I’m not a professional

I’m not a professional in the current sense of the word. I’m not terribly interested in advancing my “professional skills”, i.e., giving presentations, computer skills, project management skills, etc. I know, I know, I know – these are all important things to work on as a professional person in a professional world. I’m likely just being stubborn – maybe even lazy? But I get frustrated with people and offices that only push this kind of professionalism. I’ve actually been thinking about this a lot this semester, and wondering if I’m in the right field. A significant portion of my work and schooling has revolved around professional development this year. But I don’t feel it’s truly adding to my skills as an educator. Attend this conference for planning flawless events, attend that workshop for learning about eportfolios, listen to this speaker for interview skills. All of these things are helpful to a degree. But they’re helping me climb a professional ladder that I don’t necessarily care to reach the top of in my career. As a professional, I want to be kind, honest, open, patient, and groundbreaking, all while remembering the passion for learning that brought me here in the first place.

A line from Parker J. Palmer’s “A New Professional: The Aims of Education Revisted” encompasses everything I’ve been thinking in regards to professionalism over the last few months. Palmer writes, “We will not teach future professionals emotional distancing as a strategy for personal survival. We will teach them instead how to stay close to emotions that can generate energy for institutional change, which might help everyone survive.” Reading this put a big smile on my face. I’m not crazy; at least one other person out there feels the way I feel. To me, professionalism has become such a cold term. It’s routine, controlled, and adding to a boring, systemic way of carrying out work. I nearly cheered out loud reading Palmer’s line that reveals the original meaning of the word professional, “. . . someone who makes a ‘profession of faith’ in the midst of a disheartening world.” Now I have the perfect excuse any time I don’t want to participate in a “professional” development activity 😉

In all seriousness, I’ve felt disheartened lately in my own profession of higher education. So much of it is focused on my personal growth as a professional, working on largely administrative skills that will make me appear organized, well-spoken, and accomplished. I got into higher education because I could walk around a college campus all day and not get bored. I could sit in a class for hours and be intrigued for every second of it. I could listen to students talking about their interests and goals for days, and never wish to be doing something else. Education isn’t my key to professional stardom, it’s a feeling and a way of life that I value above all else.

6 Replies to “I’m not a professional”

  1. Our readings for this week by Parker Palmer reminded me of another of his books I’ve read. One of the ideas that I took from his writing was that to be a teacher is to take the good with the bad, because for many of us this is our calling and vocation first and our career second. For me teaching well come just as much from my technical subject knowledge, professional presentation and class management skills as it does from my personal values, believes and motivations. I think that this personal conviction is what we need to demonstrate to our students and help them cultivate in their own lives. We need to teach them how to use their emotions in constructive ways through their education and work.

  2. I think the main trouble is in being able to incorporate our core, personal values and emotions all while practicing our profession or carrying out professional jobs (presentations etc) rather than merely looking at them as two different things. Of course all while accounting for how it will be done and in what ‘quantity’.

  3. To quote: “As a professional, I want to be kind, honest, open, patient, and groundbreaking, all while remembering the passion for learning that brought me here in the first place.” YES!!!!!! I was having the exact conversation with someone the other day about how this and that statement and documentation and formalities seems to have become one other thing that people have to check off their list of things to add into their portfolio or CV or job applications…and the fact that a lot of times all these check marks seem to be hollow and meaningless till they are proven in action. What if our actions preceded statements and claims….?! Your post is thoughtful and genuine and I am sure like me others will connect with it as well.

  4. It’s been almost 4 years since I joined Graduate School and I feel the same way. I think this ruthless competition in R1 research universities is not for me. My ideal academic job would be at a smaller school where I can get tenure by teaching and research is an added bonus but not a requirement. This might of course change, but the more I observe my advisors and other faculty members, the more I am apprehensive of this environment.

  5. I really connect with what you’ve written. I’ve always thought I wanted to go into academia and become a professor but lately, I’ve been very disillusioned by the whole idea. Everything is about money and doing things only to enhance your portfolio, as you mentioned. I wanted to be a professor to not only do research but to work with and teach students. Is this no longer a priority for most professors? It’s nice to hear someone else is also having a bit of disheartenment when it comes to higher education.

  6. I really appreciate the candor of this post and the comments! And I share many of the concerns you’ve identified. What I most liked about your post, Sara (and there were so many things!) was the way you drew attention to the distinction between “professional” and “professing.” I’ve always felt that teaching was a calling — a vocation (pretty sure I say as much in just about every syllabu I write). I’m with Bethany in terms of having a strong connection between what I teach (history) and how and why. My research and what I learn from that kind of inquiry and discovery definitely animates my teaching. I wouldn’t be the teacher I am if I weren’t also a scholar. But both activities are fundamentally about discovery, connection, rigor and reflection (context). All of the fuss about clickers, “dressing the part,” having slick PowerPoints, and being able to “measure productivity” or “learning” is just mind-numbing distraction IMO.

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