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The focus of the professional educator should always be providing students with the materials needed in order to allow the students to master the material. Above all, there should be very simple rules. In my classroom, I have one: Respect. If students are treated with respect, then they will (most of the time) respect the teacher in return.
Modeling desired behaviors is also important. Act like a professional and students will (or should) as well.
I think we often need to remember how we are set up as role models in so many ways to our students. For me, therfore, professionalism isn't just about what goes on in the classroom, though of course that is an important part of it. It is about how we live our lives outside the classroom and how we are perceived to do this. In addition I always try to focus students' attention on developing wider study skills that will help them in life, even if they never go on to higher education. For example, teaching students about meeting deadlines and helping them to understand that there will be consequences if they can't meet their deadlines isn't about me being cruel. It is me working as a professional to help my students recognise the importance of time management in their lives.
As professional educators we need to consider the whole person in front of us. We are not merely teaching our subject, we are teaching people. In our varied interactions with students; in the classrooms, through their work and through social interactions. Students learn from their educators as much about how to treat others, how to react in certain situations and how to place themselves in the world as they do about specific subjects or disciplines. Professional educators need to remember that every interaction is a learning opportunity.
Everyone here makes great points and I would add that your word choice of "professional" in your post made me think of pedagogy. Professional educators, the good ones at least, are always in a process of self-reflection and improvement. They are always asking themselves what they could do differently and/or better. They are attending graduate level classes and other professional growth opportunities. They never rest on their laurels and mere count the years until retirement.
I think the goal of education is all of the above, but there is one more point that I would like to add. I think a great teacher also knows his or her students well enough to be able to encourage individual passions. So, I see education as more than giving the students the tools to be successful, which is foundational. I see the role of the teacher to go a little further and encourage individual gifts. This is not easy to do, but where this exists, it can be powerful.
Obviously we want them to acquire skills to function in today's society, but I also want to instill in them a desire to learn for learning's sake, and an affection for my subject so that they continue to learn for a lifetime on their own as opposed to the brief time they are in my classes. I also want them to be confident, and able to relate to and interact with the rest of society in a manner that's constructive.
Both of the previous posts make good points. Obviously, a professional teacher's primary goal should be that of properly educating their students and preparing them for life in the adult world. As the first post mentioned, however, administrative guidelines often restrict teachers from putting their talents to their best use. During my years as a middle school teacher, I found myself dealing more with the problems of undisciplined students than with academics, so the teacher's primary goals are not always able to be fulfilled.
The focus of education must always be to give the students the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in today's world. The world today is a very competitive place and students are going to need a solid foundation in factual knowledge and in the ability to think critically if they are to succeed. This is what educators should focus on giving their students.
In many ways this depends on the place in which the educator is working. In some places, the massive pressure for performance on state tests is so overwhelming that a professional that wishes to remain employed must focus on those results at the cost of their own agenda and what they think might be best in the long run for their students.
In some places a teacher might still have more freedom to design curriculum that meets the standards of the school or district or state but does so in a way that they feel meets the needs and talents of the students.
Other things that educators must focus on are being sure to provide safe learning environments for all their students and also modeling life-long learning skills for students as well. This might be talking about reading that they are doing, helping the students make sense of current events and answering their questions, being willing to admit when you do not know something, it could take a number of different forms.
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