5/15/2012

From One Bob to Another: Teacher Professionalism

Auto mechanic is not the first career that comes to mind when discussing the term professional.  After all, it’s a dirty job, lots of grease, grime, and noise. Somehow, though, my father managed to raise the bar of expectation of a mechanic to that of a professional in his self-owned business:  Bob's Auto Air.

His education was minimal (he made it through 8th grade because he joined the Navy in WWII), but he came up with solid strategy:  he based his professionalism on how he didn’t want to be perceived as a mechanic: dirty, inconsiderate, and incompetent.  

He despised mechanics’ shops that didn’t have a “clean” waiting area, making sure that his shop had a customer area that was free from the grime. Although the grease was something HE had to deal with, his customers did not. 

He also knew that women were often the clientele, so he took this approach one step further by having my mother help him create a pleasant atmosphere, complete with plants, comfortable furniture, and vintage auto d├ęcor.  

Of course, this strategy is a bit more familiar, today. However, in the 60's, 70’s, and 80’s, you’d be hard-pressed to find a mechanic’s garage like that. His peers considered his approach superfluous.  That, along with his insistence of keeping the customer’s car clean by virtue of large shop towels, and giving each person a free car freshener (with his logo, of course), set him apart from his competitors. He wouldn’t even shake someone’s hand until he’d used that gooey orange stuff and washed up with Lava soap. 

Further, he knew his stuff. When something new came along in his many decades in the business (such as Metric tools and an understanding of computerized systems), he mastered it, making it part of his knowledge base. He didn’t like that "damned metric system” (had to buy a whole separate set of tools!) or "those stupid computers" (had to learn how to use one!) invading his world, mind you.  

However, he knew that to be competitive, he’d have to get with the game and learn how to cope with those “foreign” models. He retired as a well-regarded and highly-recommended professional after over forty years in this field.  

In the article, "A Great Reason for Appreciating High School Teachers", Bob Lenz poses this thoughtful question on teacher professionalism:   

     If you are a teacher, what do you need to make your job more professional? 

Before we can determine what we’d need, we might want to figure out how we do not wish to be perceived, and through that negation, determine what a professional teacher is

My father determined through negation that a truly professional mechanic (despite the necessary evil of grease and dirt) was clean, considerate, and competent.  So, what’s at the top of our list?   

We’d probably all agree that we don’t want to be perceived as incompetent, so anything that would help us to be competent, capable, experienced, or more proficient would be helpful.  

Are we effectively trained? Are we provided the opportunity to master tried-tested-valid-credible-reliable methodologies (as opposed to the newest, "bestest"ones) each year?  Are we evaluated by master teachers

From here, though, the professional components of how we don’t want to be perceived may vary, depending on the individual.  However, the same approach works. 

For example, if I don’t want to be perceived as apathetic—which I consider to be unprofessional for a teacher— then I will want to do all I can to be warm and enthusiastic. Thus, my question would be:

What do I need from my administration, school, district, and/or state to help me be (more) warm and enthusiastic? 

Using this strategy, we can work through any component of professionalism

I don’t want to be perceived as _____.  (providing low-quality work, not working well with peers, being dishonest, being unethical)

What do I need in order to_____? (provide high-quality work, work well with my peers, be honest, be ethical)

I hope my father’s framework can help us answer Mr. Lenz’s question.   

Mindy and some of her former students recently published Transparent Teaching of Adolescents, a discussion of effective teaching strategies for high school. Join the conversation!  

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