Contemporary Educational Psychology/Chapter 1: The Changing Teaching Profession and You/Professionalism of Teachers

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New Trend #4: Increased Professionalism of Teachers[edit]

Whether you consider the first three educational trends worrisome, exciting, or a mixture of the two, they have all contributed to a fourth trend in education, the increase in professionalism of teachers. Partly by definition, an occupation (like medicine or law—or in this case teaching) is a profession if its members take personal responsibility for the quality of their work, if fellow members of the occupation hold each other accountable for the quality as well, and if practicing the occupation is complex and requires special training in order to be practiced.

The trends in education that I described earlier mean that teaching has become more professional than in the past (Cochran-Smith & Fries, 2005)[1]. Because of increased expectations for achievement for all students, teachers must take increased responsibility not only for their students’ success at learning, but also for their own development as teachers. To become a new teacher, furthermore, now requires more specialized work than in the past, as reflected in states’ evolving requirements for certification and licensing in general, as well as by the NCLB requirement of “highly qualified” teachers in every school. And though teaching has always been challenging, its complexity has increased because of the recent trends toward greater diversity of students and toward the use of technology in classrooms.

Greater professionalism has emerged not only from external influences like the Federal NCLB legislation, but also from initiatives by educators themselves. For example, many teachers and educational leaders increasingly understand and support the value of action research (sometimes also called teacher research), which are studies by teachers of their own students or their own work. Action research studies lead to concrete decisions that improve a teacher’s own teaching or the teaching of colleagues (Mertler, 2006; Stringer, 2004)[2][3]. Such studies can take many forms, but here are a few brief examples:

  • How precisely do individual children learn to read? In an action research study, the teacher might observe and track one child’s reading progress carefully for an extended time. From the observations she can get clues about how to help not only that particular child to read better, but also other children in her class or even in colleagues’ classes.
  • Does it really matter if a high school social studies teacher uses more, rather than fewer, open-ended questions? As an action research study, the teacher might videotape his own lessons, and systematically compare students’ responses to his open-ended questions compared to their responses to more closed questions (the ones with more fixed answers). The analysis might suggest when and how much it is indeed desirable to use open-ended questions.
  • Can an art teacher actually entice students to take more creative risks with their drawings? As an action research study, the teacher might examine the students’ drawings carefully for signs of visual novelty and innovation, and then see if the signs increase if she encourages novelty and innovation explicitly.

Two other, more complete examples of action research are summarized in Table 1 (and the topic is also discussed in more detail in Chapter 10: Teacher-made Assessments of Learning). Although these examples, like many action research studies, resemble “ordinary good teaching practice,” they are planned more thoughtfully than usual, carried out and recorded more systematically, and shared with fellow teachers more thoroughly and openly. As such, they yield special benefits to teachers as professionals, though they also take special time and effort—a problem to which I return in Chapter 10, where I discuss assessment of students’ learning in detail. For now, the important point is that use of action research simultaneously reflects the increasing professionalism of teachers, and at the same time points toward new, evolving challenges of teaching.

Before You Read Further: If you expect to be a teacher (and perhaps even if you do not), ask yourself what you already believe that psychology is about, and therefore what you expect that educational psychology may be about. Make a brief list, either mentally or in writing, of a few of its major features—including ones that you believe may not be especially useful to teachers. Then read the next section while looking at your list from time to time.


  1. Cochran-Smith, M. & Fries, K. (2005). Research teacher education in changing times: Politics and paradigms. In M. Cochran-Smith & K. Zeichner (Eds.), Studying teacher education: The report of the AERA Panel on Research and Teacher Education, 69-110.
  2. Mertler, C. (2006). Action research: Teachers as researchers in the classroom. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  3. Stringer, E. (2004). Action research in education. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.