Teacher Professionalism and Student Engagement

Making our Actions Match our Words

Teacher professionalism demands that best teaching practices keep up with the needs of each generation’s children.

Americans love to celebrate unique individuals (even outspoken talkers like actors and news reporters) but when we run across the same thing in our classrooms, some teachers try to squash them down into quiet conformity. We celebrate uniqueness…unless it is inconvenient to us personally.

In the 21st century, “teacher professionalism” means a well-trained individual who is equipped to handle a wide variety of issues that arise in schools – especially common issues like talking. Many of these issues will be social ones that impact learning, and they are to be completely expected.

The adult perspective

Children are simply small humans, and act in predictable human ways to instruction. Gather a group of 30 adults into a classroom and observe how they respond to training.

teacher-professionalism-bored-audienceSome will pay attention no matter what; some will be hostile no matter what; some will whisper to their neighbor; some will stop paying attention and start texting. If the topic is technical, there’s a decent chance that someone will use their smart phone to double-check the facts on the spot so they can ask difficult questions.

Does this sound all that different from a group of children? Adults may have learned to be sneakier in the ways they don’t pay attention, but they are still not acting like the perfect audience.

This is a run-of-the-mill audience to professional adult trainers, and as professionals they are expected to deal with it. The number one “secret” that every trainer knows is this: If the presentation is interesting, engaging and insightful…the audience will pay attention.

The audience may still not agree with everything being presented, but they will at least be focused on the “lesson” and not on their cell phone or their whisper-partner.

So let’s bring this back to the elementary school setting, the place where we should find student-centered classrooms and the regular application of teacher professionalism. Far too many teachers want kids to sit still like little statues and listen to anything that comes out of their mouths no matter how boring, un-engaging or confusing it is.

Teacher professionalism: holding to the same standard we expect of others

Here is a scenario that plays out every week somewhere in the country: A teacher is subbed out to attend an education conference on some relevant topic (classroom technology, teaching literacy, etc.). The teacher is an audience member for a few days, sitting at the receiving end of classroom instruction.

At the end of the conference, the teacher evaluates the impact of the conference which was put on by professional presenters or other classroom teachers and finds many of the sessions lacking.

On his evaluation form, he scores down many of the sessions (lessons) for less-than-interesting content, poor preparation and poor presentation. Informally, he complains to the group that traveled together from his home district that he spent more time texting than taking notes.

This same teacher then steps back into his classroom the next day, pulls out the same tired lesson plan he has used for the last 5 years, delivers it in the same non-engaging, non-technologic, non-individualized way that he always has…and blames the children for their lack of attention.

What’s wrong with this picture?