Imagine sitting in a classroom, listening to the professor avidly lecturing. Imagine them walking around, waving their arms, being so committed that you can hear their excitement in their voice- engaging you so far into what they are saying that everything else disappears.
And then someone’s phone goes off. The illusion of learning is shattered. The lecture can never gain back its intensity– and it’s all thanks to that one kid in the back of the room that has no sense of the word “professionalism.”
Professionalism, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is “the conduct, aims, or qualities that characterize or mark a profession or a professional person.”. The faculty at Reinhardt University has recently initiated a movement to increase the professionalism of Reinhardt. In the classroom, professionalism is when students “show respect,” “never use technology inappropriately,” and “take responsibility.” The two definitions are pretty similar. That’s because Reinhardt, along with other universities, has taken the initiative to improve the behavior of students and help adjust them to the expectations of professional workplaces.
In January, Dr. Ashley Blair, a Communication professor from Union University, presented a seminar to professors at Reinhardt University about how to address the lack of professionalism in classrooms. Her seminar prompted some professors to institute professionalism policies into their syllabi.
“She saw things that would not be acceptable in the workplace, –no politeness, no respect,” said Keith Ray, a biology instructor at Reinhardt.
The 2013 National Professionalism Survey done by the Center for Professional Excellence at York College of Pennsylvania reports that 44.6% of people show a worsening work ethic. Blair’s seminar was constructive for professors to lead from to write their own policies.
Ray said, “One thing I see is that students come to college, and they have this idea that once they leave here, then they will start practicing becoming more professional, more polite, and more respectful. These are skills that you have to practice along the way.”
Before Blair’s seminar, Reinhardt had very few “rules” about professional behaviors–it was treated as a silent understanding. ‘No cellphone’ policies were the extent of some professors’ rules to create a professional atmosphere and, unfortunately, students disregarded that policy every chance they got. Blatant use of cellphones and other electronics began disrupting classes and distracting students. Use of proper communication between students and professors dwindled, along with formal ways of speaking to faculty. The use of professors’ first names got popular and most of the time, the professors did not say they would allow such personal interaction.
Finally, professors and administration became distressed by the poor classroom behaviors and began to discuss ways to hold students to higher standards. After Blair’s seminar, many faculty members have written up their own professionalism policies.
Already, these policies have begun transforming the way students behave. Ray has seen an
improvement in his own classes, saying, “I have seen much [many] fewer instances of disrespect and a lot fewer behavioral issues, and the ones that I have had are much more easily addressed, now that I have a policy.”
Student, Brooke Fountain, says “Nobody takes it seriously unless it’s a grade. Personally, I pay more attention when higher expectations are set, and I think there is definitely an incentive to try harder.”
The changes happening are urgent, as students’ ability to work in professional settings is declining. The Association of American Colleges and Universities surveyed around 400 employers and 613 college students on how ready those students were to be a part of the professional world in 2015, and the results differed up to 38%. The gap in the students’ assumed preparedness was astounding.
Peggy Feehery, Director of Career and Professional Development Services at Reinhardt, has seen many students without a sense of professionalism. She said, “I’ve had so many emails sent to me without subjects or greetings, and you just can’t do that in the work force.” She thinks these new classroom policies will teach students that the “professional world” will not put up with unprofessional work. Feehery is right. Upholding a professional attitude and work ethic is critical to obtaining and keep a job.
Because the professionalism policies are still new, a massive change has yet to occur. Ray
believes “Only time will tell,” and that students will have a brighter, better future “once we are able to implement these policies across campus.”
Brooke Fountain agrees and understands that the “real world” will not tolerate “the rudeness [she has] seen in [her] classes.” Instituting professionalism in classrooms gives students a chance to apply these critical skills in a practical learning environment.
The previous lack of respect and low level of work ethic are not going to fly any more. Professors and employers have begun the process and are setting new expectations. The reality of a professional attitude and work ethic has set in for students at Reinhardt University. Now, it is up to the rest of the faculty to implement these policies, not only for the atmosphere in their own classrooms, but for the future of their students.