Words only have the power that we give them. Consider the two words professional and unprofessional. Professional can have several definitions, it is said that a person who is a professional is an expert at their work. This definition leads me to question the use of the word unprofessional in the educational structure. Unprofessional can mean not belonging to a profession, amateur and lacking competence.
I have heard the word unprofessional used in the educational setting many times to describe teacher behavior. I would argue that the word has and is being used incorrectly. What is often mistaken as unprofessional is very often the behavior of a professional.
Some examples of the word being misused are:
- Teachers requiring rationales for educational decisions and policies.
- Teachers supplementing existing curriculum with resources and/or experiences that are relevant and appropriate for students.
- Teachers not willingly going along with the status quo when they know that there is a better way.
- Teachers using their expertise to formulate discourse around educational policies, at the national, state, district and site level.
- Teachers not accepting less than what they need.
- Teachers speaking out in meetings.
- Teachers using their proficient, specialized, skilled, competent assets to provide rationales for their educational decision-making.
None of these sound like unprofessional behaviors to me. So, this leads me to consider that the word unprofessional is being used incorrectly and far too often. I suspect that the word unprofessional might be used as a method of control; I have witnessed the body language of groups of teachers change the moment the word is even whispered in a group. I have witnesses many instances where a teacher has publicly made an inquiry and also publicly assigned the label of unprofessional.
Is the word unprofessional a designation, a restraint or a misused word?
I challenge educators at every level to use unprofessional only when appropriate.