TEACHING AS A PROFESSION

By FRANK ROSCOE
Secretary of the Teachers Registration Council

The title of this chapter is prophetic rather than descriptive for although teachers often claim for their work a professional status and find their claim recognised by the common use of the phrase “teaching profession” yet it must be admitted that teachers do not form a true professional body. They include in their ranks instructors of all types, from the university professor to the private teacher or “professor” of music. Their terms of engagement and rate of remuneration exhibit every possible variety. Their fitness to undertake the work of teaching is not tested specifically, save in the case of certain classes of teachers in public elementary schools, nor is there any general agreement as to the proper nature and scope of such a test, could one be devised. Usually, it is true, the prospective employer demands evidence that the intending teacher has some knowledge of the subject he is to teach. He may seek to satisfy himself that the applicant has other desirable qualities, personal and physical, which will fit him to take an active and useful part in school work. These inquiries, however, will have little or no reference to his skill in teaching, apart from what is called discipline or form management.

The characteristics of a true profession are not easily defined, but it may be assumed that they include the existence of a body of scientific principles as the foundation of the work and the exercise of some measure of control by the profession itself in regard to the qualifications of those who seek to enter its ranks. Taken together, these two characteristics may be said to mark off a true profession from a business or trade. The skilled craftsman or artisan may belong to a union which seeks to control the entrance to its ranks, but the difference between the member of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers and the member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers is that the former belongs to a body chiefly concerned with the application of certain methods while the latter belongs to one which is concerned with those methods, not only in their application but also in their origin and development. It is recognised that there is a body of scientific knowledge underlying the practice of engineering, and the various professional institutions of engineers seek to extend this knowledge, while claiming also the right to ascertain the qualifications of those who desire to become members of their profession. The same is true in different ways with regard to the professions of law and medicine. It is to be noted also that within these professions the admitted member is on a footing of equality with all his colleagues save only so far as his professional skill and eminence entitle him to special consideration.

It will be seen at once that there are great difficulties to be overcome before teaching can be truly described as a profession. The diversity of the work is so great that it may be held that teaching is not one calling but a blend of many. It is difficult to find any common link between the university professor, the head master of a great public school, an instructor in physical training, and a kindergarten teacher. It is not easy to bring together the head master of a preparatory school, working in complete independence, and the head master of a public elementary school, dealing with pupils of about the same age as those in the preparatory school, but controlled and directed by an elected public authority under the general supervision of the Board of Education. Yet despite these apparent divergences of aim all teachers may be regarded as pursuing the same end. They are engaged in bringing to bear upon their pupils certain formal and purposeful influences with the object of enabling them to play their part in the business of life. Such formal influences are seconded by countless informal ones. School and university alone do not make the complete man and it is an important part of the teacher’s task to second his direct and purposeful teaching by the influence of his own personality and conduct, and by securing that the form or school is in harmony with the general aim of his work.

Skill in imparting instruction is by no means the whole of the equipment required by a teacher. It is indeed possible to give “a good lesson” or a series of “good lessons” and yet to fail in the real work of teaching. In some branches far too much stress has been laid on the more purely technical and mechanical attributes of good teaching as distinct from the finer and more permanent qualities such as intellectual stimulus, the awakening of a spirit of inquiry, and the development of a true corporate sense. By way of excuse it may be said that teaching has tended to become a form of drill chiefly in those schools where the classes have been too large to permit of anything better than rigid discipline and a constant attention to the learning of facts. Teachers in such circumstances are gravely handicapped in all the more enduring and important parts of their work. Very large schools and classes of an unwieldy size tend to turn the teacher into a mere drill sergeant.

While full provision should always be made for the exercise of the teacher’s individuality there must be sought some unifying principle in all forms of teaching work. Unless it is agreed that the imparting of instruction demands special skill as distinct from knowledge of the subject-matter we shall be driven to accept the view that the teacher, as such, deserves no more consideration than any casual worker. No claim to rank as a profession can be maintained on behalf of teachers if it is held that their work may be undertaken with no more preparation than is involved in the study of the subject or subjects they purpose to teach. A true profession implies a “mystery” or at least an art or craft and some knowledge of this would seem to be essential for teachers if they are to have professional status.

The difficulty in this connection is that the principles of teaching have not yet been worked out satisfactorily. Our knowledge of the operations of the mind develops very slowly and those who carry out investigations in this field of research are few in number. Their conclusions are not necessarily related to teaching practice but cover a wider field. The study of applied psychology with special reference to the work of the teacher needs to be encouraged since it will serve to enlarge that body of scientific principle which should form the basis of teaching work. It is by no means necessary, or even desirable, that teachers should be expected to spend their time in psychological research. Their business is to teach and this requires that they should devote themselves to applying in practice the truths ascertained and verified by the psychologists. For this purpose it will be necessary that they should know something of the method by which these truths are sought and proved. It is also an advantage for teachers to learn something of the history of education, not as a series of biographies of so-called Great Educators but rather with the object of learning what has been suggested and attempted in former times. Such a knowledge furnishes the teacher with the necessary power to deal with new proposals and with the many “systems” and “methods” which are continually arising. Instead of becoming an eager advocate of every novelty or adopting an attitude of indiscriminate scepticism he will be in some measure able to estimate the true merit of new proposals, and his knowledge of mental operations will serve as an aid in judging whether they have any germ of sound principle. The alternative plan of leaving the teacher to learn his craft solely by practice often has the result of confining him too closely to narrow and stereotyped methods, based either on the imperfect recollection of his own schooldays, or on the method of some other teacher. Imitation is cramping and serves to destroy the qualities of initiative and adaptability which are indispensable to success in teaching.

It will be noted that no extravagant demand is put forward on behalf of what is called training in teaching. The methods of training hitherto practised have been based too frequently on the assumption that it is possible to fashion a teacher from the outside, as it were, by causing him to attend lectures on psychology and teaching method and to hear a course of demonstration lessons. This plan may fail completely since it is possible to write excellent examination answers on the subjects named and even to give a prepared lesson reasonably well without being fitted to undertake the charge of a form. It should be recognised that the practice of teaching can be acquired only in the class-room under conditions which are normal and therefore entirely different from those existing in the practising school of a training college. When this truth is fully apprehended we may expect to find that the young teacher is required to spend his first year in a school where the head master and one or more members of the regular staff are qualified to guide his early efforts and to establish the necessary link between his knowledge of theory and his requirements in practice.

The Departments of Education in the universities should be encouraged to develop systematic research into the principles of teaching and should be in close touch with the schools in which teachers are receiving their practical training.

The plan suggested will be free from the reproach often levelled against the existing method of training teachers, namely, that it is too theoretical and produces people who can talk glibly about education without being able to manage a class. It will also recognise the truth that the young teacher has much to learn in regard to the art or craft of teaching and that there are certain general principles which he must know and follow if he is to be successful in his chosen work. The application of these principles to his own circumstances is a matter of practice, for in teaching, as in any other art, the element of personality far outweighs in its importance any matter of formal technique or special method. The ascertained and accepted principles underlying all teaching should be known and thereafter the teacher should develop his own method, reflecting in his practice the bent of his mind.

The recognition of a principle does not of necessity involve uniformity in practice. Freedom in execution is possible only within the limits of an art. The problem is to define these limits in such a liberal manner as will allow for variety and individual expression. The saying that teachers are born, not made, is one which may be made of those who practise any art, but the poet or painter can exercise his innate gifts only within certain limits and with regard to certain rules. It is no less fatal to his art for him to abandon all rules than it is for him to accept every rule slavishly and apply it to himself without intelligence.

The acceptance of the principle that there is an art or at least a craft of teaching is a condition precedent to any attempt to make teaching a profession in reality as well as in name.
The further requirement is that those who are engaged in teaching should have some power of controlling the conditions under which they work and more especially of testing the qualifications of those who desire to join their ranks. This demands a recognition of the essential unity of all teaching work and a consequent effort to bring all teachers together as members of one body, possessing a certain unity or solidarity in spite of its apparent diversities. To form such a body is a task of great difficulty since the various types of teachers have in the past tended to separate themselves into groups, each having its own association and machinery for the protection of its own interests. Apart from the teaching staffs of the various universities, there are in England and Wales over fifty associations of teachers, ranging from the National Union of Teachers with over ninety thousand subscribing members to bodies numbering only a few score adherents. These associations reflect the great diversity of teaching work already described, but all alike are seeking to promote freedom for the teacher in his work and to advance professional objects. Such aspirations have been in the minds of teachers for many years and from time to time attempts have been made to realise them by establishing a professional Council with its necessary adjunct of a Register of qualified persons. Seventy years ago the College of Preceptors, with its grades of Associate, Licentiate and Fellow, suggesting a comparison with the College of Physicians, was established with the object of “raising the standard of the profession by providing a guarantee of fitness and respectability.” The College Register was to contain the names of all those who were qualified to conduct schools, and admission to the Register was controlled by the College itself in order to provide a means of excluding all who were likely to bring discredit upon the calling of a teacher by reason of their inefficiency or misconduct. The scheme thus launched was, however, not comprehensive, since it concerned chiefly the teachers who conducted private schools and did not contemplate the inclusion of those who were engaged in universities, public schools, or the elementary schools working under the then recently established scheme of State grants. Teachers in schools of this last description were apparently intended by the government of the day to be regarded as civil servants, appointed and paid by the State. Subsequent legislation modified this arrangement, but teachers in schools receiving government grants are still subject to a measure of control, and those in public elementary schools are licensed by the State before being allowed to teach. It will be seen that the effort to organise a teaching profession was hampered from the start by the fact that teachers were not entirely free to set up their own conditions, since the State had already taken charge of one branch, while further difficulties arose from the varied character of different forms of teaching work and from the circumstance that some of these forms were traditionally associated with membership of another profession, that of a clergyman.

Hence it was that despite several attempts to institute a Register of Teachers and to organise a profession the difficulties seemed to be insurmountable. Between the years 1869 and 1899 several bills were introduced in Parliament with the object of setting up a Register of Teachers but all met with opposition and were abandoned. The Board of Education Act of 1899 gave powers for constituting by Order in Council a Consultative Committee to advise the Board on any matter referred to the Committee and also to frame, with the approval of the Board, regulations for a Register of Teachers. It was not until 1902 that an Order in Council established a Registration Council and laid down regulations for the institution of a Register. The Council thus established consisted of twelve members, six of whom were nominated by the President of the Board of Education while one was elected by each of the following bodies: the Headmasters’ Conference, the Headmasters’ Association, the Head Mistresses’ Association, the College of Preceptors, the Teachers’ Guild, and the National Union of Teachers. The members of the Council were to hold office for three years, and afterwards, on 1 April, 1905, the constitution of the Council was to be revised. The duty assigned to the Council was that of establishing and keeping a Register of Teachers in accordance with the regulations framed by the Consultative Committee and approved by the Board of Education. Subject to the approval of the Board the Council was empowered to appoint officers and to pay them. The income was to be provided by fees for registration and the accounts were to be audited and published annually by the Board to whom the Council was also required to submit a report of its proceedings once a year.

Under this scheme a Register was set up, with two columns, A and B. In the former were placed the names of all teachers who had obtained the government certificate as teachers in public elementary schools. This involved no application or payment by such teachers, who were thus registered automatically. Column B was reserved for teachers in secondary schools, public and private. Registration in these cases was voluntary and demanded the payment of a registration fee of one guinea in addition to evidence of acceptable qualification in regard to academic standing and professional training. Although teachers of experience were admitted on easier terms the regulations were intended to ensure that, after a given date, everybody who was accepted for registration should have passed satisfactorily through a course of training in teaching. As designed in the first instance Column B furnished no place for teachers of special subjects and it became necessary to institute supplemental Registers in regard to music and other branches which had come to form part of the ordinary curriculum of a secondary school.
The scheme thus provided a Register divided into groups according to the nature of the accepted applicant’s work. Such an arrangement presented many difficulties since it ignored all university teachers and assigned the others to different categories depending in some instances on the type of school in which they chanced to be working and in others on the subject which they happened to be teaching.

A professional Register constructed on these lines had the seeming advantage of supplying information as to the type of work for which the individual teacher was best fitted. On the other hand it was held that the division of teachers into categories was unsound in principle and the teachers in public elementary schools were not slow to resent the suggestion that they belonged to an inferior rank and were properly to be excused the payment of a fee. They pointed out that many of their number held academic qualifications which were higher than those required to secure admission to Column B wherein some eleven thousand teachers had been registered, of whom not more than one half were graduates. The views thus expressed were shared by many other teachers and it speedily became manifest that the proposed Register could not succeed. In the Annual Report of 1905 the Council stated that under existing conditions it was not practicable to frame and publish an alphabetical Register of Teachers such as appeared to be contemplated in the Act of 1899. In June, 1906, the Board of Education published a memorandum stating the reasons which had led it to take the opportunity afforded by impending legislation to abolish the Register, and in the Education Bill of 1906 a clause was inserted which removed from the Consultative Committee the obligation to frame a Register of Teachers. This clause was strongly opposed by many associations of teachers. It was urged by these bodies that although one scheme had failed yet a Register was still possible and desirable. It was held by many that the task assigned to the Registration Council had been an impossible one since the conditions of supervision and control imposed under the Act of 1899 left the Council very little freedom and wholly precluded the establishment of a self-governing profession. The general opinion seemed to be that any future Register must be in one column avoiding any attempt to divide those registered into different classes and that any future Council must be as independent and widely representative as possible. This opinion found expression and official sanction in a memorandum issued by the Board of Education in 1911 after several conferences had been held for the purpose of promoting a new registration scheme. The memorandum stated that: “It should not be so much the kinds of teachers likely to be most rapidly or easily admitted to the Register that should specially determine the composition of the Council but rather the larger and more general conception of the unification of the Teaching Profession.” This new and wider idea served to govern the formation of the Teachers Registration Council which was established by an Order in Council of February, 1912. The body constituted by this Order consists wholly of teachers and includes eleven representatives of each of the following classes: the Teaching Staffs of Universities, the Associations of Teachers in Public Elementary Schools, the Associations of Teachers in Secondary Schools, and the Associations of Teachers of Specialist Subjects. The Council thus numbers forty-four and it is ordered that the chairman shall be elected by the Council from outside its own body. At least one woman must be elected by each appointing body which sends more than one representative to the Council provided that the body includes women among its members. It will be seen that the constitution aimed at forming a Council wholly independent and thoroughly representative. This quality was further ensured by the establishment of ten committees, representing various forms of specialist teaching and providing that any conditions of registration framed by the Council should be submitted to these committees before publication.

The first Council under this scheme was formed in 1912 and held office for three years as prescribed by the Order in Council. The chairman was the Right Honourable A.H. Dyke Acland and the members included the Vice-Chancellors of several universities and representatives of forty-two associations of teachers. The first duty of the Council was to devise conditions of registration and these were framed during 1913, being published at the end of that year. They provide in the first place that up to the end of 1920 any teacher may be admitted to registration who produces evidence of having taught under circumstances approved by the Council for a minimum period of five years. Regard for existing interests led to the setting up of a period of grace before the full conditions of registration came into force. After 1920, however, these become more stringent and require that before being admitted to registration the teacher shall produce evidence of knowledge and experience, while all save university teachers are also required to have undertaken a course of training in teaching. Under both the temporary and later arrangement the minimum age for registration is twenty-five and the fee is a single payment of one guinea. There is no annual subscription.

The second Council was elected in 1915 and appointed as its chairman Dr Michael E. Sadler, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leeds. Up to the middle of July, 1916, the number of teachers admitted to the Register was 17,628 and the names of these were included in the Official List of Registered Teachers issued by the Council at the beginning of 1917. The Register itself is too voluminous for publication since it comprises all the particulars which an accepted applicant has submitted. All registered teachers receive a copy of their own register entry together with a certificate of registration. It will be seen that the task of receiving and considering applications for registration forms an important part of the Council’s work. But it is by no means its chief function. As is shown in the Board of Education memorandum already quoted the Council is intended to promote the unification of the teaching profession. The Register is nothing more than the symbol of this unity and the Council is charged with the important task of expressing the views of teachers as a body on all matters concerning their work. This is shown in the speech made by the Minister of Education at the first meeting of the Council. After welcoming the members he added:

“The object of the Council would be not only the formation of a Register of Teachers. There were many other spheres and fields of usefulness for a Council representative of the Teaching Profession. He hoped that they would be able to speak with one voice as representing the Teaching Profession, and that the Board would be able to consult with them. So long as he was head of the Board they would always be most anxious to co-operate with the Council and would attach due weight to their views. He hoped that they on their side would realise some of the Board’s difficulties and that the atmosphere of friendly relationship which he trusted had already been established would continue.”

The functions of the Council are thus seen to extend beyond the mere compilation of a Register of Teachers and to include constant co-operation with those engaged in educational administration. In view of the desire which is now generally expressed for a closer union between the directive and executive elements in all branches of industry it is safe to assume that the Teachers’ Council will grow steadily in importance, especially if it is seen to have the support of all teachers.

Meanwhile it furnishes the framework of a possible teaching profession and gives promise of securing for the teacher a definite status by establishing a standard of attainment and qualification. More than this will be required, however, if the work of teaching is to be placed on its proper level in public esteem. Those who undertake the work must be led to look for something more than material gain. The teacher needs a sense of vocation no less than the clergyman or doctor. It has been said that “teaching is the noblest of professions but the sorriest of trades” and the absence of any real enthusiasm for the work inevitably produces an attitude of mind which is alien to the spirit of a real teacher. The material reward of the teacher has accurately reflected the want of public esteem attaching to his work. For the most part a meagre pittance has been all that he could anticipate and this has led to a steady decline in the number of recruits. A profession should furnish a reasonable prospect of a career and a fair chance of gaining distinction. Such opportunities have been far too few in teaching to attract able and ambitious young men in adequate number. The remedy is to open every branch of educational work and administration to those who have proved themselves to be efficient teachers. The national welfare demands that those who are to be charged with the task of training future citizens should be drawn from the most able of our young people, to whom teaching should offer a career not less attractive than other callings. In particular the teacher should be regarded as a member of a profession and trusted to carry out his duties in a responsible manner. Excessive supervision and inspection will tend to discourage and eventually destroy that quality of initiative which is indispensable in all teaching. Freed from the monetary cares which now oppress him, definitely established as a member of a profession having some voice in its own concerns, encouraged to exercise his art under conditions of the greatest possible freedom, and provided with reasonable opportunity for advancement, the teacher will be able to take up his work in a new spirit. We may then demand from new-comers a sense of vocation and expect with some justification that teachers will be able to avoid the professional groove which is hardly to be escaped and which is quite inevitable if the conditions of one’s work preclude opportunity for maintaining freshness of mind and a variety of personal interest. Such limitations as accompany inadequate salaries, lack of prospects and absence of professional status convert teaching into “a dull mechanic art” and deprive it of its chief elements of enjoyment, namely the free exercise of personality and the recurring satisfaction of seeing minds develop under instruction, so that we are conscious of our part in helping the future citizens to make the most of their lives. It is this power of impressing one’s own personality on the pliable mind of youth which brings at once the greatest responsibility and the highest reward to the teacher and attaches to his task a true professional character since it may not be undertaken fittingly by any who cherish low aims or despise their work.

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