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TEACHING AS A PROFESSION

An address delivered at the First Conference for Educational Workers Union,


Hong Kong, April 15, 1982.

Cho-Yee To

I am delighted to see members of different to society. As a profession, however, teaching


educational organizations gather here to has had a long and difficult history. Its social
exchange views and information on important and cultural functions have never been critically
topics in education and perhaps also to form challenged, but nevertheless the public has not
plans of action. Our presence here shows our adequately supported teaching. Compared with
serious concern as educators about our other learned professions, such as medicine,
profession; it also signifies cooperation between law, engineering, architecture, and business,
local teachers and their counterparts elsewhere teaching ranks rather low. Some teachers are
in the world. This kind of international dissatisfied with, and even depressed about
interaction is essential to the advancement of their professional standing. They feel that
any professional body. the work load is too heavy, and the recognition
and appreciation are too limited. They think
I. Is Teaching a Profession? that they do not have sufficient opportunities
to advance in their careers and that they have
We have a common interest. We want to no power to control the content and form of
clarify our role as teachers, that is, our role their work. They resent prohibition against
in the operation, improvement, and development their direct involvement in policy making in
of education. We are proud of being "educational educational affairs. Time and again, they ask:
workers," an identity suggested by the title of Is teaching a profession? Or is it merely a sub-
this Conference. Indeed, ''educational worker" profession?
is a fitting term. Not every form of activity To discuss the status of teaching, we
is work, even if it brings remuneration to the must understand the nature and functions of
person engaged in it. It is work only when it education, and the promises and limitations
produces something of value to others. The of teaching as a career. Then we can proceed
business of teachers is to help students to acheive to deliberate about how teaching may be
higher standards of knowledge, ability, skills, transformed into a strong and powerful
and moral character. If teachers do their work profession.
well, then their work is of great value to others,
not simply in a particular time, but also in II. The Promises of Teaching
the future.
Teachers are more than workers. They By its very nature, teaching possesses two
are also members of a profession. Their very appealing traits. First, it deals with the
occupation renders definite and essential services young, with those whose minds and characters

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CUHK Education Journal Vol. 10 No. 2 1982

are forming. It is a privilege to be entrusted have affirmed their commitments, teachers


with the task of facilitating the growth and must devote their time and energies to their
development of the younger generation. The professional activities. They should ask them-
teacher shares the parents' responsibilities selves, for instance, to what extent are they
and joy of direct involvement in promoting involved in the new course that have been
the healthy and balanced mental and moral introudced? In what way have they affected
life of children. Indeed, teaching is pre-eminent the shifts in subject matter, and the change in
among the callings in its opportunities for methods of instruction that have occurred?
cultural and moral services. Do they attend professional meetings and help
Second, teaching provides opportunities formulate professional policies? What attemps
for intellectual development. It brings those have they made to give direction to educational
who pursue it into intimate contact with books, and social change?
experiments, and ideas. It stimulates the desire All these questions suggest that the
for increased knowledge and for wider functions and responsibilities of teachers are
intellectual contacts. Actually, no teacher can not confined to the classroom. Teachers should
be really successful in performing his duties actively join in curricular development,
unless he is intellectually curious. Since instructional design, theoretical inquiry, and
literature, science, and the arts are taught in technical planning, as well as policy making.
schools, the teacher's continued advancement They should have certain organized ways in
in some or all of these fields is desirable. Thus, which they can participate in the formation
in teaching, intellectual development is not a of the controlling aims, methods, and materials
sideline. It is something which fits directly of the school system of which they are a part.
into the demands of the work. Therefore, teachers' organizations have a very
The material rewards that teaching brings important role to play in the advancement of
are not the chief reasons for going into it. It the teaching profession.
promises no financial prizes equal to those
obtainable in business, law, engineering, or IV. Activities That Teacher Organizations
medicine, but neither are there the risks. The Should Actively Pursue
remuneration of teaching is relatively modest
but reasonably sure and steadily increasing. If In the past, teachers' associations have
vacation periods are included as part of the been mainly concerned with membership drives
material reward, then teaching ranks high among and bargaining for emoluments for their
professions. To many, this aspect of the members. But in recent years, they have begun
profession balances all the material drawbacks. to review their traditional functions critically.
Some of them do provide professional services
III. The Need for Commitment to the to their members. There is a lot more to do.
Profession Clearer and broader objectives of the profession
need to be established. A mechanism for the
If teachers do not enjoy their work and self-evaluation and self-discipline of the
have doubts about their careers, they should profession needs to be created. A code of
reexamine their attitudes and intentions and, professional ethics for teachers needs to be
one hopes, they will renew their commitments developed.
to education. By so doing, they will convince There are other important activities
themselves once again that teaching is not essential to the professionalization of teachers,
simply an ordinary job; it is the profession such as practitioners' participation in the control
that they willingly choose to pursue. Teaching of professional matters, promotion of relevant
is how they establish their identity and manifest research, and publication of professional and
their values. scientific journals. These activities must also
But commitments bear no fruit until be planned.
they are substantiated by action. Once they

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Cho-yee To Teaching As A Profession

V. The Importance of Public Support for professional matters, they will not be able
to develop their potential. Thus, society will
So far, we have been discussing how suffer from a permanent loss, that is, the absence
teachers and their organizations should and of a fully developed education profession to
could upgrade their professional functions and serve it.
make greater contributions to society. We have The Hong Kong community has
not talked about how society in turn should traditionally valued the education of its
support the teaching profession. Dedicated children very highly. Here, the prospect that
teachers with clear objectives can accomplish the public will support the advancement of
a lot. Their initiative and effort can bring about teaching as a profession is good, so long as it
substantial educational and cultural changes. is persuaded that a strong teaching profession
But teachers cannot accomplish as much as and a good education are positively related.
they should unless the importance of their With committed teachers, efficient organizations,
non-classroom responsibilities is fully recognized and a sympathetic public, the teaching profession
by society. If teachers have too many subject to will soon transform itself into a leading
teach, they will not have adequate time and profession, and will bear this responsibility
energy to achieve professional growth and with confidence and pride.
extend their professional activities. Also, their
interaction with the young will be on a
Dr. Cho-Yee To is Professor and Director of
mechanical rather than on a human level. If
the School of Education, The Chinese University
teachers are thought to be unqualified or
of Hong Kong.
unprepared to assume greater responsibility

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