More About Ethics in Education
“Food for Thought” for Teachers
Resolving Problems in Daily Professional Decision-Making
For a review of Part I of this article, please visit https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2018/08/20/ethical-conundrums-revisited-part-i/. The entire blog-series can be read (in reverse chronological order) at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/category/ethics/.
Regardless of whether you are a first-year teacher, recently hired or transferred, or someone who has many years of experience, we know that little training is provided for handling our daily contradictions or controversies in school ethics. This investigation illustrates several additional obstacles in maintaining appropriate professional and ethical behavior and exploring the application of the moral decision-making “compass” for educators. Here we will rehash more modern-day dilemmas using “mock scenarios” in the workplace, encourage you to reflect and respond to “what would you do?” and even re-orient you to the paradoxes in which you may encounter that may not seem to offer an obvious resolution.
It’s time to put on your “thinking caps!” What are your initial impressions of a few of these “conundrums” or conflicts?
- Privacy protection versus “open door” meetings with students?
- Acceptance of congratulatory “musical hugs” versus the practice of avoiding all physical contact from students?
- Refusal of gifts from music industry vendors versus acceptance of “free” offers or dinner meetings? (Review “Ethics for Music Educators Part III” and Pennsylvania’s “Ethical Toolkit Unit 6,” and then follow-up reading sample “conflict of interest” provisions in the code of ethics from Massachusetts https://www.mass.gov/service-details/public-school-teacher-faqs-on-the-conflict-of-interest-law and Louisiana https://www.nicholls.edu/internal-audit-department/files/2014/09/summary-of-gift-restrictions-1-11-10.pdf.)
- Publicly maligning a colleague’s questionable actions (character assassination) vs. protecting your reputation and standing up for your students’ rights.
- Use of social media networks to support student learning versus the risk of crossing the student/teacher boundary with inappropriate informal communications? (See “Social Media – Boon or Nemesis?” and especially the YouTube video, “Teachers and Facebook.”
- The sharing of anecdotes or details of an incident that occurred during a class or school activity with family members or colleagues?
- Communications with parents vs. resolving disputes with “stage mothers.”
- The exercise of a teacher’s “freedom of speech” rights versus the practice of maligning school administrators or their decisions in public?
- The exercise of a teacher’s “freedom of expression” rights in having tattoos, body piercings, or wearing certain fad or provocative clothing versus compliance to school policies and norms? (Look at various opinions on the following websites: https://www.pspc.education.pa.gov/Promoting-Ethical-Practices-Resources/Ethics-Toolkit/Unit2/Pages/Off-Duty-Conduct.aspx, https://www.aaeteachers.org/index.php/blog/802-teacher-dress-codes, and http://www.nea.org/tools/tips/dress-for-success-in-the-classroom.html.)
To foster meaningful scrutiny and study of the bulleted issues in bold above, we will sort these problems by Principle III “Responsibility to Students” and Principle IV “Responsibility to the School Community” of the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC) “Model Code of Ethics for Educators” (MCEE): https://www.nasdtec.net/general/custom.asp?page=MCEE_Doc. In addition, whenever possible, a link to a scenario or case study about the subject will be shared. It is recommended that, in a small group of your peers, you view each video/text resource and assess its ramifications on the ethical appearances (professional image) and actions (intent and interpretation). In my opinion, this is the BEST way to study ethical dilemmas. Here are a few key essential questions to help promote in-depth dialogue:
- What possible ethical concerns might this scenario raise?
- How could this situation become a violation of state law, the “Code” or school/district policies?
- In this situation, what are some potential negative consequences for the teacher, student, parents, school staff, and/or community?
- How would this episode affect a teacher’s efficacy in his/her classroom, demean the employing school entity, or damage his/her position as a moral exemplar in the community?
Responsibility to Students
MCEE III A 2, 5, 6
Study scenarios on INAPPROPRIATE RELATIONSHIPS:
CONUNDRUM: Coming home from a successful musical performance, my wife noticed on my tuxedo stains of stage make-up caused by several actors’ “musical hugs.” “Should you let the performers hug you backstage?” she asked, and scolded me to “be more careful!”
“No touch” policies for teachers in schools really do not make a lot of sense. There are many who agree that casual contact like a pat on the back may even be helpful. See:
MY ADVICE: Music teachers “touch” their students all the time; it is part of the natural process of assisting them to hold and play a new instrument. I am not opposed to an occasional celebratory or consoling hug. The factors that may contribute to the moment being judged “okay” vs. “inappropriate” boil down to:
- Length of time
- Frequency or patterns of repetition
- Comfort level of the student
- Age level of the student
- Being in public
- Who started it?
If a child is in distress, pulling him/her aside from the rest of the class and consoling with a light/half/side hug should not be a problem. This issue is one that requires judgement based on common sense – don’t encourage repeated contacts or “get carried away.”
However, young/rookie teachers may be surprised about one violation included in the official definition of “sexual misconduct,” judged as “crossing the boundaries” and inappropriate by most state codes: “exchange of gifts with no educational purpose.” (Reference from the PA Professional Standards and Practices Commission)
MCEE III C 1, 2, 3
Study scenarios on STUDENT PRIVACY RIGHTS:
Legal protections for student confidentiality are mandated by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and other Federal regulations. (See previous blog-post, “Ethics Follow-up” at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/category/ethics/.) You must remain very discrete about divulging or transferring any “non-directory data” about “your charges.” The operative saying is, “When in doubt, don’t give it out.”
REMEMBER – NEVER GOSSIP! Discussing an incident or behavior concern with another teacher in the hallway between classes or sitting down in the teacher’s room is never advisable, and it is probably illegal! Educators must, at all costs, avoid inadvertently disclosing personal information about the lives or actions of our students “in public.” Even carrying on a conversation with a student in an open or common area that could be construed as a “private matter” may be accidentally overheard, and therefore violate a student’s privacy rights.
EXCEPTIONS to third-party disclosure prohibitions (source):
- Other educators or officials within the same school who have legitimate educational interests in the student.
- When disclosure of information is necessary to protect the safety and health of the student.
- Another school to which a student is transferring.
- In order to comply with a judicial order.
- Interested parties who are determining a student’s financial aid eligibility.
CONUNDRUM: How do you resolve the apparent contradiction of the recommendation of never holding a meeting alone with a student with the need to provide a safe/secure place to share information?
MY SOLUTION: Confer with your student in a place with sight-lines to the hallway (windows) but sound insulated from hearing the voices inside and/or where there is a high probability of someone interrupting and stopping the conversation.
Responsibility to the School Community
MCEE IV A 1, 2
Study scenarios and articles on INTERACTIONS WITH PARENTS AND STAFF:
CONUNDRUM: You receive a call from an angry parent who wants to know why her daughter was not awarded the lead in the school play. The mother wants a detailed assessment of her child’s skills and advice on how to prepare for future auditions.
MY SOLUTION: This is more common than you would like. This episode compels you to figure out how to wear two unique hats simultaneously – the educator and the judge. Assuming you were clear (in writing) on the requirements of the try-outs, even sharing the blank rubric that would be used for the evaluations, you are now charged to find the “best” person for each lead assignment based on a number of criteria:
- Needed solo character parts in the play
- Voice part of the candidate
- Musical skills
- Dramatic skills, which may be further categorized/ranked by oral/voice technique, projection, character development, understanding of text, and stage presence
- Dancing/movement skills
- Type of projection: the potential for acting a comedic vs. romantic role
- Height (relevant if partnered with another character)
- Overall preparation
Of course, these expectations and targeted assessments should have been shared with everyone before the auditions were held.
Parents want “what is right” for their kids and for them to feel successful. You as the director want the ideal cast for the show, providing the best chance for the entire company’s success in performance, but must show that the entire process is impartial, consistent, and fair. As a teacher, it is your responsibility to listen to the students’ and parents’ concerns, but I feel it is not realistic nor appropriate for you to “adjudicate” each actor’s audition. I wrote about this distinction HERE in my last “Fox’s Fireside” blog-post. This is an article you can “pass around” prior to your next tryout.
MCEE IV B 1, 2, 4, 8
CONUNDRUM: Maintaining professional relationships with your teaching colleagues vs. the mandatory reporting of unethical behavior and inappropriate speech/actions.
A member of the staff is “bad mouthing” you, the principal or other school staff members in public. You are assigned to work side-by-side with him, and yet he does not interact with the staff with civility or respect, nor does he support the academic achievement and related goals that promote the best interests of students.
MY SOLUTION: Thankfully, I have had no personal experience with this scenario, but can recommend that you first try to deal directly with the unethical colleague. According to MCEE, professionals must collaborate and maintain effective and appropriate relationships with the faculty, “resolving conflicts, whenever possible, privately and respectfully and in accordance with district policy.” Before you bring up the matter with your supervisor or building administrator (which you have the right and even responsibility to do, especially if the students hear any improper speech first-hand or that the incidents rise to the level of bullying or aggressive behavior), talk to the unhappy team member one-on-one. Be calm and sensitive, but hold your ground: you must assert that his/her behavior/language is unacceptable and will not be tolerated in the future.
The suggestions of Mind Tool’s article “Five Ways to Deal With Rudeness at the Workplace” are applicable (read their entire blog-post at https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/five-ways-deal-with-rudeness.htm):
- Be a good role model.
- Don’t ignore it.
- Deal directly with the culprit.
- Follow-up on any offender.
As for anything that is a violation of the teachers’ code of ethical conduct, you are mandated to report the transgressions of a colleague that threaten the health and safety of the students, especially any observations (or even suspicions) of verbal, physical, or sexual abuse/misconducts.
As for one’s “freedom of expression” to complain about administrators or co-workers, especially in the use of social media, the National Education Association responds:
“Let’s debunk the free speech myth: Many teachers believe they have the absolute First Amendment right to post anything they want on social networking sites, including party pix and diatribes about the boss. After all, they’re on their own time and using their own resources. Sadly, the courts say otherwise.”
As a follow-up, visit additional resources in “Becoming a Music Educator.” Please feel free to leave your comments and links to share other scenarios of ethical “conundrums.”
© 2018 Paul K. Fox