All in the line of duty

29th October 1999 at 01:00
Now you're a professional you have to act the part. Mike Fielding explains how to meet expectations

New teachers sometimes think they've 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's much more to it than that. Now you are a professional, people have the right to 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". Although your training will have raised these issues, it would pay you to revisit them once you are in a post.

In addition to a string of contractual and legal liabilities and responsibilities which the new teacher needs to be clear on, there are points relating to professional conduct and understanding. They may be obvious but may never have been spelt out before.

The need, for instance, to establish "effective working relationships with professional colleagues, including, where applicable, associate staff". This seems straightforward but is not always easy to achieve, especially with colleagues outside your immediate department or key stage group.

Also, what is the definition of "an effective working relationship"? It doesn't just mean getting on well with each other, although schools are generally better places when that happens. The statement acknowledges 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, and that some 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 involve learning 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 own 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 that teachers should never wear jeans to school, have long hair if they are men, or go to the pub. But it is a timely reminder that children take notice of how teachers look and behave and will withdraw respect if they are unimpressed. And parents may be even stronger in their response.

Perhaps this is why so many teachers prefer to live outside the catchment area, in the hope that their private lives can be their own.

The importance of liaising effectively with "parents and other carers" and responsible agencies is also highlighted in the national standards. For the new teacher this can be a threatening and difficult area. For many the first parents' evening is a major hurdle to overcome - but it can also be very rewarding. It enables you to get a more rounded picture of a pupil and to recognise the huge amount of his or her education that is going on outside school.

The new teacher must also "understand their professional responsibilities in relation to school policies and practices". The standards particularly mention "pastoral and personal safety matters, including bullying". 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 individuals to take responsibility for their professional development and keep up to date with their subject and ways of teaching it. While most schools designate someone to oversee professional development, it can't be left entirely to him or her. Understanding your own training and developmental needs is a vital part of a professional self-awareness.

Perhaps the most important professional requirement needs stating least - that the teacher be "committed to ensuring that every pupil is given the opportunity to achieve their potential and meet the high expectations of them". Anyone without this commitment will not reach the first step to becoming a professional teacher and should ask themselves whether their talents might be better employed elsewhere.

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