“Professional behaviour” among teachers – how important is it as a factor in our educational crisis?
“Professionalism” is a term that we hear bandied about quite a lot in the teaching profession. I have sometimes asked teachers what the word means to them and often heard answers such as “Dressing smartly and formally to show respect” or “Being punctual” or “Being respectful and polite to colleagues”.
But I believe the word relates to much more important things about the behavior of people who call themselves “professionals”, especially teachers, and that this understanding is crucial to moving towards solving our educational crisis.
If one looks at the jobs which are traditionally called professions – lawyers, doctors, nurses, social workers, accountants, teachers – they all have two things in common. Firstly, they require several years of study and one has to be qualified in them – meaning that one is in possession of a body of knowledge which the general public doesn’t have. A professional’s job is to share and use that knowledge with others in order to help them.
The second very important thing about being professional is that one sees this knowledge as a sacred trust – to be used carefully, honestly and fully to help those who do not have it. There are ethics and moral values attached to a profession. With that knowledge comes power and those who are served need to know that one will do one’s very best for them.
All stakeholders need to know that teachers are qualified to teach. But more than this, they need to trust that the teachers are doing their very best to make sure that the learners are learning when they are operating behind the closed doors of their classrooms, when there is no-one supervising or observing them – which is most of the time. We are talking here about an attitude of dedication and responsibility towards this very important task. This combination of knowledge, skills and trustworthy behaviour is what we term “professional”.
We know that there are many challenges facing teachers in many of our schools. There are over-crowded classrooms, often lack of parental support for learning at home, lack of concrete and written resources, hungry children, the need for learners to switch to English as the language of teaching and learning in Grade 4, and many other challenges also.
However, in spite of these difficulties, there is one basic thing that every professional teacher should and must be doing, and that is faithfully spending time on the task of teaching. The obvious truism that time on task must make a difference to learner achievement is sometimes criticized, and corrected by the idea that it must be a constructive and meaningful time. However, the opposite is certainly true. If the time on task is insufficient, it will most definitely be detrimental to learner achievement. We need our teachers to understand this, and for everyone in the profession to be the proud professionals that many already are.
At Edupeg we strive towards professionalism daily and are constantly building up our team through various efforts in order to achieve this. These professional traits are carried through to our teachers via our mentors who inspire them as they emulate and model this behaviour, creating a sustainable culture of professionalism.