What does it mean to be a professional teacher?
Being a professional teacher means being knowledgeable and enthusiastic about one's materials, creating a supportive and respectful classroom environment, building authentic relationships with and advocating for students, being organized and planning ahead, remaining open to new ideas and continuing to learn, appreciating diversity, and making complicated subject matter engaging and understandable for students.
The idea of being a "professional" teacher reaches into so many different aspects of this diverse career. Here are some things for you to consider in this descriptor.
First, professional teachers maintain the confidence of their students and parents. Legally, teachers are forbidden from disclosing anything related to the performance of their students. This sounds simple in theory but can prove tricky in implementation. Should teachers praise the students who made an A grade on the last test? Should they note the student who gained 25 points on the last quarterly standardized test? Should the students with an A average be able to choose preferential seating? There are no concrete answers for these situations, so teachers need to assess each class of learners individually to determine possible benefits or any harm that could come from divulging such vague references to how some students have performed (and, therefore, how some students have not performed).
Second, professional teachers maintain a sense of authority and composure in all educational settings. They look, act, and interact with respect and the ultimate sense of purpose. They know when it is okay to conduct class more informally and can then reign students in. They do not waste class time and do not allow students to take control of the class and waste class time, either.
Third, professional teachers know their students well enough to be able to modify content when needed. These teachers are connected to their students—not just the content. They are aware, for example, that a student's brother has just been shot to death and quickly adjust the planned curriculum for reading Lord of the Flies in that class period. They are aware of the accident involving friends of a student and do not show the planned video on World War II. They know that a student in an elementary class hasn't quite grasped the permanence of numbers and provide that student with a different math activity than the rest of the class. They are able to adjust based on their students' needs.
Fourth, professional teachers know their content well. This doesn't mean that they know all the answers, and they are also willing to admit that and seek out additional resources when needed. But in class, they are most often a competent resource, filling instructional time with engaging content that engages everyone from visual to kinesthetic learners. Students know that their teacher is capable of delivering the instruction well. Professional teachers take complicated subjects and make them seem easy.
Fifth, professional teachers build authentic relationships with their students and students' parents. They spend time getting to know what motivates their students—far beyond the interest surveys at the beginning of the year. They build the curriculum around this knowledge and allow students to make some of their own choices about how and what they want to learn. Teachers help students to feel valued in their own educational process and engage in meaningful conversations about things that motivate them outside the classroom. They appreciate the diversity created by each student in the class and tap into that knowledge to create an environment of respect and group support.
Sixth, professional teachers are discerning toward the pedagogy that comes their way. They learn that there are statistics to back up any opinion and that, truly, educational philosophies swing far left and then back right again if they stay in the profession long enough. With this knowledge, they begin to rely on their own sense of pedagogy. They rely on the successful experiences they have built with former students as they shape their views. This doesn't mean that they never listen to new ideas and thoughts, but they do learn that every new idea isn't credible or based in experience of that particular school with those particular students in that particular social context.
Seventh, professional teachers openly appreciate diversity. They build it into their curriculum. They openly acknowledge the strengths of various leaders in that subject or field, and they make sure that students, regardless of their abilities or religion or race, can see themselves as part of the success story that has been written in education through the content and experts they are introduced to.
Eighth, professional teachers make sure students know that they, too, are still learning. They share what they learned in their latest professional development. They enthusiastically share an article they found that relates to the subject being studied and what they personally learned, even as an expert in the field, from the article. They are willing to say, "I don't know. Let's find that answer together."
Professional teachers are the ones who are highly respected, because they are leaders both among other teachers and among students.
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The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines "professional" as follows:
exhibiting a courteous, conscientious, and generally businesslike manner in the workplace
participating for gain or livelihood in an activity or field of endeavor often engaged in by amateurs
one whose occupation is to instruct.
We must enter, not evade, the tangles of teaching so we can understand them better and negotiate them with grace, not only to guard our own spirits but to serve our students well.
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Charlotte Danielson wrote a book entitled Enhancing Professional Practice: A Framework for Teaching. In the book, Danielson speaks of four domains that are essential for professionalism in education. Danielson’s four domains are Planning and Preparation, The Classroom Environment, Instruction, and Professional Responsibilities. In summary, Charlotte Danielson holds that teachers need to be organized and plan efficiently, while selecting objectives that are aligned with the district's curriculum and national/state benchmarks. Teachers need to build nurturing, caring environments where all students are safe and motivated to learn. Teachers need to display an enthusiasm towards their content and be able to instill this enthusiasm into their students. Teachers need to know their content and be able to relate to their students. Teachers need to work well with others in the classroom, school, community, and beyond. Furthermore, teachers need to be open to new ideas, flexible, energetic, be prepared for the unexpected, be able to multi-task, advocate for their students, personable, and be able to select from many options the one that is most appropriate for any given situation.
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