Bad Word

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.



Julie Torres

Julie Torres

Tucson, Arizona

My name is Julie Torres. I wasn’t always sure that I wanted to be a teacher; somewhere along the way I realized that teaching had been knocking at my door for a long time. I became a teacher because it felt natural; I remain a teacher because my students inspire me.

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