Education

The Birth of the Teaching Profession

Simon Janashia
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Even though schools of the modern type have existed in Georgia for more than 200 years now, the profession of a teacher is only beginning to be formed now. How such a profession will be formed, and indeed whether it will exist at all, is an important issue for the success of the Georgian education system.

Given the existence of teachers, how it is possible that the corresponding profession has not yet been formed? What can be considered a profession and what merely an occupation or vocation?

Every occupation is not a profession. To become a profession requires the existence of a group of people whose members have had a specific technical, and at the same time, conceptual education; who operate in a non-routine context and have sufficient autonomy to adjust their abstract knowledge to tackle concrete problems; who are united around standards of professional ethics; whose professional membership is certified by a formal mechanism of acknowledgment; and who constantly undertake professional development. The situation with teachers in Georgia does not fully meet most of these professional characteristics thus far.

Every occupation cannot develop into a profession. One reason for that may be that technical progress stymies such evolution. Consider, for example, the large group of telephone operators in the post service that had to choose other occupations after mobile communications services started expanding on a mass scale some 15 years ago.
Sometimes professions fail to be formed because of the passivity of those engaged in the occupation. For example, Georgia has professional programs for training babysitters, but the development of this occupation into a profession is impeded by a general lack of initiative from both babysitters and parents.

The development of a profession can also be impeded by the state. For example, the Soviet government banned free unions: guilds, artisans' unions, and associations. Had these not been abolished, the norms of pedagogical ethics drawn up by the Society for the Spreading of Literacy Among Georgians – a charity founded in the late 19th century – could well have become the basis for a self-regulated teaching profession. However, in reality what happened was that strict controls were imposed by the state on teachers' activities.

The possibility of establishing the profession of a teacher was also impeded by the absence of demand for specific, professional education. The intensive spread of the school system in Georgia began earlier than the development of higher education. Consequently, over the decades, those teachers hired by schools were themselves often only graduates of secondary school.

Even after the higher education system developed, a short period of special pedagogical education was regarded as being sufficient to meet the requirements for qualification as a teacher. After undertaking a couple of courses and with a bit of practical training, a university graduate was eligible to be awarded a teacher's qualification along with the degree in their relevant specialty. In circumstances where such a qualification was not awarded, a university graduate could obtain one by simply undertaking a short course of retraining. In reality, until recently, even those without any higher education taught at schools.

Bearing in mind the low level of special training, the state issued strict instructions to teachers in order to achieve the desired results in the classroom. In the 1990s, Georgian pedagogical textbooks even contained explanations of how to organize desks in the classrooms so as they faced the light and from which side a teacher should approach a pupil. The likelihood of teachers developing into professionals under that strictly controlled routine and environment was very low.

The formation of the teaching profession was also impeded by the fact that teachers were equalized with public servants. Even though teachers have been hired by schools, and not the state, since 2005, the interaction between the state and teachers has not changed much. The decision on establishing the minimum amount of a teacher's salary is still taken by the government and not by their employers. Many teachers feel that they are just subordinates in the state apparatus and do not realize that they themselves must be the source of state power.

That the teaching profession is not yet formed can be seen in other attitudes too. When a math teacher is asked to name his/her profession, he/she will more often state that he/she is a mathematician rather than a math teacher. I have also witnessed such instances as a physicist, who was responsible for drawing up tests, sincerely boast in public that he did not need to know pedagogy in order to evaluate the educational process. Thus, in the absence of any boundaries of professional jurisdiction, pedagogical activities become legitimized within the boundaries of other professions and hierarchically, teachers are perceived as subordinates of scientists.

The legal norms, professional standards and certification mechanisms for the formation of the profession of a teacher were created in the past few years. The right to enter the profession was given only to those who had received a pedagogical education, and the right to remain in the profession as a teacher was awarded only to those who were certified. By so doing, a clear line was drawn between teachers and other professions.

What can this process of professionalization bring about? The results depend not only on the direction of this process, but also on the key actors and means. It is important who plans, conducts, controls and evaluates this process.

The key actor today is the state. The government regulates standards, ethical norms and the ways to enter and remain in the profession. The self-regulatory mechanisms of teachers are undeveloped. Institutionally, teachers are again equalized with public servants. The regulation of teachers exclusively by the state diminishes the need for a relationship between the teaching profession and higher education. This, in turn, weakens the link between professional development and the development of scientific knowledge.

On the other hand, without the involvement of the state we may encounter other problems. In the event of total self-regulation of the teaching profession, a threat emerges that acting teachers, fearing for their job security, will seek to limit the possibility of new generations of teachers entering the profession; and then, under the short supply of human resources, will attempt to increase their labor reimbursement.

Since only about one-fourth of acting teachers have succeeded in obtaining teaching certificates, the state may ease the requirements for remaining in the profession. No matter in what form this is done – by introducing certain categories of teacher or creating an easier alternative to the certification exam – such a decision will be an impediment for the formation of the profession of a teacher.

Of the expected negative effects of easing the boundaries of the profession, two are especially problematic: a decrease in motivation for professional development and lowering the prestige of being a teacher. Without the prestige, not many will be willing to enter the profession and, at the same time, they will be less motivated.

We must not think of the professionalization of teachers as only being a positive process. Even though membership of a profession means higher prestige and, consequently, higher self-esteem, income, and quality, the professionalization of teachers also implies teachers yielding a degree of their personal autonomy. In the absence of a profession and its corresponding standards, the actions of individual teachers are mainly an issue determined within the relationship of a teacher and his/her employer. In the presence of a teaching profession, however, the activities of teachers will also be regulated by the ethical norms of the profession.

Another negative side of professionalization may also be the weakening of the democratic supervision of schools. Professional teachers tend to be less open to the opinions of those outside the profession. Such an attitude is a source of conflict with representatives of bureaucratic bodies and may also impede the involvement of parents in the administration of schools.

You might be wondering what is wrong with teachers not listening to non-professionals. If a surgeon has the right to take the best decision about medicine, regardless of the opinion of his/her patient or their relatives, why then should teachers listen to parents or their pupils? The difference between these two professions is huge. The passivity of a patient during surgery is a prerequisite of a positive result. But if students are not actively involved in the creation of their own knowledge, teachers will prove unsuccessful. Schools must fulfill the mandate of society and not only of the profession, teachers should thus act in cooperation with both their pupils and their representatives.

The professionalization of teachers is an absolutely new phenomenon in Georgia. The formation of this profession will help raise the prestige of being a teacher, but it may bring about some negative results too. Teachers may have to cede a certain degree of autonomy. On the one hand, it is important that teachers are given freedom in their professional activity, but, on the other hand, when regulating their profession, a close degree of cooperation is necessary among the professional association, higher education institutions and the state.

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