Beyond Professionalism

At their January Seminar, teachers reflected on what being a teacher at SOTE really means.

At a time when there is increasing scrutiny of standards in the teaching profession with the establishment of the Queensland College of Teachers and Teaching Australia (The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership) it seemed appropriate to reflect on how we at SOTE see the teacher’s role and responsibility.

One of the things SOTE Founder, Vijay, emphasised in his discussions and training sessions was that it was important to go beyond the constraints of being a professional teacher. He believed with great conviction that we should see our role in a much broader perspective, both for ourselves and in order to bring out the best in the children we teach.

The teachers’ response to the question of what it means to be a professional teacher produced a lengthy list of expectations that would make anyone think twice about taking on this role. Here are a few: punctuality, neatness in appearance, knowledge of curriculum, preparation for classes, fair and balanced assessment, timely and clear reporting to parents, marking and returning student work in a timely fashion, confidentiality about parents, understanding and implementation of school policies, meeting legal requirements, following of duty of care, regular and open communication with parents, adhering to deadlines, up to date work programs, communication and co-operation with administration and working well with colleagues.

Sometimes issues arise in these areas and it is important that the leadership of the school is clear about its expectations of teachers as employees of a public institution. On the teachers’ side it is important that the friendly and flexible nature of SOTE is not taken for granted and that professional standards are not overlooked. There is always more that could be done and the teachers are very willing. In fact I am confident that every teacher at SOTE puts his or her heart and soul into their work at the school. Consequently, it is important that we communicate about concerns and that unrealistic expectations are challenged and discussed to avoid resentment.

But what does it mean then to go beyond professionalism? What more does SOTE expect of its teachers compared to other schools? Deputy Principal Judy Currie has often quoted Vijay saying that we should treat the children as if they were our own. It is worth pondering for a moment just what kind of commitment that implies. It means teaching at SOTE is not just a job where we work a set number of hours for a set level of pay. It means that the teacher’s role is to model the behaviour and principles of Total Education. It means a long-term involvement with children and therefore relating to and managing them with quite a different perspective that simple professionalism would require.

From the discussions in January, it is clear the teachers had a strong grasp of what going beyond professionalism means at SOTE. Here are a some of features they identified: maintaining a sense of orderliness and beauty in the school environment; putting care and thought into every avenue of your work; caring for each other, parents and students; open communication; working to constructively overcome obstacles; not losing sight of our ideals; genuinely connecting with each child; sharing skills and strengths with each other; not using guilt to motivate; leading by example; expressing appreciation and gratitude; finding joy and contentment in what we do; and thinking of students as people first.

The role of a teacher at SOTE involves much more than simply being a professional educator, it requires an on-going commitment to personal growth. As Vijay used to say, “Remember, you are not just a teacher — You are much more than that.”

About the Author

Richard Waters has been principal of the School of Total Education since 1978. He has taught at both primary and secondary levels and has a particular interest in parent education and the training of teachers. He is also a teacher of senior Study of Society and History.

This article was originally published in the May 2006 edition of the SOTE Newsletter. (Published on web site: May 2006)