Teaching could easily continue to reinforce its image as an amateur activity. Or it could take the steps that Mr. Wise and Ms. Leibbrand recommend, in order to transform itself into a respected profession.
A phrase from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland comes to mind when we think about the choices we have to make for the future of education: "If you don't know which way you want to go, any old road will get you there." If we do not invent our own future for the profession of teaching and teacher education, others will invent it for us.
In 1986 in these pages, the senior author predicted several scenarios for the future of teaching. Today, two scenarios are unfolding - one develops a profession of teaching, the other construes teaching as an amateur activity. Both of these trends are responses to the public perception of our field.
Teaching as a profession. Recent trends emphasizing teacher professionalism and performance are reshaping views on education and, consequently, policies and procedures within the education system. These reform-oriented trends are moving ahead, albeit in somewhat piecemeal fashion. Today they are affecting only small numbers of those in the teaching field, but the changes beginning to occur now have die potential to transform teaching into a true profession. For example, the number of autonomous state standards boards that establish professional standards for initial licensing and licensing renewal has tripled in the last five years. In addition, the creation of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, which is setting national standards for advanced certification, has promoted discussion of and action on national standards for teachers. Moreover, new and more rigorous accreditation standards for teacher education programs are being implemented by some schools of education under the auspices of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). The new standards are demanding enough that approximately one in five of those schools of education that have agreed to national peer review has been denied accreditation on an initial attempt.
One important impetus that is supporting these trends is the nationalization of education policy. In the past four years, policy makers have emphasized the importance of setting strategies to meet national education goals. This trend seems likely to continue. The Bush Administration promoted the implementation of national tests to measure student performance. The Clinton Administration will shift that emphasis to issues of equity and quality, but it will still keep the focus on achieving national education goals. The first report on progress toward the national goals demonstrates that we have a long way to go. The National Education Goals Panel says that there is a "real and dangerous gap" between Americans' beliefs about education and our actual performance.
The focus on national standards for student performance leads inevitably to an examination of standards for teacher performance. Without competent and well-prepared teachers, the reform of education will not occur.
The professionalization of teaching is thus beginning to emerge, one piece at a time, from the various calls for reform. Business and political leaders understood that teachers needed more training in content areas. As a result, many states have mandated stiffer requirements for subject-matter knowledge. Meanwhile, as some policy makers are seeking to nationalize education policy, others are pressing for reforms that can be characterized as the extreme localization of decision making - school-based management, shared decision making, autonomous practice by well-prepared teaching professionals, and teacher participation in policy development. The implications for teacher education are profound. What both of these trends demand is competent performance by autonomous professionals who operate not only within their own classrooms but also in the policy-making councils of the schools, districts, and states.
Teaching as an amateur activity. The second scenario for the future of teaching happens to be the current "business-as-usual" situation. Too often, schools hire college graduates to teach whichever class lacks an instructor. And, incredibly, there are still those teaching in American schools today who do not have a bachelors degree. Substandard hiring practices now crop up at the first sign of a teacher shortage. Teachers are still hired on short notice and are given minimal, if any, mg support or guidance during their first years.
Today, anyone who wants or needs a job can try teaching. New college graduates who cannot decide on a permanent career can sign up. Those displaced from a military career can, upon termination, begin teaching. As amateurs without preparation, they may inflict harm - and, in many cases, they remain an ineffective presence in the classroom.
Individuals who wish to enter any professional field other than teaching must return to school to gain specialized knowledge prior to engaging in independent practice. The public demands that doctors, dentists, psychologists, engineers, architects, and social workers graduate from accredited professional schools. Americans would not send their children to a doctor who lacked a proper credential. Yet many are compelled to place their children in classrooms staffed by unqualified individuals.
Adults who wish to move from other careers into teaching should be welcomed. But all those who want to teach need adequate preparation for today's diverse classrooms. Managing a learning environment requires special skills and knowledge that are gained over time. More universities and colleges are developing programs specifically designed for those making a mid-career transition to teaching.
These two policy directions - increased professionalization versus teaching as an amateur activity - currently coexist because we hold a schizophrenic view of the classroom teacher. We see the teacher both as hero, struggling to meet the needs of 25 to 150 students daily, and as disillusioned contract worker, merely marking time in the classroom. On the one hand, we have highly …