Looking Back and a Little Forward: Reflections on Professionalism and Teaching as a Profession
Drawing of raised fist with the text "COCAL: Contingent Academics Unite!"

How to Cite

Larson, M. S. (2014). Looking Back and a Little Forward: Reflections on Professionalism and Teaching as a Profession. Radical Teacher, 99, 7–18. https://doi.org/10.5195/rt.2014.112


The author goes back to her earlier work on professionalization, in which she argued that aspiring professions aim at converting one order of scarce resources into another: credentials, as proxies for expertise, into protected opportunities, special status, and work privileges. This effort implied a tendency to monopoly and it was not easy to replicate after the classic professions of medicine and the law had consolidated their position in the early twentieth century. Professions born within large organizations are in a very different situation, even if they may aspire to the same status and autonomy at work. After discussing the shortcomings of her earlier work and the research questions that can still fruitfully be posed, the author considers the challenges that school teaching faces in our time. Universal mandatory education has been the watershed that transformed this occupation into what it is today: a huge category spread out at many levels, still predominantly female, highly educated, and, in many countries but not ours, following a civil service model. School teaching must also cope with the very high expectations that surround a universal service provided by an apparatus of the state. Professionalism imposed “from above” seems less promising for school teaching and their students in the U.S. than an enlightened union movement capable of self-criticism and self-reform.