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What exactly do we mean by the term professional?

The following was written in response to a question on a poll posted on the TACON (2010) website.

This house believes that the modern TESOL professional is no longer an educator but a (practitioner) trainer.

I did some work on this as part of my course on the “eLearning Professional” and came up with the following as a working definition of professional that suits me.

In effect a professional is one who consistently engages in reflective practice, and consistently seeks engagement with other practitioners to test and share one’s findings (intrinsic responsibility), and equally so, consistently informs their practice through the application of these ideas to address the needs of those they seek to serve (extrinsic responsibility).

Source –

Now based on this definition, it’s easy to see that not everyone who claims to be an EFL instructor is acting as a  “professional”. The other key point is being able to “demonstrate” that professionalism via evidence should one be asked…

Then we should be defining what it also means to be a TESOL professional.

.. and it’s here that there are all sorts of problems. Is the professionalism to be formally recognized by TESOL or by one’s employer or by one’s peers? If anyone of these three, then which one? In any case, how will it be recognized? I’d argue that this sort of thing needs to be defined by “EFL instructors” themselves. This is best realized through the use of  “learning communities” or “associations” (such as TESOL) which aim to help provide forums for sharing / testing ideas amongst practitioners… and then also identifying “good practices” or (better yet) “best practices”. It seems evident that the community’s level of success depends on the level of an individual practitioner’s success in committing to “consistently” engaging in reflection , sharing and informing their practice.

How is being a professional different from being a practitioner (trainer)?

I’d argue that a (practitioner) trainer is typically trained to identify a situation and apply a certain prescribed solution to it . For example, a situation may demonstrate certain key characteristics to the trainer (practitioner) and then be open to “labelling” .. and then an  appropriate “off the shelf” solution is selected to address it.  The same “solution” is often indiscriminantly employed in all sorts of situations .. regardless of the context. Probably the best example of this in education comes in the manner in which textbooks are often used. A textbook is selected and then distributed to all students across a region or country and becomes the basis for how students are “trained” in topic “x”. Following the textbook are a set of “standardized” tests for all students to complete .. often on a pre-determined day or even hour. However, a professional educator needs to know how to read the educational context of their students, to identify the needs of their “students” to in the end design “learning” that meets their needs – that is “meaningful to them”, that “motivates them”.  That may be different from school to school, classroom to classroom .. and even student to student. The textbook may provide content ..some of that may be culturally appropriate .. but that’s where it often ends. I’m fairly confident that textbook writers (most of whom are educators)  never intend to prescribe methodology or quick fix solutions to educators.  However, managers and administrators may be tempted to apply such an approach because it’s seen as an easier way to hold educators accountable for what they do – especially in current times when the need to control costs seems to be a major priority. Examples? Evidence of this? The move to standardized tests, common curricula, and detailed learning outcomes that often come across as prescribed by those from “above”.

Posted in Professional-development, Professionalism.

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