Teacher professionalism has relevant significance in education in that it affects the role of the teacher and his or her pedagogy, which in return affects the student’s ability to learn effectively. It can be defined as the ability to reach students in a meaningful way, developing innovative approaches to mandated content while motivating, engaging, and inspiring young adult minds to prepare for ever-advancing technology. However, this definition does little to exemplify precisely how a professional teacher carries himself or herself. Due to the growing autonomy being given to educators, professionalism remains one of the most influential attributes of education today. Teacher professionalism contains three essential characteristics, competence, performance, and conduct, which reflect the educator’s goals, abilities, and standards, and directly impact the effectiveness of teaching through the development of these qualities.
To begin, the characteristic of competence is fundamental in an educator’s pursuit of excellence. A discussion on competence focuses on three important ideas: preparation, knowledge of subject area, and defined pedagogy. The first, preparation, prepares the professional for the adversity of the classroom. From language and cultural barriers to socio-economic differences, all educators face deterrents in the classroom that must be broken down by individualized techniques. “Decision making by well-trained professionals allows individual clients’ needs to be met more precisely and…promotes continual refinement and improvement in overall practice” (Darling-Hammond, 1988, p. 59). Thus, by bridging these barriers, the educator will be better prepared for classroom management and create an effective learning environment. Furthermore, by doing this, the professional teacher leads students by his or her example: one who is prepared for difficulties will be able to overcome them.
Along with preparation, a professional educator with a strong knowledge of his/her subject area has the opportunity to concern themselves with preparing innovative techniques to teach material rather than spending significant amounts of time studying the material. With the advantage of knowing one’s curriculum material well, the educator has more confidence in their teachings, having already placed significant thought on the material being taught. Thus, a professional is able to dwell on how to relate subject matter to the students and their cultures in an original method.
The final portion of competence is discovering and assuming a defined pedagogy. A professional teacher who has a defined pedagogy has already journeyed through several trials to discover which pedagogical techniques are most effective. According to Lunenburg and Ornstein (2000), “Hiring teachers by subject and skill presumes that curricular priorities have been established, which means that decisions have been made about how much time will be devoted to each segment of the curriculum” (p. 9). Although this may take years to fine-tune, a professional is willing to self-evaluate his or her pedagogy as s/he develops it, revise their edification when deemed necessary, and apply one’s ideas to a practical situation. Furthermore, by acquiring a defined pedagogy, a professional creates more autonomy for him or herself, allowing for a partial release from the constraints constructed by the administration, school board, or parents.
Although competence is essential to teacher professionalism, it is only useful if the educator is able to perform. Performance is the ability to effectively teach the concepts of a curriculum. However, this is performance defined at its most fundamental level. “As individuals, professionals have the right to perform their work as they see fit, based on knowledge acquired through specialized training” (Newman, 1998, p. 121). Such a quote demonstrates the essentiality of performance, which derives from both premeditated and improvisational techniques. A professional teacher educates so that students learn concepts and apply them to their lives. Although this undermines the school’s emphasis on state test results, a quality educator prepares for the tests through this unique style of applying to his/her students’ lives. Thus, the application of these concepts must be inside the bounds of students’ lives. Furthermore, an educator that has a high standard of performance is reliable and dedicated. This type of educator becomes an active teacher rather than a passive teacher, showing the students a genuine interest in their progress as a student.
The final characteristic of teacher professionalism, conduct, is equally as significant as the first two. The manner in which an educator carries himself or herself is a reflection on one’s classroom, school, community, and educational system. Conduct is a representation of how well one takes care of himself or herself, from aesthetics to language and behavior. However, these are minor qualities of conduct. Conduct also includes one’s ability to initiate and maintain quality communication with all the parties involved in education: students, fellow teachers, school board, administration, and parents. It is through energetic communication by a professional that initiates understanding, whether it be a student grasping their potential or the professional voicing their displeasure on a newly implemented regulation. A professional teacher desires to locate effective communicative skills to achieve preferred educational goals.
In conclusion, a completed definition of teacher professionalism far exceeds the simple notion that a teacher be prepared in a certain manner. A professional is trained to handle all situations, as most episodes in the classroom require quick thinking. Also, teacher professionalism extends beyond one’s ability to understand content; the educator must discover if the students are being reached in an effective way. With the role of “teacher” becoming more autonomous, an educator must be competent in their studies, perform well under the eye of the administration and parents, while maintaining good conduct to facilitate quality communication.
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