While at West Point I learned that there is an "art of war" as well as a "military science". I accepted that I was a member of the profession of arms, a profession that was part science and part art. It was science in that it could be studied, be analyzed, and have lessons applied. It was an art in that applying the science didn't guarantee a replicable outcome, and some people (think Robert E. Lee or George Patton) just have a flair for it. To quote from The West Point Military History Series: Definitions and Doctrine of the Military Art, "Physical components, such as the size of armies and the relative lethality of weapons, were known to be important. In addition, intangible components, such as methods, morale, and leadership, were recognized as potentially decisive factors...." Science and art.
Is teaching a profession or a skill? Are we professionals or skilled laborers?
The question is non-trivial. The knee-jerk reaction is to say that of course teachers are professionals. But why? What exactly is a professional? What divides professionals from skilled laborers? I thought it might be instructive to list some fields that most everyone should agree are professions, and some that most everyone should agree are skilled labor, and a gray area, and see if that helps.
-military officer/NCO corps
Clearly skilled labor
Gray area? Up for grabs
Are there clearly identifiable components in these categories? What is it that makes doctors clearly professionals, mechanics clearly skilled laborers, but puts chefs and teachers in limbo? Unions exist in all three categories, as do specific training/education and licensing requirements. There's good (and not-so-good) money to be made in each of these categories. Clearly, money, unions, and education are not the sole determiners. Is a professional artist truly in a profession, or a craft? What is the difference?
Joanne links here to an article comparing teachers to salespeople. Is sales a profession, a skilled position, a craft, or a trade? I'm not sure. Is Bill Gates a professional? By what standard? Michael Jordan? Michael Jackson? Jennifer Aniston? How about Sir Ian McKellan? or Sir Paul McCartney? or Lady Margaret Thatcher? or the current and previous six US presidents, all of whom were either governors or vice presidents? Was Sam Walton a professional? Why or why not? My dictionary defines "profession" as "an occupation or vocation requiring training in the liberal arts or the sciences and advanced study in a specialized field". Does that mean there's no such thing, semantically speaking, as a professional athlete?
And what about "the oldest profession"? :-)
I'm beginning to wonder if the difference between a profession and a skilled labor position (or a craft or trade) is merely the esteem in which we hold the field. How important is the work, how arduous are the barriers to entry, how much sacrifice is required? How much do we respect the people in the field as a group?
By my ramblings it's clear that I don't have a definitive answer. Therefore, I can't tell you for sure where teachers fall. I'm open to comments, suggestions, and insight.