(A coursework in Sociology of Education in a Canadian context.)
In all aspects of societies’ existence, teaching has a unique mission to sustain them in an ongoing social transformation accompanied by risks or dangers. The task commences from the pre-school towards higher learning institutions, preparing individuals to be fully equipped in facing the challenges of society’s life course. The teachers’ role is equally important and imperative or more likely substantial in maintaining social equilibrium through training and schooling, either formal or informal, of actors in every social institution. Therefore, teaching is a unique occupation or social role compared to other forms of work.
Education is one of the primary social institutions, aside from the family, economy, religion, and the government. It is co-synonymous with training, schooling, and teaching. Learning processes could be traditional or formal, such as classroom instruction, training, workshop, and informal methods, such as community activities, socialization, and social interactions. Because education could be in formal and informal forms, teachers’ role is as significant as those of the head of a family, capitalists and workers in the economy, the preachers or faith leaders in religion, and political leaders in our government. This exceptionality of the teaching job has been a subject of interest by researchers in education.
Two education scholars, Willard Waller and Dan Lortie, illustrate the unique nature of teaching. First, in “The Sociology of Teaching,” Waller (1965) argued that teaching is a particular or unique type of occupation that makes an educator a ‘stranger in the community’ (Wotherspoon, 2018: 165; Doherty, 18 March 2021: Powerpoint Slide #5). Waller uses the metaphor of a thin impenetrable veil that describes the teachers’ relationship with their community. This metaphor explains that the teachers could never know what others are really like, as they are different when teachers are watching them. Simultaneously, the community can also never know the teachers because it does not give the teachers a chance for ordinary social interaction. This process put the teachers as member-outsiders in the neighbourhood, which implies that they could not act and express themselves as they are or are true to themselves.
The teachers’ position of being outsiders in the community, aside from the one previously described, exemplifies two more things: spending quality time for their families and evading public criticisms. Many demands or workloads assigned to teachers consume too much time to the extent of sacrificing time for their own families, which is considered very limited. Thus, the family’s quality time is taken away by occupational demands that could only be accomplished beyond teaching or school hours. To avoid public scrutiny, they must present themselves as good citizens or as exemplary examples to the public, living by what the people (society) expect of them, specifically outside their homes or in public, exhibiting moral ascendancy at all times.
Second of the teaching uniqueness demonstrates that teaching is ‘special but shadowed social standing’ (Lortie, 1975: 10 qtd. Wotherspoon, 2018: 166). The de-professionalization or de-skilling of teachers significantly impacts teachers’ reputations as educational agents or workers. As a result, more social relations development opportunities are offered to them, yet, still, as teachers, are accountable to higher social morality standards. Thus, Lortie clarifies teachers’ ‘special but shadowed social standing’ as ‘respected and devalued’ (Doherty, 18 March 2021: Powerpoint Slide #6).
However, in my perspective, devaluation and respect are irreconcilable terms by which respect is gained through the value of what one does. How could the public revere teachers if their teachings, or what they are doing, are devalued? Somebody might argue that the teacher is the one respected, while the teaching-undertakings are the ones devalued. There is no sense at all. It is sagaciously and worth noting that teaching duties and responsibilities identify and make them teachers, and the nature of their job requires and encompasses professionalism.
Despite the tremendous social role in societal development by imparting knowledge and preparing children to be productive members of society, teachers’ professional status is questioned or contested. Three approaches consider teaching as a profession: professional trait perspective, historical development approach, and pressure group theory (Doherty, 18 March 2021: Powerpoint Slide #8; Ozga and Lawn, 1981 cited in Wotherspoon, 2018: 168-169). The succeeding paragraphs will describe each process to clarify teaching as a profession.
Professor Doherty (18 March 2021) elaborates that the professional trait perspective characterizes occupation as professional through formal credentials related to work or discipline objectively defined (Slide #9). With social recognition, the job involves high status (Slide #9), entails a high degree of workplace authority or decision-making, and exhibits a selfless or altruistic commitment to their careers and clients (Slide #10). Teaching occupation has these characteristics, except for a high degree of control or authority and decision-making because of bureaucratic power, usually in conflict with teachers as a professional group.
The historical account explains the progression of teaching’s professional status through better pieces of training, learning and teaching improved conditions, and significant inputs into sophisticated educational matters, despite governmental or administrative challenges (Slide #11). Furthermore, recognizing limitations on educational policy and practice due to state legislation and regulations, teachers found collective bargaining is an effective and successful initiative to improve their status and welfare as an occupational group (Slide #12).
Given the above-specified teachers’ increasing demands (workloads) and their ongoing scuffle or plight for full recognition as professionals, I considered it another teaching unique nature or feature as educators become reflexive to society’s draining tensions. I also argue that professionalism, like other social jargon such as gender and their roles, is a social construct, reinforcing social inequality and discrimination, depicting certain social groups’ dominance, and relating to social status and power relations. The examples of these social disparities in educational institutions, in particular, are but are not limited to a ratio of male to female teachers, income gap, representation of minority groups, and male domination in administrative roles or positions.
Gender and teaching diversity becomes problematic, as White teachers are dominant while classroom settings are culturally diverse. The traditional division of labour reflects gender roles in the school duties and tasks delegation; for instance, most female teachers teach at the elementary level while most male teachers teach at the secondary level. Subject areas are also gender categorized, where male teachers teach mathematics, sciences, and engineering. In contrast, women are in general classrooms teaching health, business education, or household sciences. This categorization of teaching assignments underpins that teaching is a gendered occupation.
The gender composition in the teaching workforce infers inequality in the intersection of gender, race, and ethnicity. In conjunction with this, it also regulates or determines leadership positions and wage differentials. Gender discrimination in teaching is institutionalized which the paternalistic model of authority prevails by incorporating it into the schooling system (Wotherspoon, 2018: 180-181). It demonstrates that systemic inequality is embedded and reproduces in educational institutions. This situation increases the wage gap among male and female teachers, which rationalizes that the former has more formal training and experience. Thus, salaries reflect and are inclined to higher qualifications. Race and ethnicity in the teaching workforce are problematic, showing White’s dominance, commonly female teachers, which is also intensifying gender intersection issue.
Another predominant and visible disparity in the educational workforce is the administrative leadership, advocating gender stratification within teaching. As mentioned previously, salary as an indicator of teachers’ qualification also categorizes the types of teaching positions men and women occupy (Wotherspoon, 2018: 176-177). For instance, the pre-school or kindergarten and primary teaching positions are ordinarily for female teachers, associated with the extension of traditional mothering obligations, while secondary school teaching positions are for male teachers, indicating particular subject areas like mathematics and engineering. Administrative positions, such as principal, vice-principal, classroom inspector, and university president, are male titleholders, which more likely perpetuates the conventional paternal authority.
Finally, teaching uniqueness as an occupation, the continuing challenges it endures, and the teachers’ resilient and positive attitudes toward their chosen career are the embodiment of their professional character. Despite the gender discrepancies within, historical developments attest in its initiative, aiming to keep the gap closer if complete closure is improbable. Moreover, unless the public understands and lauds teachers’ exceptional contribution to nation-building, they will not remain strangers and devalued professionals in the same society in which they co-exist.
Doherty, Jason. (18 March 2021). “Teachers and Teaching.” Powerpoint Slides SOCI 3410: Sociology of Education [Lecture]. Trent University-Durham-GTA.
Wotherspoon, Terry. (2018). The Sociology of Education in Canada: Critical Perspectives. Fifth Edition. Oxford University Press Canada.