4 Proven Steps to Being a Professional Teacher

Be a Professional Teacher

To understand how best to become a professional teacher John and Mercedes Tichenor study quote Hugh Socket (1993) who ‘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’. 

To more readily understand these aspects we shall take the casestudy of Natasha who is looking for a new teaching position. 

Her husband’s company was relocating him to another State, so Natasha created a resume that would showcase her as a professional teacher

Natasha divided her resume into four sections: 

  1. What Professional Development she has completed and why
  2. How she collaborates with all members of the school community
  3. Her classroom management, organisation and dress code
  4. Her flexible knowledge of the curriculum and pedagogy
Natasha sent her resume to many schools in the new location. She scoured online agencies every day. By the end of the month, Natasha had applied for over twenty teaching positions. 

 "Surely," Natasha thought, "I will find a new school position soon!"

 “Surely,” Natasha thought, “I will find a new school position soon!”

But many days passed, and Natasha’s phone didn’t ring once. She began to worry – was there something wrong with her resume?  

Finally, two weeks after she sent in her 24th resume, she got a call for her first interview!  

Soon after, Natasha got another two calls, and she ended up with three interviews scheduled.  

“Finally,” she thought, “A school that wants me!”

So Natasha went to her interviews, making sure to dress as a professional teacher should. She thought she made an excellent impression, but to Natasha’s disappointment, she only heard back from one school. It was the lowest paid, least fulfilling opportunity of the three.

“Should I take it?” she wondered. The thought of teaching every day for such low remuneration made her feel hopeless. Natasha was afraid she might not find anything else but decided to take the risk and wait.

A few weeks before the new school year began, Natasha got a call from a school of high standing in the profession. They hadn’t got back to her for weeks. It turns out they needed a teacher with Natasha’s specific teaching skills! 

Let's take a closer look at those four sections of Natasha's resume

Here’s a free Infographic to remind you of the 4 steps to being a professional teacher. 

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Professional Teacher Infographic

1 - Continue professional teacher development

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.”

Read at least one education book per year during the long school holiday, that has new ideas.

seek professional development

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. 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 reach in the field of teaching if that is our calling. 

2 - Collaborate with teachers, parents and the community

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.

Very few teachers will ever ask openly for help. That cries, I don't know what I'm doing!

Teacher collaboration

As an experienced professional teacher, 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. Whether it’s to offer some of your best teaching tools and tips – even if you weren’t asked. Do it gently though. 

If you can’t collaborate face to face, join a teachers forum or Facebook group and collaborate online. If you are a professional teacher guest blog or create your own blog to share.

Bombarding a new or returning teacher will only make matters worse. Try not to overwhelm the very person you want to help. Make every piece of advice you give help another teacher create the toolbox they need to succeed. 

3 - Develop character

A professional teacher who has character will exhibit good personality traits. Here are eight using the acronym CREATIVE – creativity, reliability, empathy agreeableness, timeliness, individual-care, versatility, and enthusiasm.

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 when you walk in the door of your classroom the next day. A digital planner is a must for the professional teacher. Plus putting in that hour each evening or early morning so you are that organised not only makes you a better teacher, it gives the students confidence.

Students, can tell the difference between someone who 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. 

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 professionalism and it will make a world of difference in how your teaching goes.

Physical organisation of your classroom is very important to the professional teacher. A disorganised messy environment will make it difficult for your students to attain their full potential.

Leave the skin tight attire for the night club or not at all.

develop character

You should always dress the part. Modest attire is paramount. 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? 

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 program.

4 - Know the Curriculum and Pedagogical Development

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.

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.

Teachers  who are professional, respond 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.

A professional teacher always knows what to do both long range and right now.

know the curriculum and pedagogy

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 . . . . ‘

When you are 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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