Maintaining Professionalism as a Teacher

If you were to look at my resume, you would see a lot of different things. You would see experience in diplomatic, corporate, and domestic office environments. You would see positions in which I worked remotely and part-time, and positions in which I dedicated more than 40 hours each week.

What I never saw in applying to those jobs were the contextual expectations for what it meant to be professional in that setting. Of course, in each position I have occupied, there were different standards. But these standards weren’t outlined, because it seems professionalism is meant to be common knowledge.

I’ve noticed that things are more cut and dry when it comes to diplomatic and corporate office jobs, in that you are to do your work and respect your employers. There isn’t much room to be inappropriate if you are focused on doing your work. However, in domestic, smaller office jobs, people tend to divulge more information about themselves and want to establish relationships beyond that of coworkers.

Currently, I am working as a first-time teacher in a small, hybrid homeschool program. I have not been in a teaching environment quite like this before, but am confident in the knowledge I gained in college as well as that of my life experiences. History is my main subject, and I have no fears about teaching the content. However, when it comes to managing 10+ middle schoolers, I have my anxieties.

It is a true challenge to maintain being professional while also being friendly, especially when you are dealing with children rather than adults. I attempted to set clear boundaries in the beginning weeks, but was deemed “mean” and “uncaring” by the students. I explained to them that I was being strict because I cared, and this could not be more true today. I have grown to care very much about these students, and it pains me to see them do anything but their best. They are capable of so much, and every bit of progress they make warms my heart.

I have noticed lately that because I care, I value their opinions of me and so I wish to be liked. I want my students to feel comfortable with me, and to know that I care very much about their wellbeing. I fear I have perhaps become a little too comfortable with them, as they have become more comfortable in taking advantage of me. Whether it’s talking over me, ignoring me when I try to get their attention, or assuming they will get an extension on every assignment, I worry I am failing them as a teacher. I worry that I am not doing enough to help them become better learners.

A student recently felt I was unprofessional in expressing my distaste for a certain historical figure. While I do not deny that I could have done this in a more tactful way (in being overly casual, I used the word ‘hate’ although this is certainly not how I feel about this person), I am now wondering if there is no place for opinions in maintaining professionalism while teaching. My intention in sharing my thoughts was to give an alternate perspective on a figure who has long been revered, as history is never black and white, but I was cut off before I could go more in-depth.

I have since been looking for articles on how to handle situations like these, and how to be more generally professional in a teaching environment, but haven’t found much. In fact, the articles I did find on this topic were mainly focused on dress, punctuality, and preparedness. There wasn’t much about how to maintain a professional relationship with the students while still being approachable and respected.

Even though this is my first year teaching, and I try to cut myself some slack, my life goal is to be ever-improving. I believe mistakes are meant to be learned from, and that they are made for a reason, however I do not enjoy them. I hold myself to a very high standard, so even though I know my mistakes will help me in the long-run, they still hit me pretty hard. From my mistake in using a word like “hate” so casually, I have learned that I need to take a step back and start taking a moment to think before reacting. This might mean taking a breath before answering a question, or before disciplining a student. I have also learned that my students are more sensitive (as they should be – they are only twelve) than I anticipated, and I need to be more aware of how my words may affect them.

My three tips on how to maintain professionalism as a teacher, for now, are as follows:

  1. Be sensitive.
  2. Take deep breaths.
  3. Remember that you are speaking to children, not adults.

These tips are vague because, as teachers, we must be vague unless we are stating curriculum-based facts. We must each learn for ourselves the balance between mentor and friend. In fact, if we consider ourselves mentors, we are more likely to put ourselves in an appropriate mindset. Mentors are serious but relatable. They are approachable yet are sticklers for the rules.

If you got this far, I thank you. This is something that has been weighing on my mind these past few days, and I figured if someone else could learn from my experiences, I might be doing some good. Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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