofessional. I don’t think we all have to be philosophers and researchers to be professional ‒ we just have to be given the supports to do our job and then left alone to get on with it. I work damned hard, and my students always get among the best science results in the province. That’s how I’m professional, and I think that’s how we should judge the profession.”



The status of public school teachers in Canada has long been a topic of debate, and some sensitivity, among teachers and teacher organizations. Among Canadian teachers, the legitimacy of their claim to be regarded as professionals is usually vigorously asserted, and the desirability of enhanced professionalism is often taken for granted. However, occupational groups do not attain professional status simply by self-proclamation and governments have historically resisted efforts to afford teachers professional autonomy.

Over the last thirty years, as Hargreaves and Fullan (2012) note, the issue of teacher professionalization in Canada and elsewhere has become increasingly prominent as governments, bureaucracies, and big business have begun to sponsor various approaches to this project.  Paradoxically, governments are promoting initiatives such as self-regulation and the establishment of professional standards of practice which seem to support the goals of teacher professionalization while simultaneously implementing changes that work in the opposite direction, such as the centralization of curriculum and assessment decision making and the capping of teachers’ salaries. One way of interpreting these apparent contradictions is to see aspects of teachers’ work “becoming reprofessionalized in ways that involve broader tasks, greater complexity, more sophisticated judgment, and collective decision-making among colleagues, while other parts are becoming deprofessionalized in terms of pragmatic training, reduced discretion over goals and increased dependence on detailed learning outcomes prescribed by others” (Goodson & Hargreaves, 1996, p. 3).

In the first part of this chapter, we examine the concept of professionalism and its utility in understanding and describing the work of teachers. From this examination, we will develop a position, already foreshadowed in earlier chapters of this book, for thinking about teaching as a unique kind of profession. The second half of the chapter considers the implications of this professional identity for the practice of public school teachers and the structuring of relations in public school, and also discusses the roles of teachers’ professional associations in Canada.

Box 9.1.1

Definitions of a Profession



  • A full-time occupation;
  • Substantial university-based training;
  • Professional associations; and
  • A Code of Ethics.


  • A belief in service to the public;
  • A belief in self-regulation and colleague control
  • A sense of calling to the field; and
  • A belief in professional autonomy.


  • A high degree of general and systematized knowledge;
  • A long period of specialized, intellectual training;
  • Intellectual practice;
  • A unique social service;
  • Controls standards of entry and exclusion;
  • Enforces a professional code of ethics; and
  • Grants a broad range of autonomy to members.

Hoy and Miskel

  • Technical competence gained through long training;
  • A set of professional ideals, including a service ideal, impersonality, and impartiality;
  • Autonomy in professional decision-making; and
  • Self-imposed control based on knowledge standards and peer review.


  • Possession of academic, pedagogic, ethical and strategic knowledge;
  • Requires continuous education in pre-service, induction, and in-service that focuses on theory and practice, developed within a framework of values;
  • Autonomy in teaching with the ability to challenge norms with objectivity and integrity;
  • Activism on an individual and/or collective level on issues related to teaching and learning;
  • Altruism or action in service to others; and
  • Collegiality in terms of equal authority, respect, independence, representative, and collaborative decision making.


  • Hall, R. (1986). Professionalization and bureaucratization. American Sociological Review, 33(1), 92–93.
  • Rich, J. (1984). Professional ethics in education. Springfield.
  • Hoy, T. W., & Miskel, C. (1987). Educational administration (3rd ed., pp. 148–50). Random House.
  • Rodrigues, A.  (2004).  A conversation about professional accountability: Redefining professionalism. Canadian Teachers Federation National Conference, Ottawa, Ontario. Available at the Canadian Teachers Federation website


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