Managing a vocational education organisation: Part Six – Training/Education as a Profession

educator

The doctorate in philosophy or Ph.D. which is required for entry into most academic professions and in nearly all cases into the professoriate was originally a teaching degree.  From the latin verb docere (or “to teach”) comes the word “doctor.”…

Guided reading and extracts from:  The Profession of Education: Responsibilities, Ethics and Pedagogic Experimentation,  Shannon Kincaid, Ph.D., Philip Pecorino, Ph.D., Complete paper – http://bit.ly/1bSXAxl

*Slightly adapted for Australian context.

Training in higher education [Vocational Education and Training – VET] is a profession: it is a form of public service that requires of higher education [VET] personnel expert knowledge and specialised skills acquired and maintained through rigorous and lifelong study and research; it also calls for a sense of personal and institutional responsibility for the education and training and welfare of trainees and of the community at large and for a commitment to high professional standards in trainership and research.

At the level of higher education [including VET – vocational education and training] there appears to be a general insensitivity or low level of awareness or concern about the professional responsibilities of trainers/educators and this has its ramifications in the subsequent low level of sensitivity to the ethical considerations related to conducting research with humans in the role of learners.

It is interesting to note that despite the long history of professional organisations for educators and for the professoriate, educators are more prone to recognise themselves as professional educators at the preschool, elementary and secondary levels of education than in higher education.

At the level of higher education, educators typically identify themselves first and foremost as members of academic disciplines other than education.  Ask an 11th grade math teacher, “what do you do for a living?” and the answer will be “I’m a teacher.”  Ask the same question of a college professor and the response will most likely be “sociologist” or “economist.”

The general insensitivity toward the profession of training

This trend in the self-identification of post-secondary educators exposes the general insensitivity toward the profession of teaching/training, and a lack of awareness of the ethical obligations attached to teaching/training.

At the level of higher education [including VET – vocational education and training] there appears to be a general insensitivity or low level of awareness or concern about the professional responsibilities of educators and this has its ramifications in the subsequent low level of sensitivity to the ethical considerations related to conducting research with humans in the role of learners.

The under-emphasis on teaching among the members of the ….. professoriate [and some VET educationists] is also apparent in the desirability of “teaching” jobs with as little teaching as possible.  The higher the “prestige” of a college or university, the lower the teaching load.

……. Too many in the post-secondary education view teaching as the necessary evil of their jobs, and as an unfortunate duty which robs them of time for research and publication.

This is not to argue that scholarship is not important for effective teaching.

One simply cannot be an effective post-secondary educator in any academic discipline without actively participating in the contemporary arenas of scholarship.  Being an effective scholar is a necessary condition of good teaching, but it is not a sufficient condition of effective pedagogy.

Too many individuals in higher education have simply forgotten what they knew back in sixth grade: education is a profession.  They recognise it with those who teach in elementary and secondary education, but fail to see it in higher education [including VET].  Why?  Is it because there are too many people in higher education [and VET] that do not identify themselves as educators?  Perhaps.

What is more certain is the fact that most college professors are not quick to describe themselves as professional educators, preferring a discipline related descriptor instead, such as “sociologist”, “chemist”, or “engineer.”  Even the term “professor” evokes not a teacher in a classroom, but an expert in a lecture hall “professing” what they know.

Professional educators

The rather wide spread absence of educators to identify themselves as professional educators is only explained as a reflection of the failure of a number of institutions [including some Registered Training Organisations- RTOs] to communicate this that starts with the [staff] of educational institutions [such as RTOs] and their rather lax regard for the notion of professionalism and all that would entail and extends to the [learning] programs , even those for future teachers [trainers] , and their remarkable failure to address some fundamental notions, socially constructed to be sure, but definite notions of what being a professional is about and the incumbent set of responsibilities that are part of that identity and membership in that group.

In the academy [and some RTOs] there is much more than lip service paid to the notion of ….. freedom and the rights and prerogatives of educators [trainers]  … but scarce attention to the responsibilities and duties they attach to the members of the profession.

Where responsibilities and duties are much more often addressed is in the context of employer-employee relations and the basic duties of the teacher [trainer] as employee and the terms of contracts and collective bargaining agreements.  The persistence of many of the problems related to teaching [training] faced by professional educators [trainers] at all levels and in particular in higher education [VET] can be identified as resulting from a failure of educators [trainers] to accept their identity as professional educators and their collective responsibilities.

The collective that is responsible for accomplishing the mission of the institution [RTO]

An educational institution [RTO] will not respond to the expression of individual educators [trainers] but must respond to the collective for it is the collective that is responsible for accomplishing the mission of the institution [RTO].  It is a bit paradoxical that individual educators [trainers] may be able to successfully address and remedy many of their problems only by admitting to an identity as a professional educator [trainer], taking on additional responsibilities in order to arrive as a member of a collective that will act to effectuate those remedies: taking on or becoming aware of more responsibilities leads to a more manageable way in which to fulfill all responsibilities..

Given the degree to which those in higher education [VET] fail to recognise or accommodate to education [training] as a profession there is need to further set out how it is so that it is a separate profession and how this is acknowledged to some degree in language and practice.

To establish that teaching [training] is a profession separate from but fully the equal to the academic discipline as a profession there is a need to set out some evidence of this.

When baccalaureate degree recipients announce their intention to go on into graduate studies they are often asked in what discipline or academic area they will study.  After answering “sociology” or “physics” or “philosophy” they will more often than not be asked what they intend to do once having achieved the doctorate in that discipline.

Often, but not always, the answer is “teach” [train].  It is not assumed that becoming the holder of a doctorate and becoming an entrant into the profession of the academic discipline will necessarily mean that the professional will teach [train].   Teaching [training] is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition to be a physicist or sociologist or anthropologist or philosopher.

Being a physicist or sociologist or anthropologist or philosopher is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition to teach. Natural and social scientists can be and are employed outside educational institutions [RTOs] and employed to continue their activities as scientists.  So too can those who have earned advanced degrees in Literature or Philosophy find employment outside of the academy whereby they can continue their studies and other activities within their academic discipline.

When a graduate student [graduate trainee] or doctoral candidate or doctorate holder applies for a position in an educational institution [RTO] that reflects a choice not to pursue some other form of employment that would be either to some degree supportive of their being a practitioner and active member of their academic discipline or else not at all  directly supportive.

It happens that educational institutions, particularly in higher education, are quite supportive of academicians continuing on with their academic profession.  Indeed, most educational institution would expect academicians to continue on with activities within their academic discipline and most, if not all, require such continued participation in an academic discipline.

The doctorate in philosophy or Ph.D. which is required for entry into most academic professions and in nearly all cases into the professoriate was originally a teaching degree.  From the latin verb docere (or “to teach”) comes the word “doctor.”…

Trainership (and Scholarship)

One of the central goals of this work is to lead post-secondary educators [trainers] to recognise the unique nature of their positions.  A college professor [trainer] is at once a member of two professions: their specific discipline and of the profession of education itself.

This dual membership has significant implications.  While the duties of the respective professions do sometimes conflict, these occasional conflicts are not as significant as the fact that  it presents a set of dual responsibilities for the educator.  But among the professoriate [trainership], individuals too often neglect the duties and responsibilities of one profession in seeking the fulfillment of those in another.   …  The responsibilities to remain a member in good standing with one’s professional academic discipline are set out by its members and have become both well entrenched through time and well transmitted through a variety of means.  [This is not necessarily the case in trainership].

The fulfillment of obligations in order to remain a member in good standing of the profession of education [training] are not so well known.   Untenured faculty [staff] do have their classes observed by senior faculty [senior staff], and students [trainees] are asked to evaluate certain courses.  The drive to assess courses continues, but it what it means to be a “good teacher [trainer]” remains vague at best in most institutions of higher education [RTOs] or at its worst equated to being a good scholar.

Professional standards of education [training] have been diffused

Individual examples abound of those who “profess” to be members of the profession of education [training] by virtue of their occupation, but who acknowledge few, if any, of the requirements of membership at all.  This is a situation demonstrating that the professional standards of education [training] have been diffused, and that the profession has no easily identified core practitioners who set the standard as educators [trainers] per se.  Nor are such standards generally recognized, accepted and promulgated, with members being held accountable to it as criterion for continuing membership (if not for distinction) as members of the profession of education [training]…

What are those responsibilities that accrue to members of profession of education [training]?  To answer that a general understanding of what constitutes a profession is in order.  With that understanding in place then the discussion of professional responsibilities can proceed to elucidate the professional responsibilities that are entailed by membership in the profession. It will be advanced that within the profession of education such responsibilities include that of conducting pedagogic [andragogical] experimentation as well as formal research and publication in pedagogy [andragogy] .

Education [training] is a profession and it is such at all levels of formal instruction and in all types of educational institutions [RTOs]. What makes it a profession?  Those who share in common activities and associate with one another constitute a profession when joining its ranks entails the fulfillment of criteria that involve academic preparation, training and certification and the identification with and assumption of responsibilities to that association.  This description is fulfilled in the case of education [training] through the educational requirements placed upon educators [training] at all levels and through their licensing and review and evaluation processes, and the variety of ways in which educators [trainers] associate and communicate among themselves.  Also important are the standards, expectations and duties of professionals, as well as the responsibilities and obligations that accrue to members of the profession.  Some are explicated in terms related to specific employment and others in terms related to specific professional organizations.

A profession

To be a member of a profession, there are certain basic criteria which must be met.  As Michael Bayles argues in Professional Ethics, while there is no agreement regarding a singular definition of the term “profession,” there are certain general features which “are necessary for an occupation to be a profession.”  (Bayles, 1981; p. 7)   These common features involve intensive training and intellectual preparation.  This training and preparation are then prepared to provide services which are important in the maintenance and development of society.  The professional is typically licensed or certified, or is required to meet specific educational requirements.

In contributing to the greater social good, and because of the standards set by the profession itself, professionals are granted an extraordinary amount of autonomy to make judgments within their profession.  Indeed, as Bayles points out, the general public expects professionals to make judgments. Professionals are paid to make judgments.  But, as Bayles observes, “[i]f professionals did not exercise their judgment in these aspects, we would have little reason to hire them” (Bayles, 1981, p. 8).

Is post-secondary education [VET] a profession?  The basic criteria of a profession are easily met in the field of education [VET].   What follows is a cursory examination of the criteria for a profession and how they are met by post secondary educators [trainers].  As we will argue later on, many of the ethical issues in the context of pedagogical experimentation can only be understood within the context of the professional responsibilities.

The professional post-secondary educator [trainer] must:

  1. Be educated or prepared for entry into the profession: expert knowledge

There are academic credentials required to be hired or certified as an educator [trainer] .  And while college educators [trainers] are not typically required to be certified by government institutions, part of the accreditation process for graduate schools involves verifying that graduates are adequately prepared for post secondary teaching.

The preparation for membership into the profession of post secondary education [VET] starts with college [education], where students [trainers] are required to meet certain standards to gain entry into the profession.  It culminates with the offer of employment from an institution of learning [RTO], and also involves certification, tenure, and promotion decisions.  College instructors [trainers] are not “certified” per se; but for the most part, they are required to possess advanced graduate degrees or extensive professional experience, and, increasingly, both.  There is a type of certification or credentialing as professional educators that does take place that is the equivalent of a licensing…

Post secondary educators are no less subject to a process of review and evaluation although they do not receive a license or special credential to teach in a college or university.  As already noted candidates for membership in a faculty of a post secondary educational institution are required to have received some formal recognition of their academic preparation for teaching in the form of a degree.  Beyond the degree indicating their proficiency in some academic discipline faculty they are expected to demonstrate their competency to teach and are given a number of years during which their knowledge of the subject matter and their proficiency in teaching it to others is to be observed by peers.  Peer mentoring and faculty [staff] development programs are available for faculty [staff] seeking to further perfect their skills and improve upon the efficacy of their instruction both during and beyond this period.   In an institution of higher education [RTO] the granting of reappointments and tenure are the functional equivalent of the credentialing or licensing of an educator as an educator.

  1. Apply for membership

Individuals become members of the profession of education [training] through the voluntary application for employment as an educator [trainer]…

  1. Profess that they are members, and pledge to abide by the ethical and professional standards set by the community

One declares that one is an educator or teacher [trainer] when asked about the profession or vocation or type of employment.  Also, each member of the profession recognises that all educators are bound by standards of personal and professional conduct.  And this is one of the most important aspects of the status of profession.  Like it or not, professional post-secondary educators [trainers] must not only fulfill their obligations as instructors but as members of the profession of education [training] they are held to higher standards with regards to their personal and professional activities. Teachers [trainers] in general are seen as moral exemplars and role models by society.

  1. Engage in the activities of the profession

In some way, at some level, at any institution [RTO], the post-secondary educator [trainer] engages in the activities of instruction of others, be it through direct instruction, tutoring, mentoring, curriculum development, peer observations, or active engagement in the scholarship of teaching and learning  The mentoring of new faculty [staff] is a crucially important facet of post-secondary education.

  1. Maintain status in the profession

A member of the education [training] profession teaches and remains an educator as long as providing for the instruction of others in some manner and continues to meet the standards and requirements instituted by the profession itself.

  1.  Submit to evaluation as a member of the profession: to maintain status or be elevated within or removed from such: Autonomy of the profession

Professional educators [trainers] are evaluated by their supervisors or peers over some appreciable period of time in order to establish their qualifications for certification or membership and for promotion.  Effective teaching [training] is, more often than not, recognised as a factor in tenure and promotion decisions.  Society grants the profession the right to oversee its own membership and to police itself and remove members as it sees fit due to the special knowledge held by the professionals and their value to society.

  1. Contribute toward the maintenance of the profession

Educators [trainers] support educational enterprises [RTOs] aimed at the support of members of the profession.  They join professional societies and subscribe to professional journals and attend professional meetings and conferences.  They also mentor junior faculty [staff], and where applicable, introduce interns and teaching [training] and grading assistants to the profession itself.

  1. Forward the progress of the profession: contribution to society

Educators [trainers] contribute to the progress of their profession by disseminating what they have learned, and can serve to make other educators better at what they do through repeating the success or avoiding the failures at instruction of their colleagues in the profession.

Collectively educators [trainers] set the standards to be observed by members and make note when they are not so observed.  Education [training] contributes by increasing the intellectual [knowledge and skills] resources of society and providing for that which is needed for social cohesion and progress.

In his work on professional ethics ,Michael D. Bayles identifies teaching [training] as a profession as it satisfies what he considers as the principle features for a profession

Three Necessary features of a profession

  1. Extensive training
  2. Significant intellectual component
  3. Provision of important service to society

Three Common features

  1. certification or licensing –officially or unofficially, formal or informal
  2. organization of members-
  3. autonomy–Michael D. Bayles, Professional Ethics , Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Inc., 1981. p.  3.

Consulting and Scholarly

He then distinguishes two types or categories of professions: Consulting and Scholarly.

The criteria for the consulting professions are:

  • individual clients
  • Provision of a service related to basic values [of society]
  • Monopoly or near monopoly
  • Self regulation—Michael D. Bayles, Professional Ethics , Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Inc., 1981. p.  3

The scholarly professions, appear to be so in as much as they are salaried professions that do not involve service to individual clients.  Bayles offers the following as examples of these: teachers [trainers] , scientists, non-consulting engineers, journalists, technicians.

It should be fairly obvious that educators [trainers] do have individual clients or students [trainees] and that the profession does satisfy the criteria for a consulting profession in all respects.  That teachers [trainers] often have multiple clients is no different than with lawyers and doctors and the other consulting professions.

Teachers [trainers] do not serve large wholes or groups.  They teach [train] either single individual learners as tutors or rather discrete and small groups but they relate to each learner on an individual basis for instruction and assessment and individualised aid.

“Trainership”

Finally, in addressing the notion that the view that education is a profession might be something that is culturally located,  there is recognition by no less a world wide body as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization that it is so:

Teaching [Training] in higher education [Vocational Education and Training – VET] is a profession: it is a form of public service that requires of higher education [VET] personnel expert knowledge and specialized skills acquired and maintained through rigorous and lifelong study and research; it also calls for a sense of personal and institutional responsibility for the education [training] and welfare of students [trainees] and of the community at large and for a commitment to high professional standards in scholarship [trainership] and research.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO),Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel, 11 November 1997,http://portal.unesco.org/en/ev.php-URL_ID=13144&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html

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