Doctors and lawyers often measure the length of their careers in terms of "practice." For example, when a lawyer recites his or her qualifications they often say something like, "I've been practicing law for 15 years now." By using the term "practice" others intuitively realize that in order to be considered a professional, one must be committed to lifelong learning and constantly growing in their career.
But if an educator refers to "practice teaching," more than likely they are referencing the nine short weeks in their senior year of college where they're expected to learn everything there is to know about teaching. Big difference.
If teachers are to be viewed as professionals, then they must continue to "practice" and explore the art and science of teaching. But more importantly, they must conduct themselves in ways that will distinguish them from their more conventional or traditional peers.
Here are three distinguishing characteristics of professional teachers.
1. Professional teachers focus on learning rather than teaching. This is a fundamental difference between teachers who view themselves as professionals and those who see themselves as workers. This mindset represents a fundamental shift in the teacher-student relationship. No longer can teachers get away with saying, "I taught it - it's not my fault they didn't learn it."
Professional teachers realize that teaching is much more than presenting or covering material. Teaching requires learning. Therefore teaching hasn't occurred until learning has occurred. When a student fails an exam the traditional teacher will place the blame on the student. Professional teachers are not so quick to do so. Instead, they will ask, "How can I modify my teaching strategies so that the student can learn what he should or she should have learned?"
2. Professional teachers emphasize active student engagement. Professional teachers understand that learning involves action, and for most students their learning comes from what they do. It is not as easy as simply making sure students are engaged like they should be. Teachers have always given classroom assignments. But in order to engage students in a meaningful way, there must be significant content over a period of time so that students can accomplish learning goals and develop proficiency.
3. Professional teachers are also students. Professionals in any given field are expected to stay current about emerging concepts. However that doesn't mean they have to embrace idea that comes along. Professionals are confident in their judgment and realize they have to give serious consideration to an emerging trend and be willing to experiment before they accept something as a standard practice.
Its certainly not feasible or expected that teachers be constantly enrolling in continuing education courses. But there are ways to stay up to date on new ideas. Teachers can attend seminars, school-based training sessions, and make use of extensive professional libraries.
Ultimately, how teachers are viewed in their communities and society at large is largely up to them. By adopting these characteristics of professional teachers, they can make up a lot of lost ground in public perception.
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