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Developing Educator Expertise to Work with Adolescent English Learners
Module 1 – Introduction to Key Constructs

By Aída Walqui

OVERVIEW    |    INTRODUCTION    |   PART 1   |     PART 2   |    PART 3   |   REFERENCES

Part 2: Professionalism

Can educators, and specifically educators who work with English Learners, be considered professionals? Is teaching a profession? Multiple arguments have been raised both in support of and in disagreement with the premise that educators are professionals.

This section of the introductory module explores the following:

  • Reasons why teachers are (or are not) professionals

  • Elements that define a profession

  • Components that constitute a knowledge base


This section also presents the notion of “plural professionalism” as a way of resolving tensions in the field.

Activity 2.1: Reading with a focus on the concept of plural professionalism

Participants will engage in: individual reading and note-taking (to be completed outside class)

Reading: Professionalization 2.0: The Case for Plural Professionalization in Education (Mehta & Teles, 2014)


As you read the article, Professionalization 2.0: The Case for Plural Professionalization in Education, keep the following questions in mind (please take notes on your thoughts about these questions, as your notes will be needed in subsequent activities about this reading):

  1. What characteristics define a profession?

  2. When can one say a group of professionals has a knowledge base?

  3. Would you say educators who work with English Learners have a knowledge base? Can they be considered professionals? Why or why not?

  4. Can a model of plural professionalism help educators who work with English Learners? In which way? Provide an example.


Activity 2.2: Sharing and discussing in class about the concept of plural professionalism

Participants will engage in: jigsaw discussion

Duration: 20 minutes

After participants have read Professionalization 2.0: The Case for Plural Professionalization in Education and taken notes on their own at home, they will bring their notes and come together to discuss the article and its application to the field.


  • Ask participants to count from 1 to 4.

  • Have participants move to a table with all of the other participants that share their number (before this activity, the instructor has prepared cards with numbers to label tables 1–4).

  • Have participants spend 8 minutes at their tables discussing their answer to the questions from Activity 2.1 and taking notes on what their tablemates share with them. The group should come up with one final comment or question to share with others in the class.

  • Then, with their notes from the group discussion, participants go back to their original tables and take turns sharing their final comment or question with the group. Give participants about 8 minutes to share and come up with an idea for further discussion with the whole class.

  • Monitor a general discussion with the whole class for approximately 4 minutes.


Activity 2.3: Viewing a video clip to further the focus on professionalism

Participants will engage in: video clip viewing and note-taking

Video: Lee Shulman discusses teacher expertise

Duration: 10 minutes

Lee Shulman’s work on teacher knowledge and its development made a great contribution to the field of education in general and to learning and teaching specifically. Shulman focused his work on professional judgment by exploring it under conditions of uncertainty. He believed that teaching was as cognitively complex as being a medical practitioner, and that teachers, like doctors, engaged in acts of decision-making and professional judgment that informed their practice.


In Activity 1.3, participants already explored an adaptation of Shulman’s model related to the education of English Learners.

  • Have participants listen to part of an interview with Shulman.

  • Ask them to focus on the following three questions, and to take notes on their thoughts:

  1. What does Shulman think his contribution to the field has been? Why?

  2. What does Shulman mean when he talks about capturing teaching in context? What kind of criticism did this work encounter?

  3. In Shulman’s opinion, what are the limitations of standardized testing? What does he propose instead? Why?

  • Ask participants to reflect on how everything Shulman talks about in the interview matters today, almost 15 years later.


Activity 2.4: Discussing Shulman’s pivotal ideas about professionalism

Participants will engage in: whole-group discussion

Duration: 6–10 minutes


  • Run a whole-group (class) discussion with participants on the key ideas presented by Shulman and their current relevance. Use the questions from Activity 2.3 to guide the discussion.

  • Ask participants to refer to their notes from Activity 2.3 when they participate.


Activity 2.5: Shared knowledge base and specialized language as features of professionalism

Participants will engage in: listening to interview and taking notes

Video: What’s in a Name? The Terms We Use to Talk About English Learners, the Theories They Reflect, and Why Labels Matter

Duration: 15 minutes

In the article, Professionalization 2.0: The case for plural professionalization in education, and in the book, The allure of order. High hopes, dashed expectations, and the troubled quest to remake American schooling (Mehta, 2013), Mehta proposes that professions that are stronger than teaching are characterized by their sharing of a well-developed knowledge base that practitioners are required to possess, which includes common ways of using a specialized language. He also underscores the importance of a shared language. In a conversation that Aída Walqui had with Dr. Guadalupe Valdés, Bonnie Katz Tenenbaum Professor of Education at Stanford University, during the summer of 2020, they discussed the problem of shared language in the field of English as a second language, and more specifically, the labelling of English Learners in ways that undermine their abilities and potential.  


  • Invite participants to watch to an excerpt from the conversation between Walqui and Valdés (which will be the centerpiece of Module 2).

  • Ask participants to consider and take notes on the following prompts (these notes will be important for a discussion in Activity 3.4):

    • Focus on Dr. Valdés’s ideas about what language to use, and what language not to use, when we talk about English Learners in our classrooms.

    • What does Dr. Valdés add to Mehta and Teles’s discussion from their article, Professionalization 2.0: The case for plural professionalization in education?

    • Do they think Dr. Valdés’s arguments make sense? How?

    • Are they worried about some of her argumentation? What specifically and why?

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