What makes an individual a “professional”? In an earlier think piece I had delved into what teaching means as a profession and what a teacher is a professional. In essence, teaching is a profession that provides an important public service which requires that teachers have theoretical and ground expertise and a distinct ethical code of practice. They are also under an organization or structure for regulation and disciplinary purposes, which compromises their individual autonomy or judgement in their practice.
Teachers and teaching are not isolated from the entire social, political, cultural system that we are part of, which has an impact on policies that affect the teaching-learning process and our learners. One criticism with teaching, particularly for public school teachers under the large bureaucracy of the Department of Education, is that it is semi-professional because teachers have no full autonomy – while they can decide how they will and what they will teach in the classroom, they are governed by the curriculum, school policies, and directives from the division, regional, and central offices.
Yet if we want to be critically reflective in teaching practices and if we want teachers to grow personally and professionally, there must be opportunities or spaces in the school and in the system for us to individually reflect and to bring critical reflection to action so that it can transform teaching and learning. Research and studies show that continuing professional development improves the knowledge base and skills of educators and ensures that learners are given quality education. For this reason, it becomes also the responsibility of policy-makers and education leaders to ensure that teachers are given collaborative professional development.
In the Philippine context, I have yet to observe one of the venues for these learning communities in the public school setting. The Learning Action Cell (DO. No. 35, s. 2015) and the Teachers’ Quality Circle are opportunities for basic education teachers to come together to share content, experiences, and pedagogical knowledge aside from the various seminars or trainings focused on enhancing their skills. However, based on my own observations and researches, the very barrier to far-reaching changes and transformations in the classroom are some of the teachers themselves – some are comfortable in their own zone and routine, some have long graduated and are not familiar with new content and pedagogical knowledge, and some simply do not have the time or capacity to apply what they learn in various trainings and it becomes a matter of compliance and performance bonus. Yet for some of the teachers I have interviewed, sharing and reflecting with their colleagues have had a far more powerful influence over them in their practice than any other training or seminar. Simply put, without the support of the leadership, fellow teachers, and structures in place, we cannot expect teachers to grow to their full potential as critically reflective educators and subsequently, we cannot expect students to be critically reflective learners.