On Being Professional

Professional.

I’ve had that term thrown into my face recently. “It wasn’t very professional when he spoke like that,” referring to a time when I didn’t use standard English in a conversation. And I’m sure I’ve been guilty myself of using the word in the we-should-be-more-professional-about-this context.

But being professional is simple. It means being part of a profession. And if you’re a teacher, being professional means being a teacher.

We sometimes place too much on a word, and I think ‘professional’ is one of those words. I obviously can’t speak for other professions, but I think the following is true for teaching:

  • When we say we should be more professional,¬†we don’t mean we should teach better, we mean we should be more serious. Let’s be honest, we often mean let’s pay more attention to health and safety.
  • When we say we should speak professionally, we don’t mean we should speak in a way that helps us teach better, it means we should always use standard English, avoid the colloquial and don’t say anything funny.
  • We when say we should behave like a professional, we mean be honest, but not too honest. Dress smartly. Set an example. Arrive at school really early and work really late.

I’ve had conversations with school leaders where it is obvious that ‘being professional’ also means: don’t use social media; don’t blog; don’t have an opinion.

If you are a ‘professional teacher’ it means that you are paid to teach. You are not an amateur. You are paid because your country values what you do. Your country values your contribution to society.

Being professional does not bestow some angelic status upon us. We teach. Children learn. That’s it really.

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