Is Teaching an Occupation or a Profession #edcampmn

It has been three weeks now since EdcampMN and there is one question that was brought up in one of the sessions I attended that keeps running circles in my head.  The question was brought up in the context of a discussion around agency and change and what is needed for teachers or even students to take charge or be empowered to act.  The question was, “Is teaching an occupation or a profession?”  I found this question so profound because the atmosphere in our schools is greatly impacted by how those involved (administrators, teachers, students, parents, board members, legislators, etc.) view teachers. Are those in a system governed by a top-down hierarchy more likely to view teaching as an occupation? Does this attitude toward teachers and teaching affect the decisions a teacher makes about pedagogy?  Does it affect an administrator’s choice in who they hire or how they evaluate their staff? Does it affect how a legislator or board member votes on issues regarding funding and policy?

What do you think?  Is teaching an occupation or a profession and what impact does the answer to that question have on education?


6 thoughts on “Is Teaching an Occupation or a Profession #edcampmn

  1. Occupation: a regular activity performed for payment, that occupies one’s time. Profession: a vocation founded upon specialized educational training, the purpose of which is to supply objective counsel and service to others.

    Because we provide a professional service to our community, because teaching requires ongoing training, because we strive to stay current with research and effective strategies in our practice, I would say that teaching is, without a doubt,, a profession.

    The general public has many thoughts and ideas about teachers when it comes to their salaries, pay raises, time off, evaluations, etc. Some of them don’t seem to think teaching is “fair” as compared to other professions. ‘It’s not fair that teachers get summers off’’, for example. As fellow teacher, Brittany Clark, points out, “Teachers use their summers to grow their practice and become more effective practitioners in order to benefit their students.”

    Administrators want to hire individuals that see teaching as a profession; individuals who will treat their career as a profession. Administrators want people who are invested in their practice; people who will work towards professional growth.

    Alison Crowley reported in a blog on Edweek:

    “I defined teachers as experts. My approach to shifting the paradigm about the public perception of teaching is to consider what teacher leaders can do—and once again I am inspired by my own teaching swag. In my classroom is a series of posters with the slogan “Think Different” that highlights people who have thought differently, like Cesar Chavez and Amelia Earhart. Their purpose is to inspire my students, but maybe they can help us solve this issue as well.”

    With the new TD&E system, Minnesota requires districts to develop and evaluate principals and teachers to improve leadership and instruction, as well as to increase student learning and success. Minnesota charter schools must also evaluate teachers with evaluation and development processes that meet guidelines in statute (Minn. Stat,, §§ 123B.147 and 122A.40, Subd. 8, and § 122A.41, Subd. 5). (Copyright 2013 Minnesota Department of Education) The new evaluation system is similar to those in other professions. “A February report by the University of Minnesota, which reviewed the pilot project midway through the school year, found that teachers and administrators supported the statewide evaluation system because it boosted professional development for teachers.”

    Teaching is definitely a profession, one that I am proud to be a part of. It is important to have great teachers in front of our kids. I think the general public would agree with that.


    Minnesota’s teacher evaluation system begins first test run. (n.d.). Retrieved August 14, 2014, from
    Most school districts ready to evaluate new teachers. (n.d.). Minnesota Public Radio News. Retrieved August 16, 2014, from
    Public Perception of Teachers. (n.d.).Teaching Ahead: A Roundtable. Retrieved August 16, 2014, from
    The Myth That Teachers Get Summers Off-Debunked. (n.d.). TakePart. Retrieved August 14, 2014, from

  2. [The new evaluation system is similar to those in other professions. “A February report by the University of Minnesota, which reviewed the pilot project midway through the school year, found that teachers and administrators supported the statewide evaluation system because it boosted professional development for teachers.”]

    Thank you for providing this information, Jennifer. Personally, I haven’t had much of a chance to review the new teacher evaluation system in depth, so it is encouraging to see this type of review in the early stages of implementation. Teachers need, and most crave, quality professional development opportunities. To that end, teaching is most definitely a profession rather than simply a job or occupation.

  3. The discussion of whether or not teaching is an occupation or a profession often leads me to compare my work in education versus jobs I’ve held in other career fields. Other jobs I’ve held did not require specific licensing, and therefore license renewals, for me to be effective in the position. Training usually occurred at the beginning of employment or as needed on the job as the work evolved. Teaching obviously requires professional licensing and renewals to ensure that teachers attempt to remain current with best practices.

    Yes, the requirements are there for continued education, but the switch in my mind of whether or not teaching is an occupation or a profession includes personal perspectives by those who are in the position. Many can recount a teacher from their past that simply showed up and taught lessons from the same script they used throughout their years in the classroom. Seldom do these types of teachers seek opportunities to strengthen or adapt their teaching practice to better meet the needs of their students. They will, however, do what is required to keep their license current.

    Professional teachers, on the other hand, seek opportunities to learn more and develop their skills in being more effective in the classroom. Often, these are the same people willing to spend their own money for classroom books or tools to make learning more effective or relevant for their students. According to the article “The Price I’ll Gladly Pay for My Kids’ Education,” the average amount teachers pay out of their own pockets is staggering. “The National School Supply & Equipment Association (now the Education Market Association) did a study last year on this very subject. Public school teachers spent $1.6 billion of their own money to buy school supplies to do their job. More than 99 percent of all public school teachers said they’d used their own funds for supplies, spending an average of $485 per person during the 2012-13 year.”

    They are also willing to spend their own time reading books or attending professional development seminars to stay ahead of educational best practices. Further degrees are attained in an effort not only to move up the pay scale, but also to be more effective in their current position. Further, this notion is in harmony with the Nobel Prize winning “Human Capital Theory,” made famous by Gary Becker, which states that higher education increases productivity, according to the article “How to Ask Your Employer to Fund Your Education.” How valuable is “human capital” in the education field and what do school districts do to encourage and reward those who seek higher education so as to increase productivity, which translates to student success?

    Does being a professional educator require that one spend personal time and financial resources to enhance their practice? Can you be a professional educator if you ask for reimbursement for time spent in professional development sessions? Are you less of a professional educator if you want to be compensated for time spent away from family to devote to students outside the regular classroom requirements? Must you spend your own funds in the classroom to be viewed as a professional educator, or as someone who gives more to the field of education? These can be delicate questions, and a matter of not only ambition and desire to be a professional educator, but in finding resources and balance in our personal lives as well. I don’t have clear answers for these questions, but have come to realize the answers are very personal which can spill over into professional relationships as well.

    Hayworth, A. (2014, August 12). The Price I’ll Gladly Pay for My Kids’ Education. Retrieved August 18, 2014.

    Williams, R. (n.d.). How To Ask Your Employer To Fund Your Education. Retrieved August 18, 2014.

    • Deb,

      I completely agree with what you stated in your first paragraph, regarding the licensure that teachers need to remain in practice. I have never really thought of continuing education funding, however, as being a determinant regarding whether one should be considered a professional or not. As a science teacher, there are many funded professional development opportunities from various STEM organizations to encourage teachers and, in turn, encourage students to pursue STEM careers. There are also, of course, a number of out-of-pocket opportunities for professional growth. In my opinion, WHERE the money for these opportunities comes from should be irrelevant, but now I am curious about your prior experiences and why you raise the questions that you did in your final paragraph.

      • Think of it this way… someone who loves learning more about the education profession and wants to increase their effectiveness may want to pursue a Master’s Degree or some other relevant professional development coursework. Financial considerations often come into play, as well as time considerations, especially for those trying to balance family and career life. For someone without the financial means or extra time available, it can be daunting to try to stay current. Sometimes the perfect professional development for someone might cost money and it can be difficult to apply for outside grants, ask an employer, or seek other means to finance that which you feel would be so beneficial to your practice in the classroom. But to answer your question, I’ve heard these types of conversations in the “teacher’s lounge” before.

  4. I see your point, Deb. Financial struggles can certainly make things difficult. On that note, however, it’s a similar scenario for students of poverty. They may see certain doors as “closed” because they do not have the means to pursue such opportunities. As the saying goes, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

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