Not too long ago, I was honored to write a recommendation for a colleague who had just received our district’s “Teacher of the Year” award. Immediately as I began tapping away, I found myself befuddled by my inability to describe this amazing educator, Ms. Cindy Grier.

No words were strong enough. No classroom stories would suffice. No test scores measured up. No famous teachers could compare. All I could think was, “This teacher goes the extra mile.”

Suddenly, my thoughts were flooded by smoothly rolling pickup trucks and an all-too-familiar slogan from GMC… “Professional Grade.”

That’s it, I thought. No doubt when I reflect on this educator, these two words roar above all others. What ensued after this moment of illumination can be found in the list below. It constitutes my humble attempt to describe the nearly indescribable.

What does it mean to be “P.G.T.”…a professional grade teacher?

1. Camels have nothing on you. Years of managing your excretory functions and adjusting them to various bell schedules has often prompted your doctor to remark, “Wow! I swear you have an iron bladder and a colon made of steel.” You simply reply, “No. I’m just a teacher.”

2. When a fellow colleague remarks on your positive relationship with all of your students, you reply, “Yeah, the students and I…we are mutual fans.”

3. Since the mere sound of gossip feels like an army of needles tap dancing on your eardrums, and these same malevolent words on your tongue are about as palatable as a spoonful of vomit, you make a conscious effort every day to use your speech and intentions for a more positive purpose. Likewise, you have learned to vote with your feet by simply walking away from negativity.

4. You have so many educational acronyms embedded in your mind that you should be considered fluent in another language.

5. A la Tupac, you have considered getting a tattoo that reads, “Teacher Life” where the “i” in “Life” is replaced with an etching of a confident, creative, and inspired student. After all, you feel as if these two words are forever tatted on your heart and always reminding you to “Keep Ya Head Up” in this very taxing profession.

6. The following thought often runs through your mind: If students were consumers and schools were businesses, we would be compelled to ask ourselves, “Are the customers buying what education is selling?”

7. Hearing the comment, “Well, you get two months off every year,” causes you to fantasize about being in an MMA octagon with the verbal agitator.

8. Superseding your plan for retiring with a huge nest egg, your number one goal for your career is to teach your last lesson with the same passion as you delivered your first.

9. Google Maps and your career do not resemble each other in at least one category: You will never hear an epiphanous voice from the heavens say, “You’ve arrived.” Of course, you have already accepted this fact because your professionalism demands incessant learning.

10. Number one on your list of professional responsibilities is establishing a solid rapport with all of your students that stems from mutual respect and genuine concern.

11. Although having to show proof of your hard work by submitting “artifacts” of students’ exemplary work is understandable, you would much rather strap a Go Pro camera to your forehead and a lapel mic on your collar and stream live all day long while you rock the class. No doubt the streaming video would verify the fact that your work is your passion. By the way…I wonder if anyone would tune into your streaming video on Sundays when you’re “off the clock” but prepping for class and providing feedback to students.

12. Ted is your lunch buddy. After all, a fifteen-minute Ted talk is enough inspiration to get anyone headed in the right direction. Who needs more than fifteen minutes to eat lunch anyway? (Just kidding, folks. Withhold the profanity, please.)

13. You marvel that your spouse’s idea of a “rockin’ party” does not include a “Saturday Night Think Tank” with progressively minded teachers.

14. Missing two hours of work due to a dentist appointment gets your stomach all in knots. It’s not so much the impending root canal, Novacaine-induced speech impediments, or make-up work you dread, but instead the thought of extracting from your “personal days” cache leaves you shaking your head. Knowing that you work at least ten extra hours a week (every week) you have often wondered, “Is there a paper form to fill out for the surplus hours of work I have accumulated?”

15. Your personal and professional insecurities do not stop you from listening to the students’ truths.

16. On any given day, you may be required to be any or all of the following: an edtech guru, a yogi, a handyman, an interior designer, a psychologist, the examined one, a referee or mediator, an entertainer, a coach, a cheerleader, and a facilitator. Although your college educational courses never prepared you for these extra duties, you somehow have mastered them quite well.

17. You are honest, trustworthy, and positive.

18. Engaging and creative designs for lesson plans and learning activities do not originate only at school, therefore, you habitually record voice memos on your phone, jot down notes in a pocket journal, or grab a laptop to give life to the inspirational thoughts circling your brain.

19. You only speak about problems when seeking solutions.

20. You do not need “prescribed professional learning.” When it comes to your quest to be the best educator possible, you are the doctor and the patient.

21. You quote fellow colleagues’ blogs as if they were Ralph Waldo Emerson, Maya Angelou, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Malala Yousafzai, or Martin Luther King, Jr.

22. The statement, “We as educators should meet students where they are and not where we were,” drives you to stay connected to students’ interests in popular culture, social media, hobbies, sports, and just about anything that will help you understand your students more.

23. You are able to juggle multiple schedules even at the end of the year when your mental faculties are nearly depleted.

24. EdCamps and ISTE conferences create as much anticipation as your summer vacation at the beach.

25. No matter your number of years in education…whether you are a rookie or a 30-year veteran…you realize that staying proficient in the areas of pedagogical practices and educational technology is paramount. For this reason, you do not issue statements that attempt to excuse you from learning about the latest gadgets, programs, projects, and learning designs. After all, you are a professional teacher. Therefore, you can learn anything.

26. Much like erroneously typing in a password, you know that if something does not feel right, it probably isn’t.

27. Even though you wear the mandated “professional attire” to work, you know it would not matter if you came to school wearing baggy sweat pants, a wick-away t-shirt, no socks, open-toed slides, and a baseball hat. You would still work your butt off. That’s just your teaching heart and your work ethic. To be honest, you would probably be able to move around the classroom more efficiently if the aforementioned attire were acceptable. Maybe that day will arrive soon.

28. Balance is key. Family, friends, faith, work, fun, exercise, nutrition, and rest all deserve and receive a portion of your daily allotment of 24 hours.

29. Ben Franklin’s quote “A good example is the best sermon” inspires you to model everything you expect your students to do.

30. You wholeheartedly subscribe to this statement from Oliver Wendell Holmes: “It is the privilege of wisdom to listen.” Therefore, your attention to, and present-mindedness with, inquisitive students make them feel as if they are the most important people in the room. Aren’t they anyway?

31. If a technology-heavy lesson plan never gets off the ground due to district-wide internet outages, you don’t sweat it. You simply tweak a few logistics, put on your “I’m not a bit agitated” face, and create a magical, alternative lesson.

If you did not relate to every one of these “professional grade” attributes, no need to worry. There is one final test you can pass. You see, if an overwhelming desire to contribute to this list has suddenly consumed you, there is no doubt as to your next action. You simply scroll down just a bit and add to this burgeoning list with your own ideas. “Why?” you may ask.

Because…well, that’s just what professional educators do. Always contributing. Always going the extra mile. Always learning forward.

Always a “P.G.T.”

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