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Professionalism and Expectations

All college teachers have a built-in responsibility to behave in professional and ethical ways. University instructors are expected to demonstrate a high degree of professionalism in their positions. Differently stated, campuses have the right to expect no less of the people to whom they entrust the learning of their students. Professionalism includes behaviors of inclusivity, civility, non-capriciousness and non-discrimination. It expects respect for students, colleagues, the discipline, the campus and humanity. It requires honesty and sensitivity. But it also expects a commitment to teaching and teaching well, so there are ground rules to follow.

Professionalism can be defined as "how individuals or groups of individuals conform to the characteristics expected of them by virtue of their occupation" (Lee, 1981). "Being a professional carries with it certain roles and responsibilities. The three areas with which we should be concerned are: professional status, professional improvement and professional organizations" (Allen, 1978). Hall (1968) and Moore (1970) suggest that professionalism as an educator involves a commitment of service to the public; a formalized organization to which one has responsibilities; esoteric, useful knowledge and skills based upon specialized training; and an autonomy restrained by self regulation and responsibility.


  • Allen, L.D. (1978, December). Professionalism — who needs it? We all do! The Agricultural Education Magazine, 2, 123.
  • Brent, R. & Felder, R. M. (1999). It's a start. College Teaching, 47 (1), 14-17.
  • Cangelosi, J.S. (2003). Classroom management strategies: Gaining and maintaining students' cooperation (5th ed.). New Jersey: Wiley.
  • Hall, R. (1968, February). Professionalism and bureaucratization. American Sociological Review, 33(1), 92-104.
  • Lee, J.S. (1981, July). Professionalism. The Agricultural Education Magazine, 54(1), 3.
  • McKeachie, W.J. and Svinicki, M., (2006). Teaching Tips (12th ed.) Boston, MA: Houghton-Mifflin.
  • Moore, W. (1970). The professions: Roles and rules. New York: The Russell Sage Foundation.


Words of Wisdom

What are some suggested do's and don'ts for fostering professionalism?


  • organize your course and content so that students can follow easily
  • present current or relevant research and examples, theory and practice
  • respond to questions in a timely and respectful manner
  • be open to meeting the needs of diverse and special circumstance students
  • assess student progress, give constructive feedback and make meaningful suggestions for fostering learning
  • Set and then follow your own standards
    • If you require cell phones and laptops turned off, turn yours off, etc.
    • If you require a specific dress code of students, exceed your own expectations, etc.
  • Maintain a positive, respectful and inclusive attitude with all students at all times
  • Be fair and equitable in the assessment and grading of all assignments
  • Provide a syllabus outline all of the expectations set forth for your students, as well as for yourself


  • Do not show favoritism
  • Do not speak about a student's personal issues in public, to another colleague or to another student
  • Do not breach expectations of privacy
  • Do not belittle students when they ask or answer questions
  • Do not grade based on your personal affect toward a student or their demeanor