Professionalism or a ‘joke’?

So today’s post was prompted by a question online regarding professionalism and I started thinking about what is considered professional and what unprofessional in teaching/education.

OK, first of all, what is professionalism?

According to the Cambridge online dictionary, it is

the combination of all the qualities that are connected with trained and skilled people.

Hmm trained and skilled, I see. So, you need to have your degrees and diplomas. You need to be trained and have skills. I guess I can tick those boxes. So, yay!! I am a ‘professional’. But what else?

clinique pop

I don’t see anything about personality traits. Here’s the thing. What got me questioning my own professionalism or lack of, was what type of person is viewed as a ‘professional’ and what isn’t.

I will cut to the chase. If you are a funny, chatty teacher, does that make you less professional than someone who keeps their distance? What is the fine line between being professional and being too connected with your learners? Are you more professional if you are an introvert teacher or does that have nothing to do with it? Are bubbly teachers doomed and not taken seriously? How much sharing is oversharing? Are girlie treachers, who like to talk about lipstick in the office during the lunch break, and not whether they should be teaching unplugged, plugged or whatever, doomed to be labelled unprofessional?

Do teachers gain respect if they are unapproachable? Does being quiet make others think you are better at whatever on earth you are teaching? What about  your cultural background? I am Greek, we are loud. If I am in the office with quiet people and I speak (loudly, but like me), is that viewed as unprofessional? This actually brings culture into the conversation as well? Are some cultures considered more professional than others?  I have actually been ‘teased’ (?!) by a fellow teacher

You are Greek, and you work? Wow!

I am actually the type of teacher who talks about my life with my learners, I have old learners on my Facebook page, I even go for dinner with past learners, I hug my learners before they take exams, I have been on the phone with a student who was freaking out before a language exam and it was 1 in the morning. That is not professionalism… or is it? I have also been doubted by a (female teacher) cause I dared to wear makeup!

In education, where you provide a service, and that service is language learning, a service which involves interaction, what makes you a respected professional and what makes you a joke (the term joke is used for dramatic purposes)? Does the learner affect how professional or unprofessional you are? Do you become more professional when you teach adults and less professional when you teach kids?

Is it actually either… or?

Once again, a whole lot of questions and no answers. The floor is all yours folks. Feel free to share your thoughts.




8 thoughts on “Professionalism or a ‘joke’?

  1. ‘Second guessed’ I don’t know that expression?

    There will always be others who do itdifferently, but hopefully they will be ‘professional’ enough to accept a variety of teaching styles and personalities.


  2. Hi there,
    Funnily enough, I know a teacher/school owner who used to tend to prefer hiring bubbly teachers. 🙂 I think she figured if a teacher was aloof, they wouldn’t build rapport with students as easily. Now as far as oversharing is concerned… I think it’s difficult to generalize, but I used to think of students as friends when I was just starting out, and looking back, was perhaps sometimes a tad unprofessional. It seems to me like life is just easier if you can draw a more or less firm line between work and private life. But obviously, that won’t always work – there are some (ex-)students who I am glad to be able to call friends.
    Incidentally, I’m sure second-guessing _is_ a word.


  3. Thanks for this, a really interesting read! I found transitioning from the state school classroom to ELT challenging in this respect – in state schools (certainly in the UK) professionalism is often viewed as not sharing any of your personal life with your students (or, if you do, only completely neutral information like ‘I have a cat’). I took this approach when I first started teaching EFL and was told that I wasn’t sharing enough about myself with my students!

    I think a lot of what is deemed to be ‘professional’ depends on the environment you are teaching in as well!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I agree with Elly that professionalism can depend on your environment. I also think it depends on how you feel.
    For example, having grown up in the UK, I have been culturally conditioned to feel that wearing jeans to work are unprofessional. I have no problem with other people doing it, as long as they are tidy, but I find it very challenging to work/teach in jeans because I don’t feel professional when I’m wearing them.
    I don’t believe that personality is part of professionalism, so whether you’re bubbly or not shouldn’t make a difference. However, behaviour does. I don’t see a problem with hugging a student for luck before exams if you know them well and you’ve built up enough of a rapport to do it – you know your students. If you start hugging them when you’ve just met them, it’s more of a problem and could make them feel very awkward.
    Context, context, context!
    Thanks for posing these questions 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I can only really echo what’s been written above. I’m with Sandy on the jeans thing! And with everyone on the importance of context!
    But I would add that most people who criticise your behaviour are perhaps more unhappy with themselves than with you!
    Also, one of the key professional practices in ELT, and indeed in any teaching, is reflection – and the fact that you’ve written this post, Jo, is a sign that you are a very reflective teacher, which in my eyes is definitely a hint at your professionalism! 🙂


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