I was at a university in Liverpool a couple of years ago talking to a large group of PGCE students about the definition of professionalism.
It was a large auditorium with about 200 students in the audience. They were a nice bunch – but you never know in Liverpool – and I say that as a Liverpudlian.
After a short discussion trying to define a profession the students offered up opinions about characteristics and examples.
There were some interesting ideas, though to be fair, they often come up like, like high standards of education, training, specialist skills and knowledge, qualifications, continuous development, responsibilities, accountability etc.
Then one or two suggested that not only established professions like doctors, lawyers and accountants should be counted but electricians, plumbers and hairdressers.
Then I heard a voice shout from the back (in a thick Scouse accent – so imagine something between John Bishop and Steven Gerrard…)
“Worrabout footballers! Der professionals aren’t dee!”
“Well… if you say so,” I said. “If that’s your definition…”
“Well, dee are, aren’t dee!” he shouted back. “Der corled professional footballers, so dee are aren’t dee?”
“If you think they’re professionals, well, fine… if that’s a definition you can live with, I don’t want to argue about it…” (especially not in Liverpool ;-)
I paused for a moment and then asked my Scouse contributor:
“Who do you support?”
“Li’pool!” he called back.
(Yeah, I thought you might ;-)
“OK.” I said. “Then you’ll know that Liverpool had a player playing for them a few years ago by the name of Luis Suarez….”
For those of you who are not football fans, Luis Suarez was by any reasonable measure, one of the world’s top footballers and though now he is retired, he was consisteently in the world’s top ten footballers.
“When Luis Suarez was playing for Liverpool,” I continued. “Both before and after, he was banned - three times - for biting his opponents. He was banned twice for racially abusing them. Now… “ I said as reasonably as I could to an audience of trainee teachers but doubtless mostly Liverpool FC supporters, “what would happen to you if you bit one of your colleagues?”
Laughter, but no answer.
So I followed up in a tone, still reasonable but with more of a dash of seriousness thrown in:
“What would happen to you if you racially abused one of your students?”
Still no answer, either from my guest at the back of the hall, nor indeed anyone else in the auditorium.
“You’d be out,” I said.
“You’d be out of this profession and you wouldn’t get back in to it. You wouldn’t get an eight-week ban on full pay, the way Luis Suarez did.”
You could hear a pin drop. It was like the moment a player steps up to take a penalty in the fourth minute of extra time.
“Now you can call footballers professionals if you want,” I said, “That’s a definition that you’ll have to live with. But I can assure you that the level of accountability that you will be held to, is a world away from the level of accountability that Luis Suarez - and his ilk - will be held to. And that’s not a bad thing, that’s a very good thing.”
In my fantasy football mind, I could hear the roar of a crowd after a ball hit the back of the net.
Alan Newland worked as a teacher, teacher-trainer and headteacher in London for over 20 years and then for a decade with the DfE and the GTC. He now lectures on teaching and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk. You can follow him on Twitter at @newteacherstalk.
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