Monday, July 23, 2012

Ideal qualities of the professional educator

Each year, I have the pleasure of observing and interacting with a number of teachers.  In the 20 years I have spent working in schools, I have come to believe that the point at which every educator grows from beginner (or novice) teacher to established professional happens when a certain set of qualities moves from requiring conscious effort to the habit of serving students.

There is no time table for this transformation.  Some teachers are lucky enough to have wonderful mentors and administrators who help them develop these characteristics fairly quickly.  Other teachers start off with bad advice, develop poor habits, and have to re-invent themselves (usually with a fresh start at a different school).

Either way, I believe there are five characteristics that, once they become habits, are indicators of the ideal professional educator.  To remember them, I have come up with the acronym FRITR (pronounced fritter, like the pastry).






You may notice that none of these characteristics speak directly about content knowledge.  There is a reason for the omission.

I consider content knowledge a given quality for a professional educator.  If you do to know "your stuff" you will never get close to the level of a true professional anyway, so leaving that quality off the list is not an oversight as much as it is an attempt to avoid stating the obvious.

Also, if you do not know what you are teaching, it is virtually impossible to embody these characteristics.  Students today, I have found, have a very refined sense of when their teacher is unsure of content.  As a matter of fact, over the years, one of the more frequently mentioned student complaint to me has been that the teacher "doesn't seem to know the subject."  If this is the case, or if the teacher is projecting this image, it will be very hard for...
  • the student to consider the teacher a "trustworthy" guide in that class.
  • the teacher to be "responsive" to student questions.
  • the teacher to lead "interactive" lessons.
Professional educators provide value beyond the content.  Often that value is a manifestation of the qualities listed above.  In looking forward to next year and when planning professional development opportunities, keeping these characteristics in mind and providing chances to refine or enhance their role in your school is a good place to start.
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