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close this bookProfessionalism in Teaching (UNESCO, 2000, 11 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentThe Paradoxical Profession: Teaching at the Turn of the Century
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentCatalysts and casualties
View the documentProfessional actions and cultures of teaching
View the documentThe papers
View the documentReferences


Teaching is a paradoxical profession. Indeed, today it is a uniquely paradoxical profession. Of all the jobs that are professions or aspire to be so, teaching is the only one that is now charged with the formidable task of creating the human skills and capacities that will enable societies to survive and succeed in the age of information. Even - and especially - in developing countries, it is teachers, more than anybody, who are expected to build learning communities, create the knowledge society and develop the capacities for innovation, flexibility and commitment to change that are essential to economic prosperity in the twenty-first century.

At the same time, public expenditure, public welfare and public education are among the first expendable casualties of the slimmed-down state that informational societies and their economies seem to require. Just when the very most is expected of them, teachers appear to be being given less support, less respect, and less opportunity to be creative, flexible and innovative than before.

Teachers, in other words, are caught in a dilemma. They are expected to be leading catalysts of the informational society, yet they are also one of its prime casualties. This is a daily challenge for teachers themselves and a policy challenge for those who want to reform and improve teaching. The papers that we have drawn together for this Open File in Prospects address the paradoxes that affect the present and future state of teaching, and they also examine what a new professionalism might or should look like in these seemingly paradoxical, uncertain and rapidly changing times.

Each of the papers wrestles with the ideas behind and the conflicting realities of teacher professionalism in today's post-modern, informational society. Ivor Goodson, for example, searches for what he calls a more principled professionalism. This professionalism, he argues, should not copy the classical professionalism of law or medicine which might lead to teachers becoming self-serving and remote from the children and communities they serve, nor should it become so practically focussed that teachers cannot understand or connect with the world beyond the walls of their school. Brian Caldwell looks for a 'Third Way' in teaching, one that can somehow forge a path between and beyond the recent rivalries of market and State. Can we move beyond a situation where teachers are secure (but also dependent) State employees on the one hand, or temporary-contracted self-developing entrepreneurs who create (but can also become too preoccupied with) their own careers on the other? Andy Hargreaves suggests that teachers might best build confidence in their own work, as well as create stronger public and taxation support for it, if they open up more to parents and communities and develop a new social movement for educational change. Leslie Lo, meanwhile examines how well the Western idea of professionalism does or does not equate with Asian traditions of teaching in Hong Kong and mainland China.