Am I a professional?

Over the last 10 to 20 years the word “professional” has lost much of its meaning. Once upon a time a professional was someone who practised one of the traditional professions. Nowadays Jim’s Lawn Mowing offers professional cuts and edging, the Coffeeschool offers a “professional barista course” (only $99! One day 9.15 – 3.00!!) and Privategirls (NSFW) offer “Independent ladies who work for themselves as Professional Private Escorts”.

So am I more professional than a one-day qualified coffee maker? Well I would hope so, but who is to say? Wikipedia offers a convenient list of professions that helpfully includes teachers, but the list also includes firefighters. On the same page Wikipedia does give a definition of professions:

….that commonly have specialized educational training and legal qualification, of formal or mandatory study, has strict oversight or is self-regulating, and usually requires a person actively engaged to be a member of a professional body.

So if we take those in turn.

  1. Specialized educational training? Yes, in my case first education qualification only one year after a degree
  2. Legal qualification? Yes, you need the legal qualification to practise as a teacher
  3. Formal and mandatory study? Yes again, as above. Or maybe all three of these are really one point.
  4. Strict oversight? Yes – in my case the Victorian Institute of Teaching – the VIT (Vellem Discordant throws garlic)
  5. Member of a professional body? Hmmm, a bit trickier. I guess that is the VIT.

So is the VIT a professional body for teachers? In the about us section the VIT says:

The Victorian Institute of Teaching is a statutory authority for the regulation of the teaching profession in Victoria established by the Victorian Institute of Teaching Act 2001.

So it’s a regulator, not a professional body.

The Institute operates along similar lines to other regulatory bodies, such as the Legal Services Board and the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency

Ah, so teaching is just like lawyering and doctoring. But don’t lawyers have the various Law Societies/Institutes ($465 p.a) and doctors the Colleges of General Practitioners and Surgery ($2,645 p.a.) etc?

Well, similarly (we’ll see), teachers have the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership. The first mention on their about us page says:

The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of the Lands across Australia and we pay our respects to Elders past, present and future.

That’s nice, then:

The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) provides national leadership for the Australian, State and Territory Governments in promoting excellence in the profession of teaching and school leadership.

AITSL is a public company (ABN 17 117 362 740) limited by guarantee, established under the Commonwealth Corporations Act 2001 and subject to the provisions of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013. It is funded by the Australian Government and the Minister for Education and Training is the sole member of the company. AITSL operates under its own constitution, with decisions made by an independent board of directors. ​

So not really a professional association for me as a teacher. What is does do is have a list of standards for professional practice that some bureaucrat/academic has decided are the things that I should be doing.

So how am I doing against Wikipedia’s list? Training, certification and registration all yes. But professional body?

VIT – I pay a fee each year to get a card that indicates that …. I have paid a fee. Plus they have the power to deregister me.

AITSL – I can’t “join”, but it does give me instructions on “how to teach”. A bit like the manual you get with the $99 barista course above.

That leaves the union. They would like to think they are a professional body for teachers but the truth is most people join just in case some kid accuses them of doing something untoward and they are going to get sued or fired, or both. In fact, if you are a teacher you would be foolhardy not to be a member of a union for that reason alone.

So on those criteria I would judge that I’m more of a professional than a barista/lawn mower/hooker but less of a professional than a doctor or a lawyer. But of course there are other standards to measure a professional – and the ever helpful Wikipedia says about professionals:

…the term is used as shorthand to describe a particular social stratum of well-educated workers who enjoy considerable work autonomy and who are commonly engaged in creative and intellectually challenging work.

So lets look at those terms:

  1. intellectually challenging work – indeed sometimes teaching can be. Not always, but often enough to stay interesting.
  2. creative – I’m not sure what I think about that
  3. enjoy autonomy – this is interesting.

One of the features of the “true” professions is to be able to engage in your work in an autonomous fashion. After all, if you see a doctor or lawyer you want their consideration of your problems or concerns, and for them to work to the best of their abilities to solve any problems. Is that the way teachers work? I would say increasingly not – teachers are more and more (I believe) instructed by administrators how to teach, and given less and less flexibility about what methods and techniques they can use in the classroom. The constraints are getting narrower and narrower.

This constraint of professional decision making capability amongst teachers has corresponded with an increase in bodies offering “advice” on what good teaching looks like. Instead of teachers as professionals looking at advice from bodies such as VIT/AITSL/Ofsted/research universities and then making informed decisions on the best way to teach, increasingly administrators pick some aspect from the above bodies, decide “good teachers do this” and instruct their staff on the way to teach in the classroom.

So am I a professional? Is teaching a profession? I would say no. I am a well-educated, certified and registered knowledge worker that enjoys limited autonomy within a highly internally- and externally-regulated working environment.



  1. Or – not having a teachers’ professional body doesn’t mean that teaching isn’t a profession. It means it’s a profession with a long overdue need for a professional body… In England, I’m one of many campaigners for a (Royal – eventually) College of Teaching. Are there similar calls in Australia?


    1. No – it is really the unions, the VIT or the AITSL. My union publishes a journal which is educationally-focussed, rather than industrially-focussed, and does run some PDs. There are a number of subject associations which would be the closest thing to professional bodies.


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