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January 31, 2019

How teaching professionalism teaches integrity


When I was first hired to teach some basic classes in graphic design back in the '90s, including software like Photoshop, etc., I was told to also add in a little "professionalism". It made sense to me, as this was a school that was preparing people for jobs in their chosen field. And I was surprised at how basic I needed to be with professionalism, and was reminded how I had needed to learn this basic stuff, in addition to the basics of graphic design.

We started with timeliness. I don't know about you, but when I was 19 that was a very difficult thing to do. But it's a basic expectation of professionalism. And it starts with not just telling the time, but understanding the importance of it. Being a half-hour late for a class, or a new job, or turning in an assignment, or a paid project, a week after the deadline, is just something that people have to learn not to do. It's an extremely harsh lesson, especially for people who prided themselves on always being late, but "worth the wait."

So we were very strict on time, very strict on deadlines. The people who could get to the classes on time, and turn in the assignments on time would be successful. Sad to say that many talented people failed simply because they couldn't understand timeliness. I still see it in many people, who wonder "what's the big deal" with not following through? These people often seek forgiveness, and live in a world of excuses, frustrated at what they perceive as a cruel and unfair world. But following through on what you promise is what most people expect in any walk of life. If people are waiting for you, you need to show respect for them by doing what you say you'll do, on time, on deadline. And that leads to integrity.

Integrity of character doesn't mean that a person has to be perfect. But it does mean effort. And while there's really no "reward for effort", effort usually produced the kind of things that create rewards. And that's when I started seeing how timeliness leads to the kind of effort that shows respect, and builds character.

Every semester I'd attend the portfolio showing, where the grads would set up a display of their work. It's wonderful to see. Not only is the work amazing, the grads are, too. The faculty used to joke that we could recognize graduates because they wore watches, but it went deeper than that. They had been asked to learn something, become professionals, and develop the type of integrity that would help them be successful in the "real world".

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