A Professional View Of Teacher
by Frank Farmer
Eldridge (2005) gives an insightful analysis of what such commonly used terms as professionalism, professional development, teacher development and teacher training may mean in an ELT context. He goes on to show how these definitions may generate conflicts of interest for trainees, trainers and institutions.
In this article, teacher training and development will be explored from a professional standpoint as a tool for resolving these conflicts of interest.
Eldrige’s view of professionalism is not unusual, and perhaps can ultimately be traced back to Goode’s (1969) account. Goode makes a list of the requirements for professionalism under the general headings of Professional knowledge and the Service ideal, and includes extended descriptions of all the usually accepted requirements of knowledge, skills and attitudes as well as the professional organizations needed to define and enforce standards. Goode holds that these are ‘generating traits’; that is, if a group of workers acquires these characteristics, it becomes professional. The causal link in this view is not proven. May it not be the case that professional approaches to the delivery of expert services in fact generate the observable attributes of professionalism?
Dingwall and Fenn (1987) examine professionalism in this light and show how professionalism may work as a socio economic system for the accountable delivery of expert services. The fundamental problem with expert services is that at first glance the expert holds all the cards. They claim to have the knowledge skills and attitudes to solve the client’s problem, but the client has no way of knowing whether the service could have been better, or just as good but cheaper, or whether undesirable outcomes could have been avoided. The client is vulnerable because of the difficult nature of the problems that are brought before professional advisers and the practical, emotional and financial consequences of failure to solve them. Each client’s problem is unique, and there is no book or web page that the client can consult to challenge professional advice. Dingwall and Fenn (1987: 61) point out that ‘the judgement of the professional stabilizes the unpredictable into a basis sufficiently reliable for human action’. That is their job.
These professional activities are controlled by society in two main ways. The most fundamental is the law suit for negligence or incompetence. Because professionals have to diagnose clients’ problems as well as framing them in a way that makes them soluble, they cannot resort to ‘small print’ to limit their responsibility. The problem with the law suit is that it only applies after something has gone wrong, and in any case needs the testimony of the professional peers of the accused expert to give evidence. Society’s second defence, then, is some kind of official recognition of the qualifications required for practice. But this too has problems. Charlatans can be well meaning as well as fraudulent, and the claims of any group of workers to be the only people able to solve difficult problems need to be examined very closely. Monopoly of practice can only be granted reluctantly and provisionally, and not to protect practitioners but to protect vulnerable clients.
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