Researchers Call Teaching A Semi-Profession

The assumed status of teachers is believed to impact who decides to become a teacher and who decides to stay in the profession. Amongst education researchers, there is some debate as to whether teaching is a profession or a semi-profession.

In a 1985 study, Hoswam et. al identify teaching as a semi-profession because it lacks one of the core components of a true profession; professional expertise. Harsh. But, unfortunately, they do have some evidence to back it up. Many teachers do not base their practice on validated principals and theories. Many teachers also do not “contribute to building a scientific knowledge base through the development of principals, theories, or to validating practices.”

The consequences of this are only negative. Due to the lack of a widely used scientific knowledge base around which to build teaching into a true profession, there are not agreed upon standards for evaluating teachers. Teacher education also suffers because of this.

Another researcher, Hoyles argues that teaching is only a semi-profession because teachers tend to rely on knowledge gained through experience without also relying on a systematized scientific knowledge base.

“although knowledge gained through experience is important, this recipe-type knowledge is insufficient to meet professional demands and the practitioner has to draw on a body of systematic knowledge” -Hoyle

According to the OECD study I am basing this article on, there are three main reasons teaching fits better into the semi-professional category than in the professional category.

  1. A profession-specific systematized and scientific body of knowledge that informs the daily activities of practitioners
    • This has been covered above. Essentially, teachers rely on their experience without reference or regards to research.
  2. a lengthy period of higher education training and induction and continuous professional development
    • While teaching has similar requirements as say nursing or engineering the standards are lax. It is considered to be easy to get into and graduate from an education program. This is compounded by many education programs not being based on a scientific body of knowledge.
  3. autonomy, both in connection with the right to exercise professional judgment and decision-making in practice and in governance over the profession.
    • Various education reform movements and legislation have impacted teacher autonomy both in a negative and positive manner. Teacher autonomy also varies from region to region and from school to school.

Outside of the profession, semi-profession debate there is a debate over the perceived status of education. Salary is considered to play an influential in the public’s perception of a job field. According to the OECD data, in 2016, primary teachers earn an average of 81% of the salary a full-time college graduate would earn, while high school teachers earned an average of 85% of that benchmark. Work conditions also play into the status of teaching. Class size, school resources, teaching hours, high workload, school safety, lack of professional development, and large administrative duties have all been cited as a negative influence of the teachings perceived status.  Teachers do not have many pathways for moving “up” the career ladder if they wish to remain in the classroom. This often leads to teachers feeling as if teaching is not a career unless they wish to move out of the classroom and into administration.

Many researchers have said that in order to both professionalize and improve the public’s perception of teaching, steps should be taken to make teaching an evidenced-based occupation. One way to start this is for researchers to look into teacher knowledge and draw attention to it. Research in the area of teacher pedagogical knowledge is lacking. There are a few studies that suggest teachers with a high level of pedagogical knowledge is associated with competent teaching. However, there is a lack of research looking at teacher pedagogical knowledge and student learning outcomes. This is an incredibly important area to research because of the potential impact to teachers and students.

Guerriero, S. (ed.) (2017), Pedagogical Knowledge and the Changing Nature of the Teaching Profession, Educational Research and Innovation, OECD Publishing, Paris,