Aim high

23rd October 1998 at 01:00
Mike Fielding gives some pointers on professionalism

New teachers sometimes think they have started a job in which they are simply required to teach children, mark work, turn up at parents' evenings and, perhaps, contribute to extra-curricular activities. But there is much more to it than that.

Now that you're a professional, people will expect a lot from you and you need to be clear what those expectations are. You'll find many of them tucked away on the last two pages of The National Standards for Qualified Teacher Status in a section entitled "Other professional requirements". Al-though your training will have raised these issues, it would pay you to revise them now that you are in a post.

Several points on professional conduct and understanding have possibly never been spelt out before - the need, for instance, "to have established effective working relationships with professional colleagues, including, where applicable, associate staff". It seems straightforward but is not always easy, especially with colleagues outside your immediate department or key stage group.

The first problem is defining what is meant by an effective working relationship. It doesn't just mean getting on well with each other - although schools are generally better places when that happens - but does acknowledge the fact that educating large numbers of young people is a corporate activity in which each teacher's way of working impacts on the rest. Clear understandings and agreements about what is being attempted and how best it can be achieved are required.

For the new teacher especially, an effective working relationship may also be one in which they learn from more experienced colleagues. Most people are willing to share their expertise but usually need to be asked.

By highlighting the importance of working with others - however that is defined - the standards are forcing teachers to look beyond their classrooms and see themselves in the context of the whole school. That is also true of the requirement on teachers to "set a good example to pupils through their presentation and their personal and professional conduct". This doesn't mean teachers should never wear jeans to school, have long hair if they are a man, or go to the pub. But it is a reminder that children take notice of how teachers look and behave, and will withdraw respect if they are not impressed. And parents may be even stronger in their response.

The standards highlight the importance of liaising effectively with "parents and other carers" and responsible agencies. This can be a threatening and difficult area for new teachers - they often see their first parents' evening as little more than a major hurdle to be got over. But these evenings enable you to get a more rounded picture of a pupil and to recognise the huge amount of their education that goes on outside school.

As well as having some understanding of the work of governing bodies, the new teacher must "understand their professional responsibilities in relation to school policies and practices". The standards particularly mention "pastoral and personal safety matters, including bullying", but most schools have documented ways of handling a wide range of issues and, unless you take the time to read the appropriate policies or get a detailed explanation from colleagues, you could find yourself doing things the "wrong" way.

The standards also expect that individuals will take responsibility for their professional development and for keeping up to date with their subject and ways of teaching it. Understanding their own needs is part of a professional self-awareness which all teachers should be practising.

Perhaps the most important other professional requirement is the one that should least need stating - that the teacher should be "committed to ensuring that every pupil is given the opportunity to achieve their potential and meet the high expectations of them".

'The National Standards for Qualified Teacher Status' is available from the TTA Publications Line 0845 6060323

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