Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Philosophy and Ethics/Ethical Teaching
What does it mean to be an ethical teacher? On the surface this seems like a very simple question to answer. But as we shall see the answer is as complex as the teaching profession itself and as diverse as the students it serves. Why is Education an occupation worthy of the term profession and therefore required to adhere to an ethical standard? Historically, the occupations that took actions to protect clients in certain situation were deemed professions (www.educationpolicy.org, pg1). I would argue that the trust placed in educators to educate our young and to ensure their future success is perhaps more important to society than the trust placed in doctors and lawyers. Educational institutes are microcosms of the society and culture that supports them and, as such, should be bastions of ethical behavior (www.uvsc.edu, pg1). The National Education Association (NEA) has published the Code of Ethics of the Education Profession. This consists of a preamble and two guiding principles. Let us take a closer look at each part and the tenents that comprise each.
The preamble of the NEA Code of Ethics of the Education Profession states that the educator believing in the worth and dignity of each human being, recognizes the supreme importance of the pursuit of truth, devotion to excellence, and the nurture of the democratic principles (www.nea.org, pg1). The preamble goes on to state that these goals require the protection of freedom to learn and freedom to teach and the guarantee of equal educational opportunity for all (www.nea.org, pg1). The preamble concludes by recognizing the responsibility inherent in the teaching process and the pledge to attain and maintain the highest possible degree of ethical conduct (www.nea.org, pg1).
Commitment to the Student
The first guiding principle of the NEA Code of Ethics of the Education Profession is commitment to the student (www.nea.org, pg 1). The code states that the duty of the educator is to strive to help every student realize their potential by fostering inquiry, knowledge, understanding, and worthy goals (www.nea.org, pg 1). The code is very specific on the educator’s responsibilities to the student.
The ethical educator must not unreasonably restrain the student from independent action in the pursuit of learning (www.nea.org, pg 1). Examples of reasonable limitations include the health and safety of the student. As educators we must allow students the independence to learn and investigate on their own. Our goal as educators should be to turn out critical thinkers. In essence we are teaching our children to learn. Anything less is a disservice to them. We cannot do this by stifling their independent learning.
The ethical educator must not unreasonably deny the student access to differing views (www.nea.org, pg 1). Within reasonable limits students should be exposed to differing views as often as possible. This allows the student to explore options and expand ideas. Remember we are trying to turn out critical thinkers not parakeets. In order to do this students must be allowed access to varying points of view and must be encouraged to challenge them.
The ethical educator must not suppress or distort material relevant to the student’s progress (www.nea.org, pg 1). In a nut shell this means that the educator must not deliberately withhold knowledge from the student. You may ask why an educator would withhold knowledge from a student. There are a number of possible motives for this. One might be to distort knowledge. An educator who distorts knowledge because of his/her personal beliefs or bias is guilty of this. We must remember that we are not here to indoctrinate students but to teach them to learn.
The ethical educator must make every reasonable effort to protect the student from conditions harmful to learning or to the health and safety of the student (www.nea.org, pg 1). This places the burden of creating an environment conducive to learning that is also safe on the educator. This may seem an insignificant tenent compared to some of the others, but it is not. Remember that society has given us the responsibility to teach, protect, and nurture its children. Seen in this light, it becomes quickly apparent that this is, in fact, a major tenent. Children cannot learn in a disruptive classroom. Children are not safe in a school infested with drugs and violence. We must never turn a blind eye, for the sake of convenience, to problems that endanger learning or our children.
The ethical educator must not intentionally embarrass or disparage any student (www.nea.org, pg 1). As educators it is our job to encourage, not disparage. By intentionally embarrassing or disparaging a student you may become the reason a student becomes turned off to education--especially if this happens at a young age and leaves a lasting impression on the child. Children have delicate psyches and cruelty can scar a child for life.
The ethical educator must not discriminate on the basis of race, color, creed, sex, national origin, marital status, political or religious beliefs, family, social, or cultural backgrounds, or sexual orientations (www.nea.org, pg 1). Discrimination can take the form of exclusion, denial of benefits, or granting of benefits (www.nea.org, pg 1). Any of these actions based on anything other than merit or need could be construed as discrimination.
The ethical educator must not use professional relationships with students for private advantage (www.nea.org, pg 1). Private advantage includes personal, monetary, or business advantage (www.nea.org, pg 1). As professionals we must remember we are here to teach children, not to take advantage of them.
The ethical educator must not disclose information obtained in the course of professional service about any student unless the disclosure serves a compelling professional purpose or is required by law (www.nea.org, pg 1). This is a sort of professional privilege between educators and students. Because educators have access to personal information regarding grades, social and behavioral problems, and home life issues etc. the educator must safeguard this information zealously. If this information is compromised, and a student finds out, the bond of trust between student and educator could be irreparably damaged.
Commitment to the Profession
The second guiding principle of the NEA Code of Ethics of the Education Profession is commitment to the profession. The code states that due to the public trust and responsibility vested by the public in the education profession the highest ideals must be maintained (www.nea.org, pg 2). This includes the responsibility to raise professional standards, to promote a climate that encourages professional judgment, and to endeavor to attract the most worthy people to the profession (www.nea.org, pg 2).
The ethical educator must not make a false statement regarding any material fact relating to competency on any application (www.nea.org, pg 2). As educators we are to hold ourselves to the highest professional standard. To do this honesty and integrity must be paramount.
The ethical educator must not misrepresent his/her professional qualifications (www.nea.org, pg 2). Again this goes under the heading of integrity. Think about the kind of person you would want to teach your children. Their honesty and integrity should be above reproach.
The ethical educator must not assist any unqualified person with entry into the education profession(www.nea.org, pg 2). Unqualified can be in terms of character, education, or any relevant characteristics (www.nea.org, pg 2). As professional educators we should view ourselves as the safe guarders of the profession. By knowingly assisting unqualified persons entry into the profession we are helping to degrade the profession and quite possibly putting children at risk. This is a tenet we should all take very seriously.
The ethical educator must not knowingly make a false statement concerning the qualifications of an education candidate(www.nea.org, pg 2). This can mean pro or con statements. It is equally wrong to make a false statement that might hurt a qualified candidate just as it is to make a false statement that might help an unqualified candidate. Remember we are the safe guarders of our profession and as such are required to zealously protect it. However, we must always bear in mind when discussing candidates that we are potentially affecting another’s career. We must never let bias or personal feelings affect the statements we make concerning a candidate.
The ethical educator must not assist a non educator in the authorized practice of teaching (www.nea.org, pg 2). Consider the consequence of allowing an untrained educator to teach children. You are robbing the children of their education and possibly putting them at risk.
The ethical educator must not disclose personal or professional information about colleagues obtained in the course of professional service unless disclosure serves a compelling professional purpose or is required by law (www.nea.org, pg 2). As colleagues in the same profession there should be some collegiality toward one another. Only information relevant to another colleagues teaching ability or child safety should be discussed with the appropriate personnel. The only other time disclosure would be appropriate is if it was required by law.
The ethical educator must not knowingly make false or malicious statements about a colleague(www.nea.org, pg 2). If we are professionals we must act like professionals. There is no room in the profession for denigrating ones peers. This harms the profession by degrading team work and morale, two components absolutely essential to the education mission.
The ethical educator must not accept any gratuity, gift, or favor that might influence or appear to influence professional decisions or actions(www.nea.org, pg 2). I know from listening to others in the profession that some parents go overboard during teacher appreciation week. Some teachers have stated that it seems to be a competition to see who can give the best gift to the teacher for their child. I would suggest that inappropriately priced gifts should be returned. Remember as professional we must guard against even the appearance of influence.
|“||Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has"||”|
—Margaret Mead, 
This is a very comprehensive code of ethics. Many, however, feel that enforcement is spotty (www.educationpolicy.org, pg2). At this point in time schools don’t do a good job of modeling values (American Schools, pg 45). Teachers and administrators often make no secret of the fact they don’t trust each other (American Schools, pg 45). This cannot be allowed to continue. Our society has changed dramatically over the last few generations. Both parents working is the norm now not the exception. Out of necessity children depend more on the school system. While the family will always be the starting point for character education schools now share this responsibility (American Schools, pg 44). In order for parents to be comfortable with this they must know that their core values are being taught by qualified ethical professionals (American Schools, pg 44).
Partly due to the influx of immigrants over the last few generations a growing inequality in family incomes has contributed heavily to a growing disparity in student achievement (Tough Choices, pg 9). Mediocre educators will not be able to contend with this problem. Only quality, committed, ethical professionals will be able to deal with these and other modern problems facing our education system.
Multiple Choice Questions
Click to reveal the answer.
1. If you were to help a friend get a job as a teacher who you knew was of suspect character, which guiding principle and tenet of the NEA Code of Ethics of the Education Profession would you be violating? You would be violating the second guiding principle commitment to the profession and the specific tenet would be the ethical educator must not assist any unqualified person with entry into the education profession. Unqualified does not only refer to academics but also character.
2. If you were to embarrass a child who you thought needed to be put into his place because of behavior issues would this be an acceptable classroom management tool according to the NEA Code of Ethics of the Education Profession? No according to the first guiding principle commitment to the students and the tenet an ethical teacher must never intentionally embarrass or disparage any student.
3. If you were to favor one point of view during a lesson over an opposing view because of your personal beliefs would this be a violation of the NEA Code of ethics of the Education Profession? Yes you might be. You could be in violation of the tenet the ethical educator must not suppress or distort material relevant to the student’s progress. You should take great pains to not interject your personal view. At the very least you should make the students aware of your bias.
4. If you were to disclose personal information about a student to your friend at another school would this be a violation of the NEA Code of Ethics of the Education Profession. Yes, unless disclosure serves a compelling professional purpose or is required by law you should not disclose any information obtained in the course of professional service.
5. A child in your class is picking on another child and you do not address it because the abuse seems minor would this be a violation of the NEA Code of Ethics of the Education Profession? Yes, the ethical educator must make every reasonable effort to protect the student from conditions harmful to learning or to the health and safety of the students.
Click to reveal a sample response.
- A discussion About Ethics in Education, Myron Lieberman, Oct 1988. Found @ www.educationpolicy.org/mlcolumn/mlcolumn-073101.htm
- Code of Ethics of the Education Profession, Adopted by the Naiontal Education Association in 1975. Found @ www.nea.org/aboutnea/code.html
- Ethics of Education, Case Studies, 2003. Utah Valley State College. Found @ www.uvsc.edu/ethics/curriculum/education/
- American Schools: The 100 billion Dollar Challenge, D W Allen, Ed.D. and W H Cosby,Jr, Ed.D, 2000.
- Tough Choices or Tough Times, Executive Summary, National Center on Education and The Economy.
- Brainy Quotes, Found @ www.brainyquotes.com/quotes/quotes/m/margaretme130543.html