To read this content please select one of the options below:

Teacher professionalism: Chinese teachers' perspectives

Christopher W. Day (Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, The University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia)
Alyson Simpson (The University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia)
Qiong Li (Center for Teacher Education Research, Key Research Institute, Beijing Normal University, Beijing, China) (Taihang Branch of Center for Teacher Education Research of Beijing Normal University, Xingtai University, Xingtai, China)
Yan Bi (Faculty of Education, Beijing Normal University, Beijing, China)
Faye He (Faculty of Education, Beijing Normal University, Beijing, China)

Journal of Professional Capital and Community

ISSN: 2056-9548

Article publication date: 14 March 2023

Issue publication date: 19 May 2023




This study aimed to investigate associations between the organisational and cultural contexts in which Chinese teachers work, the influence of these on their understandings of professionalism, and relationships between these and their perceived willingness and commitment to be effective in teaching to their best.


The research was part of a two-country collaboration between the universities of Beijing and Sydney into Australian and Chinese teachers' perceptions of influences on their professionalism in which research protocols were jointly developed and implemented. This paper focusses mainly upon the Chinese research but also refers to key differences between Australian and Chinese teachers' perspectives. Seventeen teachers in early, middle and later career phases were recruited from a convenience sample of primary and secondary schools in Beijing. Qualitative data analyses of individual interviews, and cross case comparative analyses were conducted.


The analyses of the data from Beijing indicated that almost all teachers emphasised their strong moral purposes and commitment to teach to their best, despite identifying the challenges of workload, school contexts and cultures and personal circumstances, which tested their resolve. In contrast, concerns about teacher autonomy and agency, which were common in the Australian study and other published research literature, were not highly visible in the Chinese data.

Research limitations/implications

The authors acknowledge that this study was small scale and data were collected from a narrow sample from one urban region of China, and we should be cautious with the generalisability of findings to other regions and schools of China since there are significant discrepancies between developed coastal areas and large cities and the remote rural areas in China. Furthermore, interview data were only collected once, restricting insight to a snapshot in time. This research may be seen as an encouragement to researchers from other regions and countries to further explore the impact of socially situated understandings of teacher professionalism on practice. Future research could also benefit from utilising multiple data sources, longitudinal design and cross-cultural collaborations to further explore the challenge of defining teachers' understandings of professionalism locally while engaging with global perspectives.

Practical implications

The practical implications relate to (1) expanding conceptualisations of teacher professionalism by developing locally nuanced understandings of perceptions and enactments of professionalism in different contexts across the profession, which take account of the unique roles of national and local cultural contexts; (2) designing initial teacher education and continuing professional development programmes so that they take account of the influences on the professions' ideals and individual teacher identities, of the ideological and practical interplay in the workplace of structures such as mandated standards, and different socio-economic geographical settings (e.g. rural and urban); (3) designing leadership development programmes that take account of research on associations between school leaders' values, qualities and practices on school cultures and their effects on teachers' well-being, and capacities and capabilities to fulfil their understandings of being professionals and teach to their best.

Social implications

The social implications relate to (1) further research on the associations between the effects of external policy demands on teachers' work and work–life tensions, teachers' sustained commitment and quality; and (2) further research on the impact of the collective influences of national cultures, broad-based policy conditions, personal values and the demands of particular schools, parents and students that influence teachers' experience, perceptions and enactments of professionalism in order to provide further insights into understanding the complexity of teachers' lives and promoting teachers' sustained enactments of professionalism in broad contexts.


The research findings, though tentative, revealed that the altruistic nature of their mission to serve students and the parental community was the dominant marker of professionalism for teachers in China, regardless of school structures, cultures, academic achievement imperatives and personal circumstance; and that their professionalism was informed by the socio-cultural formation of individual and collective moral responsibility, reinforced through national educational policies. These findings differed from the concerns reported by the teachers in the Australian study, which aligned with literature that suggests that teacher professionalism is being eroded through neo-liberal government policies, excessive workloads and performance-oriented cultures. Though the comparative data set is small, these findings suggest that whilst there are increasing policy convergences across nations, which seek to define teacher professionalism through their abilities to make improvements in students' measurable academic achievement, how teachers in different countries and cultures define themselves as professionals may differ.



Day, C.W., Simpson, A., Li, Q., Bi, Y. and He, F. (2023), "Teacher professionalism: Chinese teachers' perspectives", Journal of Professional Capital and Community, Vol. 8 No. 2, pp. 65-89.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2023, Emerald Publishing Limited

Related articles