Being a professional teacher requires four simple steps: the ability to engage your students in the curriculum; learn and implement new ideas that work; manage time, the classroom and yourself; plus collaborate with teachers, parents and the community.
To understand how best to become a professional teacher, Hugh Socket (1993) ‘identifies five major aspects of professionalism for teachers: character, commitment to change and continuous improvement, subject knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, and obligations and working relationships beyond the classroom’. Understanding Teachers’ Perspectives on Professionalism, Tichenor (2005).
The teaching standards require teachers to commit to change and continuous improvement. There is nothing worse than seeing a student stop learning, the same is true for teachers.
The Teaching Standards offer a common language and framework to measure teacher professionalism. We should not be afraid of them but make them our friend and use them as a means of professional self assessment.
In my first year of teaching after graduation, the Western Australian Education Department invited new teachers to a Professional Teacher Development Conference at a Beachside Hotel.
There were a selection of speakers and they were all very good. There was one that stood out above all else. He was an excellent speaker with very practical ideas for the classroom that have worked.
There was one piece of advice he added at the end that has stuck with me forever. “Read at least ONE education book per year during the long school holiday, that has new ideas. Don’t stop learning.”
I know whole school professional development (PD) can be tedious when it is not a topic you’re interested in. They often involve a team building task (which we can resent, as we would much rather be planning, grading or doing anything else to reduce our teacher workload) or being introduced to the latest fad in education.
PD days can be beneficial but you can’t leave it there. Being a professional teacher means we must be proactive and take responsibility for our own development. Don’t just sit there and complain.
I am a powerful advocate for teachers taking ownership of their own PD. Taking responsibility for my own development enhances and transforms my teaching practice and many aspects of my personal life.
When a professional teacher is on the case, everyone relaxes because they know the job will be done right. That is the level we all want to attain in the field of teaching if that is our calling.
Being a professional teacher requires good classroom management. It’s good practice to create a supportive and engaging environment. Who wants to sit all year long in a drab boring room. I can’t see many teachers lasting more than a day in a boring PD environment so why put your students through that all year long.
Be intentional about how you set up your teacher desk and your student desks. Create a safe and welcoming learning environment. There’s plenty of inspiration on Pinterest. Make sure to organise the timing of your lessons to increase student learning and keep positive engagement.
A disorganised messy environment will make it difficult for your students to attain their full potential. So physical organisation of your classroom, its rules and procedures are super important for student learning.
For example, I model the ideal student behaviour through role plays for younger students and discussion with older students. Over the years I’ve developed a classroom economy points system which motivate students to participate, help each other, and engage in learning. One tip with points make the number BIG. Tell a student they have 1 point sounds miserable, tell them they have 10, 50 or a 100 points, they’re over the moon.
Your lesson plans are in order, your room is prepared and your paperwork is organised. At no time do you have to pause and get yourself together when you are in the process of teaching your students.
This will take some time for you to get to that level of organisation. A digital planner helps to get this level of organisation done fast, so everything is filed and sorted in one place and at your fingertips so to speak. Not only does this make sure you are organised it makes you a better teacher, and gives the students confidence.
You not only know what you are going to do each moment of the teaching day, you know what your students are going to do as well. That is being a professional teacher and it will make a world of difference in how your teaching goes.
Being a professional teacher is not just all about good organisation and teaching but how we listen and care for our students. Work on developing good character traits and be the teacher students what to learn from. Here are eight using the acronym CREATIVE: creativity, reliability, empathy, agreeableness, timeliness, individual-care, versatility, and enthusiasm.
Students, can tell the difference between someone who is real and knows what they are doing and someone who is floundering. As the saying goes, they can smell fear. It gives young people confidence and a sense of security that you are organised, caring, reliable and truly care for them.
Being a professional teacher also requires looking the part. Our students and parents expect it, and it’s just good practice.
Learn your school’s dress code for teachers and follow it, keeping in mind that some of the other teachers in your school may not necessarily do so. Don’t mind them, be professional. If it’s too tight, don’t wear it.
Leave the skin tight attire for the night club or not at all. If the Queen came to visit what would you wear? Aren’t our students and peers worthy of some respect?
For inspiration, search Pinterest, teacher fashion elementary work on Pinterest, and if you’re not skinny like me, check out teacher fashion plus size work outfits. If you’re a guy, go to male teacher fashion, another great Pinterest link.
Focus on maintaining a professional look. Take pride in your wardrobe and present yourself to your class each day in a garment that says, I came ready to teach so you should come ready to learn.
That is what happens when a professional teacher is on the job. Everybody wants to get on board with the programme.
While the curriculum is the content that education departments mandate must be taught, we teachers have control over, how the curriculum is delivered. A professional teacher, can energise dull content and find ways to link it to real life. While an unmotivated teacher can demolish the most imaginative curriculum with poor delivery.
We all hate long lengthy lectures, so look for different ways for student interactivity. Think of your classroom as a restaurant where you are the master chef serving up fresh appetisers to capture your students’ taste buds. In the classroom, the appetisers are anticipatory sets. Get them out of their seats, teach some lessons outside, and use some technology where appropriate.
Teachers, especially primary teachers, should possess a detailed understanding of how to deliver phonics using a recommended high quality, evidence-based structured and systematic phonics program. If effective practices are put in place during the early years, literacy skills will develop and increase.
In the fifteen years, I taught overseas, where English was the fourth language, I used the Letterland stories phonics system. All my students could read, write and speak in English, resulting in a long waiting list of families wanting their children to get into our school.
I’ve also used the Letterland stories phonics system in Australia with Australian kids, and it works every time. The Letterland phonic stories help students to learn to read fast.
Being a professional teacher, means responding to interruptions and even disturbances calmly. You have seen it before and you know what to do. Of course developing a knowledge of curriculum and pedagogy to where you really do know what to do in each circumstance takes time. If you are completely prepared in every other respect, interruptions won’t throw you.
Disruptions can sometimes offer an off the cuff lesson opportunity not an hinderance. You can address them and be right back to you lesson smoothly and calmly. If you can incorporate the interruption into your lesson or make a new lesson. It naturally changes the lesson which can be refreshing for students without loss to the curriculum.
That means you come prepared. A byproduct of being consummately prepared and so well versed in what the curriculum says, allows you to be flexible. It gives you a calm confidence that frees you up to be relaxed and even humorous with your students.
When your students see you smile because everything is going exactly the way you want it to go, they will respond and open up to you. Students can sense your confidence and they want to see where you are going to take them.
I recommend watching this video by Azul Terronez for further thoughts on ‘What makes a good teacher great?’ – I love the student quote ‘Good Teachers Sing . . . . ‘
A professional teacher is proactive in communicating with parents. Not just telling parents the rules or what’s wrong with little Johnny but developing positive relationships. Look for the good in every student. Find ways to work with the wider community – participate in carnivals, fete’s, local competitions that your class can be involved in or some community service.
One year my Year 5’s cleaned the gardens of some elderly people in the community. What better way for students to learn to care for others and not just themselves.
I don’t know about you, but I hate being watched when teaching. However, the best way to learn what being a professional teacher looks like is to observe other teachers. When I started a primary school overseas, a school leaver wanted to watch me teach. I finally gave in after she begged me five times. After watching me for several months she asked to become my first student teacher. Now she is a sought after teacher, and other student teachers want to watch her.
A good way to observe is to use part of a non-contact period sitting in the back of someone else’s classroom and watch while you grade papers. You’ll pick up plenty of instructional techniques and classroom management strategies. Don’t forget to ask first. What I love is seeing the cool ways other teachers organise their stuff or the way they establish good procedures. You might not do it the same way, but it can spark an idea in you.
Being a professional teacher, means you’ve learned over the years how to deal with the stresses and responsibilities of the profession. New teachers, on the other hand, feel completely overwhelmed and at a loss for what to do. Unfortunately, new teachers and even some returning mature teachers want to look like they’re prepared and have everything under control.
Very few teachers will ever ask openly for help. That cries, I don’t know what I’m doing! Therefore, teacher collaboration is the best thing we can do to help each other.
Unless you’re an extrovert, you might hold back on asking questions. If you’re anything like me, you don’t want to bother anyone, or you don’t want to look stupid. You have to get past that stuff in your head and just ask. Collaboration helps you understand how other teachers handle tricky situations or determine a grade for an assignment. We encourage our students to ask questions, so why not us teachers.
If you don’t want to seem bothersome, why not keep a list of questions in Google Keep? Then, when you get the opportunity, pop a few questions. Sharing teacher expertise is part of being a professional teacher, so you’re not bothering anyone.
Whether it’s to offer some of your best teaching tools and tips – even if you weren’t asked. Or if you can’t collaborate face to face, join a teachers forum or Facebook group and collaborate online. Part of being a professional teacher is helping others.
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Here’s a free Infographic to remind you of the 4 steps to being a professional teacher.
Remember, when you’re relaxed and at ease, your students are at ease as well. This encourages them to open up and interact with you as you teach. That kind of interactive dialog is what makes the difference in the lives of students and makes you a professional teacher.
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