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The Need for Professionalism

November 21, 2013

Recently, a new friend asked what I did for a living.  When I told him I was a teacher, he asked, “So, let me ask you this, do you think it’s ok that my daughter’s high school English teacher told her class to ‘shut the F$#! up’?”  Clearly, I did not.

While I was shocked by what the teacher had supposedly said, I wasn’t surprised.  Cell phones have become omnipresent in our schools and last month a teacher’s tirade, which was recorded by a student, made the national news.  This alarming trend got me thinking about professionalism in the classroom, and I thought I would write a blog about what teachers need to do to maintain our integrity.  I realize I am preaching to the choir, but the point of this piece is to elicit your thoughts about the list and gain feedback about what I should add to it.

  1. Don’t let the frustrations of the job get the better of you.  Keep it classy and remember to stay positive.

  2. Dress for success: I’ve worked at schools with relaxed dress codes, but I am a believer that appearance makes a difference.  Not only does it make a good impression on students, parents, and fellow teachers, but I’ve always followed my grandmother’s advice that “how you dress is how you behave”.

  3. Be wary of social media: Resist the urge to friend or follow former students on social media.  While your intentions may be pure, you are opening yourself up to a potential world of hurt.

  4. Respect the line: There is a huge difference between caring adult and acting like a friend.  We all want to make connections with our students, but we can’t forget that once we cross that line, it’s difficult to go back.

  5. Avoid talking about politics and religion: As a history teacher, I love politics but I make sure to avoid conversations with people who would be upset by my remarks or views.

  6. Be confident but don’t be arrogant: There is nothing wrong with thinking you are a good teacher, but it’s best to let others support this self-view rather than mentioning it yourself.

  7. Avoid gossip: Sure, it feels good to have that connection, but it will eventually burn you.

  8. Be on time: There is probably nothing I hate about teaching more than the commute here in Boston.  However, it’s crucial to be on time for work.  Not only is it unprofessional to run into the room after the bell has rung (anyone still have bells?), but it’s difficult to have a good class when you are behind the eightball.  Plus, arriving early gives you time to prepare and to make connections with students and teachers.

  9. Be reliable: I know how hard it is to finish those comments on time but doing so is crucial to the system working well.

  10. Be cheerful: Teaching can be a difficult and frustrating profession, but keep the negative talk out of the faculty room.  A comment made in confidence doesn’t always stay secret and negatively impacts morale.

  11. Don’t wait to ask for help:  If you make a mistake, let a supervisor know exactly what happened.  Chances are, they will be hearing from the parents and relating your side first will help administrators minimize the potential fallout.

  12. Be a role model: While you were hired to teach history, you are also teaching students how to behave and relate to one another.  As Gandhi once said, “be the change you want to see in the world.”

  13. Lend a hand: Be there for your colleagues and offer to help when needed.

  14. Leave your cellphone in your pocket: Wait until a free period to make a call or to respond to a text.

  15. Be a man of integrity: Be honest in every situation.

  16. Listen more than you speak: Stephen Covey said it best, “Seek to understand rather than be understood.”

  17. Stay organized: Keeping your workspace neat and your papers organized sets a good example for your students and will improve your teaching. (I need to take my own advice on this one.)

  18. Be empathetic: The Buddha said it best, “Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant with the weak and wrong. Sometime in your life, you will have been all of these.”

  19. Embrace change: Change is difficult but “going with the flow” reduces stress and makes school a happier place.

  20. Take the sick day: While soldiering on to help colleagues may seem professional, it will also ensure that everyone gets your bug.

  21. Put yourself first: Find time for yourself so you can give your best to others.

PS – A student suggested the following rule: Teachers should make the effort to connect with their students.  Amen, Sam.

Now, I’d love to get your thoughts and suggestions about what I should add to the list.

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