||Volume 16, No. 1, Sept./Oct. 2003 |
Teaching as beekeeping
by Pat Clarke
Consider beekeepers. To be a proper beekeeper, you must have certain credentials. If you want to go commercial with your bees, you must have certification that indicates you are a properly trained beekeeper. Once you have that qualification, in order to continue as a beekeeper, you must follow certain rules enforced by an agency or a ministry of government. You may have a say in the drafting and implementing of the regulations governing beekeeping, but in the end they are government policy, and you live within them or find another trade.
Trade is the operative word. You are not a professional if you are a beekeeper. You are a tradesperson or craftsperson. The difference between a professional and other workers, such as beekeepers, is the public recognition that the work of a professional is sufficiently complex that practitioners are best able to govern the credentials, qualifications, and conduct of fellow practitioners. The job is seen as one that has more to it than basic skills training. Also the nature of the work is varied enough and subject to such a vast array of circumstances that those practising the profession are really the only people who have the knowledge required to judge conduct and performance.
Beekeeping is an important and valuable trade. Teaching is an important and valuable profession. It is preposterous to suggest that there are similarities, unless, of course, you are the minister of education. Christy Clark’s hijacking of the B.C. College of Teachers puts teachers in the same classification of worker as beekeepers.
Evidently the provincial government sees teaching as an occupation where the primary public concern is regulation. As such, teaching can be controlled or governed by anyone. As far as the government in Victoria is concerned, since teaching is mostly about following rules, people not affected by the rules therefore best control it. So we now have a college of teachers under the control of a minister of education who can have anyone she wants in the majority. Think of it as more like a marketing board.
The minister may claim that the majority on the new college board will be educators just not members of an odious union. The problem is, most of the members of the college are members of that union. Most of the members of the college are classroom teachers in public schools. For a college to have effectiveness or credibility with its members, it must have a degree of responsibility to them. They must respect it. This college will be neither responsible nor respected. It will be viewed for what it is: a political setup.
As professional practitioners, public school teachers know the circumstances they work in. They know what constitutes effective teaching; they know the nature of teachers work in public schools. To have a governing body for the profession controlled by a group whose position is determined by a minister who has limited understanding of the real work of teachers, is akin to putting airline passengers in charge of air control—democratic in theory, disastrous in practice.
The most insidious effect of this regulatory categorizing of teaching is that it deprofessionalizes teaching. Teaching, in the eyes of regulators, can be about only what they understand. To be effectively governed by regulators, the work has to be observed and assessed on their terms, ones they understand. So teaching becomes less and less a creative undertaking, less and less a teacher-to-student relationship determined by individual needs. (Creativity and individualization are not receptive to regulation.) Teaching starts to look more like a trade, and teachers more like line employees than professional workers.
So who cares? Teachers should! And parents and the public should pay attention, too. The beekeeper model will not improve teaching. It will not make schools better.
Deprofessionalizing teaching by setting up a watchdog agency that is about following rules will not make teachers more responsive to their students and creative in their classrooms. It will do the opposite. It will make us more wary. It will discourage creative risk. It will stultify the joy of teaching, the spontaneity, the energizing thrill of the teachable moment.
Who is watching? How might this be misunderstood? Will that get me into trouble? Those will be the questions that will direct our teaching, not What is best for this child? Who is the real loser then?
Pat Clarke is director of the BCTF’s Professional and Social Issues Division.