What is a professional teacher? Because we all know what the separate words ‘teacher’ and ‘professional’ mean, the simple and obvious answer would be: ‘A teacher who is a professional’. A person who earns a living in the classroom or the lecture hall or wherever. But we all know too – or we should do – that there is more to it than that, in the same way that ‘a man who plays cricket’ and ‘a cricketer’ are two different creatures, or in the way that ‘a woman who plays the piano’ is not necessarily ‘a pianist’.
Imagine: you have studied for the diploma in Education, read the books, taken notes in the lectures, survived the teaching practice, and passed the exams. Is that it? No. Are you home and dry? No, you’re not. From now on, everything will be different, and you will have to get used to it.
You have a new status
The minute the University Vice-Chancellor puts a diploma in your hand, you cease to be a student; you become a member of a profession. Of your own free will, you have bought into an organisation which has its own rules and its own standards, to which you now owe duties and loyalties. You are not a free agent any more.
You now have a new self
That diploma in teaching – or diploma in ‘Education’, if you think it sounds more dignified – is going to change everything. Your voice, your dress, your language, your manner – they will all have to become different. A lesson is not a chat, even if it looks like a chat; it is a performance. Ideally, this should not show. You don’t see good actors acting; you should not see good teachers teaching.
You now have colleagues
What is a professional teacher? He is somebody with different people around him. Not friends, family, neighbours, team mates – they’re somewhere else. He now works with colleagues. These people are worthy of his respect, worthy of formal manners. And these must be clearly visible to your pupils. You are on show.
You now have new obligations
Teaching is no longer something you do well when you happen to be in the mood. What makes a good teacher is teaching well all the time. You must now deliver a level of achievement which does not fall short of a consistent standard, regardless of how you feel at that time. They have to sit there and do the work; well, you have to stand there and do the same. Every day, like the sun coming up.
You now have a new dignity
That diploma in teaching – or diploma in Education if you insist – places you in a position of power, privilege, and trust. All the time. You have to live up to it. Don’t blab; don’t gossip; don’t judge; don’t sneer; don’t mock – things like that. It may sound artificially virtuous, but you are not in a normal position; you are in a what-is-a-professional-teacher position.
So – in summary – what is a professional teacher?
Someone who behaves like a professional teacher every minute he is on view to his pupils.
It’s like ‘What makes a good teacher?’ Same answer: someone who behaves like one (he knows perfectly well how to do it). He is not there to chat to them or preside over a cosy club. He is there to do what that diploma in teaching has empowered him to do – teach. He must remember that he is in a rare position of authority, privilege, and trust. He must not abuse it.
Moreover, he must do nothing which might reflect discredit on himself, his colleagues, his work, or his profession.