The GWT Blog

To Improve U.S. Education, it’s Time to Treat Teachers as Professionals

Posted on July 21, 2011

By Howard Gardner
Howard Gardner

This piece is part of a on the right way to approach teacher incentives — with opinion pieces by Duke University behavioral economics professor , U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Harvard Graduate School of Education professor , and Washington Post columnist .

“What are the right incentives to have in place for teachers?” The very question itself is jarring. It implies that teachers don’t want to perform well and that they need incentives, which in today’s parlance translates into rewards (money) and reprimands (fear of loss of benefits or position).

Let me present a very different picture: Teachers should be regarded as and behave like professionals. A professional is a certified expert who is afforded prestige and autonomy in return for performing at a high level, which includes making complex and disinterested judgments under conditions of uncertainty. Professionals deserve to live comfortably, but they do not enter the ranks of a profession in order obtain wealth or power; they do it out of a calling to serve. Be it law, medicine, auditing, education or science, the expectation is the same: professionals should work hard to gain the requisite credentials, behave ethically as well as legally, and when they err, should take responsibility for their error and try to learn from it.

Does this sound hopelessly romantic? I have had the good fortune of working with many professionals with the attributes I’ve just described. And yet, I would be naïve if I did not admit that this picture of professionals is not as vivid today as it was in 1950 or even 1980. The reasons for the decline of the professional are complex, but certainly the hegemony of market thinking is the dominant factor. If one thinks of professionals simply as individuals thrust into a market place, subject to supply and demand, and seeking to accumulate as many financial and other resources as possible, then they are indistinguishable from individuals who are not by definition professionals—such as business people or artists or athletes...

This piece was originally published in The Washington Post. Click here to continue reading:

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