While individuals within the American teaching profession – and the education workers in their periphery – obviously play a role in shaping the vocation’s character, perhaps the overriding reason why the ‘professionalism’ in teaching is losing its solidarity is situated in our cultural perception and the ensuing relationship of national/state politics on elementary and secondary education.
Consider our predominating attitudes and ethic regarding students. It seems, compared to East Asian cultural ideals (i.e., China, Japan, Korea) where the key to success is hard-work regardless of your background, there is a de-emphasis in America on the power of hard work and study, whereas some children are born ‘smart’ while the rest are perhaps not ‘cut out’ to be seriously successful at school. This is manifest at the elementary/secondary level by the presence of ‘remedial’ classes, where students (including an overwhelming enrolment of minority children who’ve come to accept their ‘fate’) are mostly ignored unless for negative reasons, be it truancy or violently anti-social behavior. In other words, teachers are not perceived to play a serious role in inspiring the best in students, but are instead often relegated to disciplinarians! This other side of the coin is, reciprocally, reflected in the low income of public school teachers (regardless of their performance in the classroom), and the apathy the state shows toward evaluating the quality of teachers on the tenure path and subsequently ousting the unscrupulous ones. Combine the lack of incentive for a greater number of highly capable teachers (who might get pulled into higher-paying corporate fields), and the low-status image of the teaching vocation in America, and you have employees with less than a unanimously positive attitude about their own importance.
Secondarily, there is an unprecedented degree of polemics in the country with respect to the ‘definition’ of professional conduct in teaching. To the more traditional educators, this pertains to a strictly defined mode of conduct, ranging from a formal dress code to the tone of voice which they must speak to students, while a far more liberal party disagrees that formality is an end in itself, and advocates that teachers should dispense with this ‘pretention’ if it helps them build a friendlier, closer rapport with the students in question. Because the more liberal slant is being implemented in the expanding repertoire of teaching methods, some more traditional teachers might look down upon those with looser conduct, which causes shame to arise in the workplace (and amongst parents/ other educators who do not approve of a certain type of teacher behavior). Hence, there is a fragmentation of acceptable teacher ‘norms’ that need to be addressed…
I argue that a school teacher’s job is, first and foremost, to motivate children to apply themselves to their schoolwork (be it artistic, thoughtful critical writing, or science/mathematics), share and respect opinions of a wide range of people, and ultimately help mold them into ethical informed citizens. To the degree that professionalism is arguably reflected by the means teachers manage this. A professional teacher certainly has an ethical responsibility for example, not be verbally abusive to a student, even if they think it will ‘push’ them to learn. Likewise, they are not setting a good example of an honest and serious employee if they’re walking out of classrooms to take cellphone calls – it undermines respect for both the teacher and the process of education. However, I don’t know if anyone is really to say that a teacher who acts as a friend or confidant (within appropriate bounds as an adult) to a student, or shares in fun casual conversations about themselves with students, is not a good, honest teacher if their greatest intention is to benefit their students in the ways outlined above!