Be Nice and Clean! Creating and Maintaining An Atmosphere of Professionalism

Be Nice and Clean! Creating and Maintaining An Atmosphere of Professionalism

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.


Don’t Own the Red Stapler BE the Red Stapler!

Don’t Own the Red Stapler BE the Red Stapler!

You can make quite a few analogies between relationships and career. Many of the same rules apply and you can benefit from learning and applying them early on. At this point my career is being a successful student with the goal of becoming a certified instructor. This is my third career, like relationships they don’t always last forever.  I have worked now for over thirty years in three countries, three universities, one state agency, and more sales and other industry jobs than I care to count. Most of my early life I relied on instinct without planning and experienced life by the seat of my pants. I learned these rules the hard way and try to apply them now wherever necessary in my life.


Plan and Prepare

You need a structure to guide your actions. I  have found this book helpful in planning and also in navigating the day to day interactions of any workplace The Art of War. The title is militaristic but it applies to civilian life just as well. It would be loverly if every institution was an oasis of liberty, equality, and fraternity populated by rational thinking, logical adults. When you find that institution please contact me and I will apply also.

Be flexible with your career planning with a Plan A,B,C, and D. All the planning in the world can’t predict where you will end up and being flexible allows you to meet those challenges when they arise. Having alternate plans means a plans failure doesn’t mean yours.

Do Your Research

Research any institution or individual you plan to work with and the region itself. Beyond the arena you will be working in take a look at social media. Individuals reveal quite a lot of information when they think everyone in the room agrees with them. One academic I worked for had been “grandfathered” into the biological sciences without experience and that heavily affected our work together. See how your institution behaves in the worst situations like lawsuits. See how they treat individuals already in their employ. If it is an academic institution you might find something interesting here FIRE . In your chosen field research rates of pay and benefit across the board and compare to the cost of living in those areas. As the saying goes in old California “You can’t eat the sunshine”. Research HR blogs like HR Potential for current trends before you tailor your resume and CV to each institution. Finding out what potential employers are really looking for is key and leads to my next rule.

Be Employable

Don’t assume to know what an employer or institution is looking for, research and simply ask. Document every thing you do that might be remotely related to your field and maintain an archive of that documentation. I dragged around pay and tax records for over a decade that helped prove my experience when I applied to this program and for my AA degree. Get every certification, award, and degree you are eligible for. My biggest disappointment in civil service was being passed over for a permanent position because of my lack of a BAS. Know what your institution considers applicable experience and what they don’t. Be that person.

Practice Situational Awareness

Whether it’s an interview, performance review, first or last day on the job, you need to be there in mind, body, and spirit. Look your best, feel your best, and give the subject of your attentions  ALL of your attention. Arrive early so you can be calm and relaxed regardless of the situation. Know your qualifications by rote and be prepared for questions out of left field. Do your research and know the field of battle before you get there. Everyone gives off physical and verbal cues, including you.Be aware of them and respond accordingly. Recognize opportunities and grasp them before someone else does. My first posting in civil service came as a result of my administrator being so lazy he accepted the first applicant that returned his call.

Be Kind To All You Meet

Once you are in check your ego at the door and present the persistent sunshine of your smile wherever you go. When someone feels you have wronged them make amends. ASAP!

Develop a support network and be loyal to them. Once I inadvertently offended a coworker. Suddenly none of my documents were reaching their intended destinations and my work flow was at a standstill. I was unaware that she had no less than five relatives in the agency who were now actively sabotaging my work. When I was apprised of the situation, by my support network, I personally apologized and purchased two tickets in her football pool. Lo and behold the situation changed in a matter of hours. I can’t stomach football but I bought tickets in every pool after that.

Single out two groups for special kindness, experts and savants. It’s sometimes hard to discern between them and they are often difficult to deal with, but they make an institution run. Someday you will need them so make that extra effort where they are concerned.

Constantly Improve Your Position

Learn every skill you can, they are all around you, never stop learning. If someone offers to teach, you need to learn from them. Know what people need and have a reserve of it. Make life easier for other people and most of them will return the favor. You are always building your reputation, make sure it is a positive one. At my agency very department had a graveyard cubicle full of “outdated technology”, I requisitioned items from it at will. In a short period of time I had a stable of devices no one else had. An IBM Selectric was necessary for the occasional but required carbon  triplicate forms that still existed. My landline fax didn’t need the internet. My full size paper cutter was always in demand for special projects. Most useful personally was a rotary phone with a distinct ring I could hear in the middle of one hundred cubicles, yet was incapable of receiving rerouted calls from outside the agency. Serious time saver that. That extra time was well spent acquiring every certification offered and overseeing external projects while still maintaining work flow. If you can handle an extra responsibility, take it. Advancement doesn’t just occur after performance reviews.

Live Up To Your Responsibilities

You have a personal responsibility to advance to a career once you have completed your program. You have occupied a place someone else could have filled, one that society provided to you. You have an obligation to them and yourself to make the most of your education. Be the best you can be in your field, there are enough people with degrees and certifications honing their basket-weaving skills already. Don’t be another one.