23 SES 06 A, Curriculum Reforms and Teacher Agency
Talking about teachers as ´professionals´ has become commonplace within teacher education, education policies and in everyday discourse. However, the meaning ascribed to the concept of teacher professionalism in these different contexts is often not made explicit. What does it really imply for teachers to be ´professionals´ and how are we to make sense of the idea of professionalism when applied to teaching? In Sweden, a result of the introduction of the idea of teachers as professionals has been that the teacher unions have adopted an agenda of teacher professionalization as their overall policy objective. However, the professional projects of the two Swedish unions are fundamentally different concerning what is to constitute the knowledgebase of a teaching profession. The largest union, The Swedish Teachers Union, is strongly in favor of a view emphasizing the idea of a professional knowledgebase common for all teachers, grounded in the discipline of didactics. The other union, The National Union of Teachers, however, rejects such claims and argues that the only knowledgebase viable for a teaching profession must depart from the subject discipline taught by the teacher in question.
Professionalism is, in itself, a contested concept. Hanlon (1998, 51) has argued that the classic version of social welfare professionalism is replaced in contemporary western societies by a kind of ‘commercialized professionalism’, aimed ‘to make professionals accountable and enforce financial and managerial discipline upon them’, resulting in a situation where professional success is measured in terms of profitability and effectiveness and not in terms of serving citizens. The view of teacher professionalism inherent in this political discourse is thereby centered on a particular discourse of ‘good teaching’, what Moore (2004) refers to as ‘the competent craftsperson’. This is a kind of teacher that works effectively with his/her ‘raw material’ in order to produce students whose knowledge can be easily evaluated, thereby also judging the technical skills of the craftsperson in question. Viewing teaching in this rather instrumental manner has been severely criticized within educational research, not least because it hides fundamental aspects of what it is to be a teacher, not least in relation to questions of ethics.
From a more philosophical point of departure, Maxwell (2014), using metaphor theory, argues that speaking of teachers as professionals constitutes a metaphor that restricts our view of certain aspects of teaching while highlighting others. First, a professional view of teaching is unable to account for the socio-moral dimension of the occupation, resulting from the close and sustained interpersonal contacts that constitute a fundamental part of teachers’ work. Second, it hides the fact that teachers are accountable to multiple parties, such as children, parents, colleagues, taxpayers, governments etc., placing competing demands on them. It is the intention of this paper to expand on the analysis of how Sweden’s teacher unions define the concept of ‘teacher professionalism’ and how they use it in order to promote their policy priorities. In particular, it will discuss the implications this may have for how teaching is understood, within Swedish educational policy debates, as a ‘professional’ occupation. Is it possible to overcome the seemingly persistent divide between basing teacher professionalism on some kind of pedagogical technology or in the academic traditions of already existing subject disciplines? How are we to account for the ethical and relational dimensions of teaching in relation to the rather instrumental way that teacher professionalism is constituted within contemporary PISA-driven educational policymaking? Or should we, consequently, perhaps give up on the idea of teachers as professionals all together?
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