Professional(ism)

Ahhh, sweet freedom.

As I continue to transition from high school teaching to being full-time at the community college, I am increasingly amazed at how stifling K-12 teaching has become for educators and students. I recently returned to work after a two week absence during which my husband suffered a heart attack and successful triple bypass surgery. Although I thought about my students often, I knew my priority at that moment was with my husband and family. Meanwhile, my classroom stood still with no substitute and my students simply checking in to find out when I would return to class. No pressure from my administration, and no piles of handouts or other busy work to grade when I got back. My division chair said, “We know you’ll do right by your students.”

When I did return, it was I, not the administration or some prefabricated curriculum guide, who decided what adjustments needed to be made to our course schedule, what material really needed to be studied in what’s left of our semester, and in what order.

With the exception of an end-of-course test that we give to the students in my one remedial English course, the only exams my students take are tailor-made by me for them (as a rule, I do not recycle my exams). At the end of the semester, I conference with each student and we do a joint evaluation of the student’s work over the course of the semester. The students also get to do a written evaluation of my teaching and the overall course (standard procedure in college courses, but something I also allowed my high school students to do as well). It is a rare thing for a dean to overturn my final grade or even to question it. By contrast, on more than one occasion during my secondary career, the final grades of entire classes (mine and other teachers’) were changed by the superintendent or school board for various, usually political, reasons.

Of course, all this freedom comes at a price. I am expected to maintain high professional standards in the conduct of my courses: To show up on time; teach well; treat students fairly; cooperate with colleagues; and participate in various committees and activities of the College as a whole.

Treat me like a professional, and I’ll act like one. What a concept.

Unfortunately, not all instructors can be trusted to exercise true professional ethics, and those should be removed from our profession (preferably by their peers and/or supervisors). But those of us who have proven ourselves competent, proficient, accomplished educators should be allowed to practice our profession without a plethora of unecessary hindrances and obstacles, including Federal ones with noble sounding names.