In James MacBeath's chapter on the Future of the Teaching Profession, he outlines some critically important professional criteria that should always resonate with those in the teaching profession.
These criteria are summarized as:
1. Theoretical knowledge and skills related to the practice of teaching.
2. Preparation through pre-sevice and academic or professional activities that demonstrates professional competence.
3. Recognition and passing of professional and legal requirements to join the professional body.
4. Induction into the profession as a teacher in training or as a beginning professional with feedback and opportunities for continuous professional development.
5. Participation and joining professional bodies, organizations, and passing entrance requirements for membership.
6. Ability to work autonomously while utilizing professional and theoretical knowledge.
7. Adhering to professional code of conduct and ethics.
8. Ability to self-regulate profession separate from the government.
9. Dedication to the betterment of the public and altruism.
10. Joining to organization with legal authority over profession
11. Body of knowledge and skills is inaccessible to the uninitiated.
12. Skills and knowledge are mobile and belong to an individual and not the organization for which they work.
Teaching is a profession that demands high level of knowledge, skill, and moral/ethical behavior. However, it is often seen by the public as being part of a "trade" with minimal education and professional entry requirements, with low or unqualified practitioners, and with low pay and benefits.
While the low pay and low benefits may be true, the perception of teachers being unqualified and untrained is not. Granted that there will be exception -- as there are in all professions -- most teachers in the U.S. must have either a Bachelor's of Science in education or a Masters in Education, which could mean 6 years of formal education in a specialized area of education (primary, secondary, special education, language, mathematics, science, etc). Teachers must also pass a "highly qualified" test such as the Praxis (https://www.ets.org/praxis), have at least one year of professional induction as a teacher in training, satisfy state requirements for professional competence, pass a state run criminal background check, and satisfy not only job entry requirements the work place but maintain high teaching and learning outcomes. In addition, teachers must pass regular observation and evaluations by their principals or managers. That's not even counting what happens inside the classroom with the students or outside the classroom with the parents.
MacBeath points out a definition taken from the Australian Council
of Professions that define teaching as "A profession is a disciplined
group of individuals who adhere to ethical standards and who hold
themselves out as, and are accepted by the public as, possessing special
knowledge and skills in a widely recognised body of learning derived
from research, education and training at a high level, and who are
prepared to apply this knowledge and exercise these skills in the
interest of others" (ACP, 2004, p.1).
I agree that teaching is different than other professions because it demands a commitment to the students and to altruism, but I don't agree that teachers should be under paid with low benefits because of their dedication to others. In fact, we as a society should honor those who devote their lives to helping, saving, and protecting others and they should be fairly compensated.
While teachers work in the interest of others, it seems that others don't always have the interest of teachers in mind as shown through ignorance of professional requirements, unrealistic performance expectations, and minimal recognition or work autonomy. The current state of the teaching profession, which has been marred by incidents of cheating on standardized assessments or gross ineptitude, is a symptom of unrealistic, uninformed, and uneven education reforms, focusing mostly on students' performance on irrelevant standardized assessments. MacBeath does note that teachers face "excessive expectations from society at large" which has resulted in teachers feeling caught between the the excessive expectations and low professional esteem. In other words, teachers must rise to meet the professional standards listed above and the high performance expectations from government and society while also dealing with the perception that they lack professional competence.
The nature of teaching is one of continuous evaluation and self-improvement, and good teachers often fall into exhaustion, frustration, or are simply pushed out of the profession. While of course there are teachers who don't or can't perform to the standards, few from the outside realize that at any given day, even the best teachers fall short, and its through continuous support and development, just like what we expect for our students, that teachers become better teachers.