Teaching is an important and respectable as well as a noble occupation. The destiny of our nations depends on teachers, considering students will become the backbone of the country’s economy and society. One can see the enormity of the responsibility of the teacher in imparting values and knowledge for the future generations which is essential to the growth of nations.
What is the accepted definition of professionalism? According to Newman (1998), “ a profession performs a unique, essential social service, has a defined respected knowledge base” and “has autonomy” (p.118). Based on this definition of a profession, the teaching occupation can only be considered as sub-professional. With reference to the first characteristic, teaching is not “that unique” because it can be performed by people not in the profession. Unique means the service can only be provided by those trained and entrusted within the profession.
Teacher professionalism is closely related to attitudes towards the profession and its implementation in the profession. However there have been some debates on whether teaching can be classed as professional. It seems that teaching is not held under the same regard as other prestigious professions. Medicine, law and engineering are all considered professional because of the specialized skills they require. The concept of training the teacher has to undergo, is still not enough to be traditionally held under the same status of training as other “professionals”. Due to this, it is important to establish the meaning of teacher professionalism.
Teacher professionalism is the way in which the educational system can create and establish a professional atmosphere and culture, in which teachers can maintain their autonomy from other occupations and create as well as perform a unique social service by producing methods that are knowledgeable and responsive to students` needs. This autonomy “ is the right of the members in the occupation to make their own decisions and use their judgements” (Newman, 1998, p.121). As individuals, professionals have the right to perform their work as they see fit, based on the knowledge acquired through specialized training”. This is extremely important because it ensures that teachers can teach in a unique fashion, which would ensure that an essential social service is being provided. This would mean that society would have to entrust the teachers decision and regulations, which by no means, that the teacher can do whatever he or she likes. The teacher who knows the students, is a person best equipped to decide which methods to use in order to create an optimal learning situation.
However, as mentioned above, teaching is still regarded as sub-professional. This is so because as professionals, teachers should have expertise not shared by the general public. This implies that teachers do not fall under the label of professionals because the knowledge they have is simply not clear-cut or detached from the general public knowledge. It is unclear as to what exactly a teacher has to know to do the job. So it seems that when compared to the standard of professionalism we have today, teacher professionalism is less evolved. Furthermore, there is no well-defined knowledge base either. The lack of strict guidelines for teacher knowledge hinders the professional quality of the teaching profession. Teachers will have to earn the autonomy necessary to let them practice their occupations as they see best fit. For this reasons, perceptions must be corrected to assure that teachers get the professional esteem they deserve due to education is an extremely valuable service. How teachers conceive and carries out the responsibility is of immense importance to the nation.
Teachers must begin to set standards of performance for their occupation. They need to undergo professional development to become more professional, receiving skills and knowledge necessary for the classroom. Today, the goals of professional policy in teaching are heading in the right direction by ensuring adequate preparation for those interested in the profession. It is vital to the school system that a teacher masters their area of content to properly serve students. This they attained by obtaining their degree and by undergoing formal teacher training before becoming a beginner in the teaching profession. However, most new teachers are not adequately prepared to meet the needs of their students and many experienced teachers have yet to adapt to new standards. Just like practitioner in other profession, teachers need to deepen their knowledge and improve their skills over the course of their career. Teachers must work on improving themselves because as society evolves, adjustments must be made to keep up with the ever changing trends. Quality teacher is not in-born but is a result of education, the training received and experiences gain throughout their teaching career. Through commitment combined with moral purposes, skills in teaching are integrated in every aspect to provide quality teaching.
Courses, seminars and workshops
Traditional models of professional development include workshops, in-services and courses that are designed to help teachers examine policies, routines and practices through the help of academic researches and experts. These workshops aim to provide teachers the opportunity to share experiences in the adoption of innovative and creative methods in the teaching and learning. Several departments within the Ministry of Education are entrusted in the carrying out of such workshops and seminars including the Curriculum Development Centre (CDC), the Educational Planning and Policy Research Division (EPRD) and Institute Aminuddin Baki. More specialized teacher development programmes are constantly provided by departments such as the Sports Division [for the planning and determination of school sports education] and Special Education Department [for staff training and development of teachers of students with special needs].
Scholarships and study leaves
Realizing the importance of professional development in ensuring quality education, the scholarship division plans, organizes and implements the disbursement grant of scholarships and study leave for teachers who are in pursue for their undergraduate, masters and Ph.D degrees. Scholarships provided include pre- and post-graduate courses, professional upgrading programmes, academic upgrading programmes, special graduate teacher programmes and special post-diploma graduate teachers’ programmes. Each year thousands of teachers undertake these programmes at local and foreign universities to ensure the continuous strengthening and upgrading of teaching and learning practices.
The Inspectorate of Schools awards the Education Ministry Quality Award is given to outstanding, innovative schools and teachers each year. Competitions and exhibitions on Innovative teaching and learning encourage creative and innovative teaching and learning. It provides opportunity for educationist to recognized product of innovation and to give due recognition to their effort. The Inspectorate of Schools also organizes seminars on expected quality standard of education and conventions for excellent teachers as an on-going effort to increase teacher professionalism.
Sharing and unifying with other teachers is an important way to become more professional. Teachers should rely on each other to promote and strengthen the bonds of professionalism and create professional atmosphere and culture within the classroom. According to Darling-Hammond (1988), “effective teaching … requires flexibility, wide repertoire of strategies, use of judgement in complex, non routine situations where multiple goals are being pursued”. Experience is the best teacher. New teachers can learn from the best practices by other teachers. Teachers should value the opportunities to learn from other teachers more than from any other sources. Peer observation and micro-teaching practices carried out in Malaysian schools ensure a strong network system among its teachers.
Networking can also be established internationally among educational organizations within the country or internationally, changing ideas to improve and enhance teaching practices as well as updating knowledge on quality teaching and learning.
One good model for professional development lies in action research. Action research is a growing field of educational research with the aim of using disciplined inquiry to improve educational practice. As a form of professional development it is concerned with the everyday practical problems experienced by teachers. Reflective practice amongst teachers is used to improve teaching and learning in the classroom through a cycle of critical inquiry followed by reflection. A key exponent of action research in Malaysia is Institute Aminuddin Baki, the main training arm of the Ministry of Education and Educational Planning and Research Division, (EPRD), Ministry of Education.
Teacher professionalism is normally related to four dimensions.
a. Teachers community
Such as committee members, department etc which are related to each
other as well as establishing networking to foster professional development through sharing of best practices.
Mastering areas of content of his subject and having the skills as a professional teacher, such as methodology, pedagogical and so on.
Teaching profession has its own vision and specific goals must be shared among the staff especially responding to the changes in the era of globalization.
Responsible to meet the current needs of the students, parents, stake holders fulfilling the national goals and objectives.
Professional freedom is a condition that is needed by the teaching profession and it is related to the right of the teacher to make their own decisions and use their own judgement, in an isolated classroom situation. Teachers will have to rely on his knowledge and wisdom to use approaches that he feels suitable for the teaching and learning to take place in that particular class and group of students. This approach might differ from time to time depending on the badge of students. This is where we have to trust the teacher as a professional and empower them, to use their professional skills to apply the best practices to achieve quality teaching and quality learning. Empowerment will enhance teacher professionalism due to the fact that the teacher is accountable to make sure that the teaching objectives are achieved.
If the teacher reflects directly and positively on his practice, then this is a day to day dynamics of professional development that will sustain throughout his teaching career. A true teacher professional can also be defined as a teacher who is engaged in a career path that encourages, fosters and rewards constant professional development that reflects directly and positively back on the classroom practice. Professional development through reflection on every day practices, defines a true teacher. Documenting and sharing will create a synergy of reform and growth within the learning and professional communities that the teacher is a part of.
Annual Reports Ministry of Education, 2000 – 2005
Darling-Hammond, L (1998). Policy and Professionalism : Building a professional culture in schools. New York: Teachers College Press
Newman, J.W. (1998). A Teaching Profession? Excerpt from Joining a teacher organization and empowering a profession. In America`s teachers: An introduction to education. New York: Addison Wesley Longman,Inc. (firstname.lastname@example.org)Competitions and exhibitions