Why does being professional matter?

Professionalism is something I have always struggled with. My first year at university it did not matter to me, in my second year I joined ESS which is the first time I had to focus on my professionalism. I find that I am good at being professional around faculty the majority of the time but around students I have trouble upholding that same level of professionalism.

What is the limit of professionalism that is needed around students? If we act too professional than I feel unrelateable or like I am trying too hard. I understand boundaries and limits but at what point do those limits decrease teacher-student relationships? Professionalism is always talked about in our classes, but no one actually states how one acts professional. There is a difference in how you talk with people depending on their authority, presence and reputation. I have a great deal of practice of working with adults in a professional manner; however, professionalism with youth is a whole other dynamic.

Teaching is a profession, but it has a different set of expectations than other professions. In no other profession will you have a plan to colour, or will you have to have a discussion about why it is inappropriate to spread animal feces on a door. Most other professions do not deal with youth, because  that eliminates part of the professionalism, but teaching is still a profession. Maintaining professionalism while discussing many of the random thoughts and questions that students seem to come up with is a challenge; yet we strive to maintain it. Does that mean students shouldn’t see our emotions, or be able to laugh with us?

On Thursday, my last day of pre-internship, I got very upsetting news, and with complete disregard for my professionalism, I left the room quickly and broke down in the hallway. Three students walked past me because they were too scared to ask what was wrong. For them seeing a teacher upset is foreign because teachers are supposed to always be composed. Eventually I went to the staff room to calm down, and the whole time I felt guilty because I was being unprofessional. How is it that I was going through a weak moment, and my concern is my professionalism, it isn’t something you can just turn off.

Professional is something that I focus so hard on that I feel like I don’t know how to relax. When I am in mine or my boyfriends’s hometown there always seems to be teachers, administration, respected members of the community  so I do not feel like I can truly relax, in the city I am always worried about running into someone from the university that will recognize me. I never used to worry about this, until some underage first year recognized me while I was at the bar with friends. Which put me in the position of getting her out of their before something stupid happened or leaving her be. I chose the later, because she was able to make her own decisions and the bar was responsible for her not me. I felt great about this decision until a few days later when I find out that she happens to be the daughter of a professor at the university, and when he asked to meet with me, I got the honour of finding out that she said “I encouraged her, and since she knew who I was placed the blame on me.” I met the girl twice, both very briefly during ESS events, yet some how her poor decisions made me look like I was more concerned with partying than acting professional and responsible towards other students. I never felt like it was my responsibility, but the professor who was very respected in his chosen field, made it clear I lacked professionalism and should not be in any sort of position where I act as the voice of the education students. I was not asked if I was drinking, or why I was their, it was not discussed that the student was old enough to attend university and should be old enough to make proper decisions. Does being professional eliminate the ability to relax or have a drink in public? Doctors can drink in public, engineers build a reputation on being able to drink, yet teachers are held to a different standard because they work with youth, what about not even drinking and just being at an establishment where alcohol is served. With social media every move we make is watched, even if we do not post on social media it is impossible to stop others from posting a photo.

Is professionalism a thing, or do we just try too hard to be perfect so that society will think highly of us?

2 thoughts on “Why does being professional matter?

  1. Hi Brooke,

    I really enjoy your blog post! I know during internship about an hour before school was supposed to start I received some news that had me quite upset. I had told my Co-op who was the best person. She definitely tried to make my day easier anyway she could. She did advise me to tell my students, not give them every detail but just some information. So in the first class of the day, I simply told my students that I was “having a hard day and that I might leave the room midway through. It was nothing they did but I did ask for some help from them.” Honestly, it was the best thing to do for me. My students were so understanding and really cared. I took the day off the next day and I had students go home asking their parents (who were family friends) if everything was going to be alright.

    It’s unfortunate that you got in trouble for being at a bar. As a teacher, we are held to such a high standard. I know exactly how you feel, why is it okay for doctors, nurses, engineers to go out and drink but teachers get shamed for it? I do not have the answers to these questions.I do remember one piece of advice I received from one professor if you are at a bar and there is an underage student that you know you are supposed to let someone who runs/works at the bar know they let in an underage student in and then leave the place. Is it fair that we have to leave, even though we are the legal age? No. But what can we do to change it?


  2. Hey Brooke,

    I don’t think that being professional means being emotionless. I personally want my classroom to be a safe place for my students to be emotionally honest. And I think that happens by example (to a point). I have heard teachers being criticized for acting out of a standard of approved emotions by parents and other staff but I think it really depends on the type of classroom you want.

    I hate the puritan standards set out for teachers. It’s pretty similar to Mennonites in the 60s. (no offense to my Menno brethren). “Don’t drink or chew or go with those that do.” But you are still going to be you. I think one or two drinks out won’t get us in trouble but the days of partying out will have to be over. But hey. They’ll always be backyard BBQs.


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