Teachers' Lives and Careers

By Stephen J. Ball; Ivor F. Goodson | Go to book overview

Teacher Status Panic: Moving Up the Down Escalator

Rodman B. Webb

Editors’ Note: The research upon which this chapter is based was conducted under Contract No. 400-79-0075 of the National Institute of Education, Washington, DC. It does not necessarily reflect the views of that agency. The chapter was published in slightly different form in the Journal of Thought (1983), 18, 4, pp. 39-48. It is reprinted here by permission of the Journal of Thought. While the paper is based on research conducted in the USA the parallels with the contemporary situation in Britain are inescapable.

It is an American shibboleth that teaching is a ‘rewarding’ (read personally satisfying) profession. However, a two-year study of middle and high school teachers gives reason to distrust the truth of this long-time truism (Ashton, Webb and Doda, 1983). Ethnographic analysis of observation data gathered in ten public school classrooms and interviews with more than forty teachers suggest that teaching is no longer the satisfying profession it once may have been. In fact, teaching has become a profession in crisis.


Status and Mobility

Dan Lortie (1975) has pointed out that in the United States ‘teaching is clearly white-collar, middle-class work and as such offers upward mobility for people in blue-collar or lower-class families’ (p. 35). Historically, teaching has provided an honourable route to the white-collar world of the middle class. 1 The education profession has offered its members an adequate and slowly increasing income, job security, and some degree of community respect. Rapidly expanding school systems have offered better-paying administrative jobs for teachers who wished to continue their ascent up the social status ladder. Today, however, the situation is changing.

Population growth has slowed dramatically and a sluggish economy has caused some school systems to lay off teachers and others to struggle along on shrinking resources. Inflation has cut deeply into the salary advances earned during the 1960s.

-78-

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