chapter  8
35 Pages

Teachers' Conceptions of Professionalism and Trades Unionism: An Ideological Analysis

Introduction A real question seems to be whether professionalism is a necessary attribute. It may be nothing but an illusion manufactured by those wishing to distinguish themselves from the general mass, or it may indeed be a quality worth striving for by the teaching force. (NUT Member 7)2

If we can't turn to a union which has credibility, and the professionalism in the Union I see really as a professionalism in terms of the credibility of the teaching profession . . . We ought to be in a positive situation. We ought to be in a situation where we are not having to justify everything we have done and everything we plan to do and everything we propose to do in a defensive situation. And the only way I can see of us ever getting away from this degrading, if you like, situation is by having a really credible union as a fully professional body, which almost by definition never does or advocates anything unprofessional, but conducts itself according to all the laws of professional conduct. There is no other way for me to describe it. Does that come across clearly? (NUT Official)

These comments by two middle school teachers highlight a number of critical issues, the foundation for an understanding of which we attempt to provide in this chapter. These issues, which revolve around the question of how professionalism and trade unionism are discussed and put into practice by teachers, have been the focus of previous research and theorising (for example, see Corwin, 1965 and 1969; Deem, 1976). These issues, which during the period of the 'Great Debates' and cuts in educational expenditure took on an increased importance, remain central to an understanding of the teachers' situation and available strategies. They require elaboration and even reconceptualisation.