In many ways, teachers are like prophets: we teach, we point to the way forward, we promote change, we predict what is going to happen in young people’s lives, we are concerned for the moral being of individuals and society in which they live, we bring understanding to young people who do not see a way forward. We bring hope yet warning.

Prophets tend not to get a good press nowadays, which may be due to the fact that they may not be living up to their calling. In a similar way, teachers often do not get a good press in today’s world and that also may be due to the same fact. Teachers are called to be professional; we can do that by being ‘prophetional’!

In simple terms, professionalism is aiming for perfection in our teaching, never being content with our performance. It is not to be found in the easy or popular pathway and it will require much of us. The underlying principle is this: it is only when we strive for professionalism that we will find true job satisfaction. A true professional will see learning opportunities in even the toughest situations and be glad of them. We will remain calm in the face of adversity and pressure, success or failure. We will show professionalism, not just when it suits us (and our career prospects) but wherever it finds us. Professionalism looks to the long-term, not the present or immediate future. It is having confidence that there is a way forward. It goes beyond the Job Description, the contract.

Professionalism will be found not simply in our actions but in the thoughts, motives and intentions behind the actions. It means not having to make great promises about what we will do; it means not doing it for our own glory (or our own CV) – we just do it. In fact, a true professional will do the right things without having to tell others that they have done them, simply doing them quietly, in secret, with no fuss. True professionalism means not judging, criticising or bemoaning the efforts or contributions of colleagues but looking at ourselves first. Once we do that, then we will have a very different view on the situation. We will also show understanding and mercy when pupils misbehave, not least as we also make mistakes. We will be like ‘salt’ to our pupils (adding flavour to their lives and helping to preserve them) and like ‘light’ (helping them to find understanding and purpose). We will go to all lengths and take serious action to ensure we do not make mistakes that might affect negatively our pupils. Small things count; consistency is crucial; example is paramount.

Professionalism means turning the other cheek, when we have been hurt, let down, disappointed or maltreated – we do not react, complain, seek revenge or retaliate. We let it pass; we accept it. It means offering more than is asked for or required, explaining the problem in another way when we failed to ‘connect’ the first time. It also means going the extra mile, coming in early and staying on late, helping a colleague with a difficult class. Professionalism is putting ourselves in our pupils’ shoes and matching how we would like to be treated with how we treat them. It means working hard for hard or difficult bosses. It means forgiving people (pupils and colleagues) for their ‘failures’. Professionalism is focussed, undivided attention on our responsibilities and not always looking at our conditions or benefits.

Furthermore, professionalism encourages us to do three things: Ask (in other words, be humble and willing to ask for help); Seek (in other words, take the initiative; don’t wait to be given things to do); Knock (in other words, try, look for opportunities to reach out to the pupils). To be professional we need to be unafraid, bold, principled, identifying with people. We will say what is wrong, even in our own lives, and seek to offer solutions. We will speak of ‘us’, not ‘them’.

Two final words of caution, though: firstly, many who claim to be ‘professional’ will be surprised and disappointed when they do not get offered promotion. Secondly, and finally, it is not a matter of just reading about professionalism in this article – it is a matter of going out and doing it, now!

Does that make sense? Does it sound familiar? It is because it is all of the above principles are found in Christ’s ‘Sermon on the Mount’ [Matthew 5-7]! That is where you will find true professionalism. This is not about us doing things for profit; it is about us doing it as a prophet, prophetionally.