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Is teaching English a profession?
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Joined: 15 Jan 2003
Posts: 12844
Location: Hokkaido, JAPAN

PostPosted: Fri Feb 28, 2003 7:41 am    Post subject: Is teaching English a profession? Reply with quote

Since the topic of "professionalism" came up in the thread on dating students, and that thread seems to have found its way into mudslinging, I thought I would start a new thread with a tangent from that one.

Let's steer the conversation away from "being professional". Too many people have their own opinions of that. Instead, let's follow up on what a couple of people have offered indirectly as a question. Is teaching English a profession?

1. ESL means teaching English to non-native speakers in a native English speaking country (like Canada).
2. EFL means teaching English to non-native speakers in the non-native speakers homeland (such as Japan).

If nobody minds (and I'll be bold enough to say you have no choice, since I'm starting this thread), allow me to open the floor with the following statements. We must all bear in mind that "teaching English" can be done in a variety of formats: casual conversation lounges, university courses, individual private lessons, corporate classes, and children's TV programs such as Sesame Street. Be specific when you talk about "teaching English", ok? Most of the people on the dating thread referred ONLY to the type that takes place at conversatin schools. There are people who enter into the teaching realm with or without university degrees and with/without other forms of certification. Some people are intent on teaching for years, perhaps even making a lifetime career out of it, while others feel more at ease "using" whatever teaching system/program is available to fund their overseas adventures (and they usually teach for only a couple of years).

One more point I would like to make is this. Carpentry and politics are professions, as well as practicing medicine or law. Be careful how you compare teaching English to any of these, especially as regards training or qualifications. Some metaphors are just not going to work.

That said, allow me to insert a quote here from the end of the thread involving the dating of students. It is from scoobydo. Apologies to you, scoobydo, if this offends you, but I thought this would add to a good start.

I think this whole "professionalism" question does need a reality check. For a start has anyone remembered the old expression: "those who can do, those who can't teach". We are not starting from a good position.

Teaching ESL is not a profession. Professions have professional bodies. ESL has none. In most counties we are conversation partners. We are seen as being there to get the students to open their mouths. Even our own employers don't often think we are very important when it comes to their students learning English. This is of course a broad generalisation. Teachers in Japanese Universities who are earning a lot of money are professionals but lets face it: most of us are doing a job that could be done to some level of effectiveness by any native speaker.

As a general yardstick you can peg how prestigious your job is by how much you earn. Most ESL instructors don't earn much. I don't view myself as being very important ( although I do try to do a good job and am constantly trying to improve myself ).

If someone is proud of telling others they are a ESL teacher ( in the same way as a lawyer or Doctor is justified to feel ) then sadly they are only kidding themself on. They aren't impressing anyone except themselves and sadly are probably seen as being a little ridiculous by the listener. There is nothing wrong with going through life in our own little bubble of self delusions but it is wrong to use those delusions to attack others who dont attain your own high levels of "professionalism". To use the term scab is even more ridiculous. Scab: Someone who works (or provides workers) during a strike.

I do of course expect to get attacked in the most vicious and abusive manner. Feel free to make wide sweeping generalizations based upon your own, probably false, assumptions about myself.

Let's stay off the topic of "professionalism" and just consider whether teaching English (not just ESL and not just EFL) is a profession.

And, for goodness' sake, keep your rude comments, spelling corrections, and mudslinging out of this. We should ALL assume that we are PROFESSIONAL. Let's just see if what we do is a PROFESSION.

The floor is open.
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Kent F. Kruhoeffer

Joined: 22 Jan 2003
Posts: 2129
Location: 中国

PostPosted: Fri Feb 28, 2003 8:50 am    Post subject: a simplistic retort Reply with quote

Cool Konichiwa Glenski-san Cool

An interesting topic, for sure. We all have opinions on this one, I think.

For me, at least, the obvious needs to be stated first. The question itself, "Is ESL/EFL a 'real' profession?" ... is a bit like asking whether the glass is half empty or half full.

By asking a 'black or white' question in a field like ESL, where black and white conditions rarely exist, you are headed for a heated debate for which there is no final or conclusive answer.

For the record, I view this topic in a much more personal way. For me, it is rather obvious that teaching English (whether in a conversation school, university or sitting on a park bench) is indeed a profession, with its own implied moral codes of conduct, encompassing a body of knowledge which knows no boundaries. Just spend a few hours reading a good translation of Pushkin, or researching the history and roots of our language in a good dictionary of etymology, if you don't believe me.

This may sound overly simplistic, but I think if you see yourself as a professional, and you take your job seriously, then you are a professional, and what you do *is* a profession. To return to the metaphor above; My glass is half full. What others may think of my chosen profession is much less important to me.

The fact that there are "hobby teachers" and backpackers and unqualified people among us (those whose glass is half empty) does not, in my opinion, detract from the profession itself. It just makes it more irritating sometimes.


Kent F. Kruhoeffer
Samara, Russia
28 February 2003
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Joined: 21 Jan 2003
Posts: 13859
Location: Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA

PostPosted: Fri Feb 28, 2003 11:47 am    Post subject: What matters Reply with quote

I agree completely with Kent:

" I think if you see yourself as a professional, and you take your job seriously, then you are a professional, and what you do *is* a profession "

I don't think it matters at all whether you call your employment a " job " or a " profession ". Who cares what it's called or how others might view it?
I certainly don't give a hoot if someone else tells me I'm not engaged in a " profession " ( or that I am ). What matters is how well you do what you do, how much time and effort you put into it and whether you are succeeding in the objectives. I have a lot more respect for the _______
( fill in your choice of low paying, low status job ) who does the best he/she is capable of than in any " professional " who gets by with as little work and involvement as he/she can.
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Kent F. Kruhoeffer

Joined: 22 Jan 2003
Posts: 2129
Location: 中国

PostPosted: Fri Feb 28, 2003 12:50 pm    Post subject: definition of 'profession' Reply with quote

Hi folks, (& thanks Johnslat Exclamation )

Just a quick footnote to my earlier post, to help keep us all on-topic. Here is the 'official' definition of profession, compliments of If we're going to discuss it, it might be wise to begin with some basic parameters.


an occupation or career requiring advanced training or study
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Joined: 21 Jan 2003
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Location: Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA

PostPosted: Fri Feb 28, 2003 3:18 pm    Post subject: Defining the term Reply with quote

Dear Kent,
Ay, there's the rub - defining the term. Does it mean " making a lot of money " - professional athletes and ( HA! ) wrestlers. If so, ESL/EFL teachers aren't going to qualify. Does it mean being accorded " high status " by society - doctors, lawyers, engineers ( and, again, the sports figures ). If so, I'd say we ESL/ELF people ( and, for that matter, most teachers in general, with the possible exception of tenured profs at big name universities ) wouldn't make the grade, either. But by your definition, then some ESL/EFL teachers ( those with advanced training and study ) would be pros, while others ( the " backpacker brigade ", generally speaking ) would not. Still, as I mentioned before, to me it's immaterial whether I'm considered a " professional " or not. All that matters to me is if I can feel that I'm doing the job to the best of my ability. I have the degree, but I don't think that automatically makes one a " profesional ". I've seen too many degree-holders who weren't good teachers. But, all other things being equal, if I were hiring teachers, I'd go with the " qualified " ones because you have to have some base-line criteria for the people you employ, if you're interested in the good of the students.
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 28, 2003 3:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I believe it is a profession. It is also a serious profession just like any other "respected" one. I am absolutely for training ESL/EFL teachers in real school and universities rather than run-of-the-mill teacher training programs. I, for one, wouldn't learn anything there.
I feel terribly disqualified to be a teacher sometimes. I feel wonderful as a teacher at times. I feel knowledgable at times. But feelings aside, I think of myself as a professional. Why?
Because I went to school for 6+ years to get trained for this sort of position. I am still in school, and am currently teaching 3 different courses. I am not perfect nor do I think of myself as completely qualified, but I do think I am adding experience to my repertoire.
Why do I get offended when someone looks down their nose on an aspiring teacher (backpacker or not)? Because I think we are excluding these would-be teachers from our "clique" (heaven-forbid) and crushing their discovery of their passion to being a teacher--perhaps, a good teacher.
I am sorry....I have to leave this post unfinished. (Have an important call). Shall write more later.
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 28, 2003 4:41 pm    Post subject: The devil is in the definitions Reply with quote

Well, this should get exciting.

My vote is for calling ESL/EFL a profession because my definition of profession is similar to what Kent wrote:

This may sound overly simplistic, but I think if you see yourself as a professional, and you take your job seriously, then you are a professional, and what you do *is* a profession.

Some people have more involved definitions, like scoobydo who seems to argue that professions are fields regulated by some oversight panel or registration body. I understand his point but don't agree. We're in a profession just like a doctor, the plumber who fixed my sink, and the lady who owns my favorite sushi bar near campus. I don't think of one as being better than the other based on education, prestige, or anything else.

Maybe this is one source of the outrage between the "Is not!" and "Is too!" camps. Maybe when people like scoobydo hear people like me call this field a profession, they think we're snobbishly trying to make ourselves more important than we are. Some people might be doing that, but not me. To me, any job is a profession if you want it to be.

Ultimately, trying to figure out whether or not ESL/EFL is a profession is merely an interesting mental exercise. Like Kent and johnslat, whether or not anyone else thinks I'm in a profession is less important to me than acting like a professional. Sorr