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The New Teacher Advisor

Being a
Professional Requires
More Than a Degree

I'm tired of being treated like a glorified babysitter. I wish society respected us more. We have such an important job, so why does no one treat us as professionals?

Those kinds of complaints made by teachers can be heard across the country and, I suspect, around the globe. We think of ourselves as professionals because we have taken the courses and extra training, as well as passed state and national tests required to gain a teaching certificate. Education is a learned career requiring more than a high-school diploma and even additional training beyond college courses. Yet being a professional is more than just a degree and certificate hanging on the wall. It shows up in the clothes we wear, our attitude and demeanor, and in the ability to discern effective materials and strategies used in the classroom.


Whether our students, their parents, the community, and society at large view us as professionals is up to us. When we wear lay-about clothes, such as stretch pants with a t-shirt, jeans with holes, too-short skirts, and other types of clothes worn purely for comfort's sake, we do not portray an image of professionalism. With the type of job we have, it is important to be comfortable. That goal can be accomplished with stylish and appropriate clothes, however.

Why is that important? Two reasons: The first is that when we dress nicely, we put ourselves in a professional frame of mind. Second, the clothes we wear reflect our attitude and work habits. Think about it. When you are at home on the weekend and you wear your pajamas, how much work do you get done? I'm willing to bet that it isn't much. Most of us dress for the work we plan to accomplish that day. If we're working out, we wear work-out clothes. If we're working in the yard or on home repairs, we wear old worn-out clothes. If we're going shopping, we dress up a little bit more, wearing jeans or other comfortable pants and a nice sweater or shirt. Whether we realize it or not, what we wear adds to -- or subtracts from -- our determination to get certain tasks accomplished. And it reflects that determination to others.

Now translate that to your teaching. What do the clothes you wear in the classroom every day reflect about you? How does what you wear affect the way your colleagues, students, parents, and community members treat you?


Another aspect of being professional is our attitude and outward demeanor. In fact, our outward demeanor is a reflection of the attitude within. When we have a positive attitude towards our job and our students, it is reflected in the smiles we give. It shows up in our willingness to cooperation with our colleagues and in our helpfulness to students and parents.

When we have an attitude of confidence in our abilities, it is reflected in our eye contact with others and in our body language. People who are confident tend to stand taller and act with purpose. A positive attitude and confidence in oneself portray a sense of professionalism that is perceived by others.

What is your attitude toward teaching, and how does it show up in your daily mannerisms? How confident do you feel in the job you perform? Do you stand straight and tall, look people in the eye, and act with purpose? As a new teacher you might not be feeling particularly confident in yourself right now and that's okay. We all go through times where we question ourselves. Remember, people who are confident are not always right. They make mistakes. But they always strive with purpose to do their very best.


A third characteristic of a professional is discernment about the materials used and strategies followed. Like doctors, lawyers, and accountants, educators are required to attend additional classes and training to continue their education. Research is constantly being conducted and strategies are constantly being introduced in the field of education. As professionals, it is our duty to thoroughly check out new information and learn as much as we can in order to determine whether a particular program or strategy is appropriate for use in our classrooms.

It also is our responsibility to test and evaluate new methods introduced in our school or district. Dismissing a new idea immediately is not the act of a professional. By the same token, accepting an idea simply because it is new also is not the act of a professional. Being a professional educator means that you read, learn, test, and question the information and methods used in your classroom to determine whether they are correct and appropriate for your students. Remember that our business involves human beings and every human being is different. Not every program that comes along will be right for your students, and not every strategy you use will be right for every student in your classroom. You must be discerning and constantly think about what will work best for each student in your classroom.

If we want others to treat us as professionals, we first must portray ourselves as such. That is accomplished through our clothing, attitude, demeanor, and discernment. Administrators, students, parents, and members of the community view the signals we exhibit and use them to determine whether or not we are professional. Until we each act in a manner that shows professionalism to the world at large, teachers will continue to be considered glorified babysitters. Through our own actions, we have the power to change that perception. Being professional helps us all -- the field of education as a whole and the students we serve.


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