The word nice has several meanings but in this case I am referring to only two: politeness and accuracy. Professionalism requires both, and living by example is the best way to impress that on your students. Maintaining that professionalism requires an application of vigilance every working day and occasionally on days off too. Being clean is a bit simpler to explain and a lot easier to do.

Be Nice!

Be polite to your students and coworkers or really anyone you encounter. The vast majority of social problems in the classroom or workplace can be avoided simply by showing respect and minding your manners. The next aspect of professionalism is not so common or popular today, but I think it still has a place and a use. Familiarity breeds contempt. On this coast most of my employers, superiors, and instructors have preferred to be addressed by their first name. While this does have a social benefit it also opens the door to overfamiliarity, disrespect, and contempt.

I try to hang my ego on an invisible coathook  as I enter the classroom and keeping my first name interferes with that. It’s an unpopular opinion but I feel it interferes with my objective delivery of the product (education) to be friends or create an atmosphere of assumed friendship with students. I have a fairly high standard for friendship and it would be unfair to expect that from students. That doesn’t mean I can’t be friendly or promote a friendly atmosphere. It means I behave in a polite and respectful manner and expect the same from my students in their behavior towards me their peers and my coworkers. It means that I am addressed as sir or Mr. McCawley and they are addressed by their last name or a consistent pronoun of their choice. The ideal is to promote a friendly atmosphere while maintaining mutual respect with the goal of preventing innocuous interactions from becoming actionable incidents.

Being accurate is also important. My ideal is to be accurate and consistent with all I do in my institution, and in that encourage the same ideal in my students. It will help them in all future endeavors and it makes a level playing field for both of us in a disagreement.

Be Clean!

This too goes against the current cultural grain, but it is still an important lesson for students and educators to show respect to all entities involved by maintaining a high standard of dress and grooming. If you shave do so daily, and if you wear a beard keep it trimmed. Wear clothing that shows you are ready to do more than surf channels on your couch or attend a slumber party. Keep your language clean and avoid the Forbidden Four Topics : Sex, Religion, Politics, and Sports. That goes back to your ego and that invisible coat hook.

Shave Everyday and You’ll Always Be Clean!

My first time in college was successful only in the amount of credits I earned. I left before graduating and part of that was my inability to be accurate in my interactions with staff and instructors. I was really more focused on being part of a subculture than a student body and made a lot of noise and tribal signaling. I wore clothing that was more appropriate for the night club than the school that sent out more signals.  As a result my interactions with instructors over issues were confrontational and usually ended with me dropping a class. I wasn’t accurate about what I wanted or needed and I wasn’t polite. My instructors returned the favor and made my experience there a difficult one. Neither end of the social contract was fulfilled but they kept their jobs and I lost my education. Just because you are in the right does not mean you get to abandon your manners.

All of these are imitate able behaviors and positive ones at that. Lay the groundwork from your first interactions and that will bear fruit in the future. Be consistent and that will maintain those behaviors. It may not make for the best party but it does make for a professional atmosphere conducive to learning.


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