by Brandon Belmore - University of Wisconsin - Stout

If you ask every teacher and staff member in an elementary school to give their definition of professionalism, chances are, every definition will be different. Many responses hit on some similarities to the definition, but in all reality the word holds a different meaning for everybody. So, how do you know if you are showing professionalism? What if your definition is totally different than a colleague? It can be a tricky topic to discuss due to possible age gaps, variances between males and females, and perceptions or experiences each have had. Maybe an age gap is the reason definitions are so different, maybe it is differences between males and females or maybe it is because of the experiences you have previously had.

As a recent graduate, and current teacher candidate about to begin searching for a job, I have examined my own definition of professionalism to assure me success in my search. I created my definition of professionalism based on what I have seen in school systems and what I should bring to the school every day. To me, professionalism is consistently doing the “right” thing because you genuinely want to. I believe that professionalism can be categorized into three main areas: personal professionalism, professionalism to other staff, and to students and their families. To maintain these three levels of professionalism it is important to set personal goals, create and grow relationships with others, and care deeply about all students. Understanding that your actions in the school and in the community directly represent you as a teacher and the school district as a whole is extremely important to remember as you enter any school system.

Personal Professionalism

I believe that in order to be a successful teacher you owe it to yourself to teach “YOUR” way using your own values and beliefs. This is another area in which not everybody is the same. Some teachers may sing a cleanup song and the students respond very well, however the teacher next door may use another technique such as turning the lights off to get the students’ attention or simply say, “it is time to clean up”. I don’t think either strategy is wrong but as soon as you start to “fake” it or do something that is not natural to you the students can see right through it.
Another important aspect of personal professionalism is to understand that students are important but YOU ARE TOO. As teachers we put students first and work to assure students are safe and comfortable in the setting. We strive to challenge them and meet all of their needs. Some days this commitment requires us to come in early or stay later but we do it for the students. One of the challenges as teachers is to find time for you and balance work and school. I have strived to pursue a hobby or take time for myself to do the things I enjoy doing. When I am stressed or overwhelmed I need to be outside and have found an outdoor hobby for every season such as fishing, motorcycle rides in the spring, hiking and camping in the summer, hunting in the fall, and snowboarding in the winter.

Lastly, I believe that professionalism includes holding yourself accountable. If you say you are going to do something make sure you follow through with the commitment whether it be a promise to a  student, colleague or any other staff member. Holding yourself accountable also means continuing your quest for knowledge to gain greater insight about the changes in education. For me, keeping an open mind allows opportunities to redesign curriculum to provide students the best education possible.

Staff Professionalism

One thing I have observed while being in schools is that there must be strong teams in each grade level to keep the school functioning at a high level. I have noted it is the collaborative effort of many that keeps a team strong. Being a significant member of the school team means that you are willing to offer and take advice from others. The suggestions from others can be given verbally in conversations or you can solicit the information by inviting others into your classroom to observe you. Inviting colleagues and the principal in to view my teaching has shown me that even a lesson that I thought needed improvement was still beneficial for students. I even realized that some colleagues have actually learned from my teaching! Equally important is the opportunity to make my way into other classrooms to learn and gain creative ideas from my colleagues. I think that I could become complacent in my teaching throughout the years so observing other techniques and strategies for teaching can keep things fresh and engaging for my students.

Student/Family Professionalism

Until the day I retire I will continue to believe that every student deserves a quality and creative education. As educators, this responsibility is on all of us in general and on me, personally. No one else will look over every lesson I write because it is my responsibility. I have to trust myself that I am doing everything I can to increase student learning. Making positive relationships with students and their families has been one of the best ways to increase student engagement and learning. This does not mean that a teacher has to be everybody’s best friend but a solid relationship is required.

I often ask myself this question, whom do I work the hardest for? People who like and support me, or people who may be uncomfortable with me? This is an easy answer. The most crucial point about student professionalism is to help students set expectations for themselves. Students no matter what age need to feel like they accomplished something.

Currently, these are my views on professionalism right now. As an educator, I will continue to grow and my definition of professionalism will continue to evolve. In a few years from now, with more experience in teaching, there may be changes to my definition of professionalism. I don’t know if that is good or bad, but right now I am just eager to begin my journey as a teacher in this great field of education.