Ethical Scenarios

Empaneling the “Ethic Jury” to Review Mock Case Studies

The study of morality in professional decision-making is essential to pre- and in-service training of music teachers. Our goal should be to reinforce recommendations for the avoidance of inappropriate behavior (or even the appearance of impropriety), and defining and modeling the “best practices” of a “fiduciary” by promoting trust, fostering a safe environment for learning, acting in the best interests of our students, and upholding the overall integrity of the profession.

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Full discussions and samples of “the codes” (ethics and conduct), professional aspirations, and government policies/statutes – a proverbial “curriculum” exploring ethics for music educators – have been posted at this blog-site. You should peruse these first before proceeding further:

In addition, articles cautioning educators’ use of social media are offered:

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All of these should be “required” reading. Few of us have ever received a full-blown class or induction program on ethics. Now is the time to study this topic, and as ethics expert Dr. Troy Hutchings would say, to view it through multiple perspectives – “the lens of…”

  • “Ethos of care”
  • “Educator risks”
  • “Consequences”

The purpose of this blog is to provide supplemental materials for personal reflection, possibly inspiring thought-provoking group dialogue during methods classes, professional development workshops, or music staff meetings.

 

Degrees of Misconduct

The Rubric

It is more important to know why something is wrong, rather than simply labeling the degree of misconduct or likely discipline action. However, for the purpose of introspection during this exercise, we will first recognize “the problem” presented in each re-enactment. We will use these “color-coded” criteria, and allow “snap judgments” in the simulated evaluation by a “jury of our peers.” Put on your thinking caps! You may be surprised with the incongruities of your first impressions once the likely outcomes of these stories are revealed!

Use this tool to judge the severity of the upcoming case studies.

DEGREES OF MISCONDUCT (from bad to worst)

  • GREEN (not illustrated)  = not a misconduct
  • BLUE (not illustrated) = inappropriate, unwise, or “bad for appearances” – but no consequences
  • PURPLE = “Unprofessional” – unlikely to result in serious consequences except possible damage to one’s professional reputation
  • GOLD = “Immoral” – no guarantee of consequences except may result in lowering the year-end teacher evaluation score, earning a “warning” or “write-up” by the principal/supervisor, or consideration for a job re-assignment
  • ORANGE = “Unethical” – which will result in discipline action and possible loss or suspension of certificate
  • RED = “Illegal” – which may add criminal penalties, fines, jail time, etc. All it takes is a felony or misdemeanor conviction to lose your job… and your certificate… even if it is unrelated to your employment or taking place at school.

 

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Essential Ethical Questions

It is important to analyze your response to these reflections during your assessment of each ethical dispute:

  1. What possible issues/concerns might this scenario raise?
  2. How could this situation become a violation of the law, the “Code” or other school/district policies?
  3. In this situation, what are some potential negative consequences for the teacher, students, parents, and/or school staff?
  4. How would this episode affect a teacher’s efficacy in his/her classroom, demean the employing school entity, or damage her position as a moral exemplar in the community?

 

Mock Scenarios

CASE #1

Melissa S. was a 23-year-old high school music teacher who also supervised the production of the school musical. After months of practices, Miss S. became very close to several seniors including David, the male lead in the musical.  She and David began sharing emails and texts with one another.  Most of the communications were playfully flirtatious but not overtly sexual.  Immediately after graduation, however, Miss S. and David began dating and became sexually intimate. After discovering the relationship, David’s parents filed a complaint against Miss S. with the district superintendent.

CASE #2

My drum major was suspended because she smoked pot and was caught. I needed her to run the half time show we had been practicing for months and so I attempted to convince administration that she had to participate because it was part of my curriculum and part of her grade. I decided the other kids shouldn’t be punished because of her idiocy so I worked hard to keep her in the show.

This assumes the principal will make the ethical decision in allowing or prohibiting the student leader to participate.

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Let’s put this choice squarely on your shoulders (where it usually sits). What would you do if you were the one that discovered your soloist, lead, accompanist, or drum major was drinking on a school music trip? What if he or she was the one performer you counted on for an outstanding adjudication?

You walk into the Disney World cafeteria, see your student has a wine cooler on his/her tray sitting at the tables. Since no one else sees you standing there, you walk out as if nothing has happened.

CASE #3

You are taking your high school music department to Orlando. Because of the size of the trip, you have to put it out on bid. One company offers a generous “under the table” deal: “If you choose our travel agency for the Florida trip, we will throw-in the gift of a new conductor’s podium and set of two dozen music stands.” You decide to go with them.

CASE #4

James C. is a middle school music teacher who was arrested for drunk driving. After several months, the teacher goes to court and is convicted of the offense. When the district moves to have Mr. C fired for his conviction, he argues that this offense has no influence over his ability to instruct his students. Also, the episode happened during the weekend on his private time.

CASE #5

Mrs. K is a high school choral director whose husband recently divorced her. During a lesson one day, she breaks down in front of her class. In an attempt to calm the students, she explains her emotional state and discusses the end of her marriage. After school that day, a male student visits Mrs. K to see if she has recovered. The student explains that his parents are also divorcing and he understands her feelings. The student begins stopping in to see Mrs. K more frequently and the pair begins spending more time outside of class supporting each other. Mrs. K’s colleagues start to become suspicious of her relationship with the student and report the teacher’s actions to their principal.

 

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Food for Thought – Suggestive Answers

Please keep in mind my disclaimer, “I am not an attorney, a member of a human resource staff, nor a research scholar or expert on school ethics.” However, although retired, I continue to teach (part-time) and face day-to-day decision-making… now for more than 40 years.  These are my responses to the above cases. I welcome your comments, and any input from highly respected leaders in the field of educator ethics like Dr. Troy Hutchings (Chair of Education, University of Phoenix) and Dr. Oliver Dreon (Associate Professor, Millersville State University of Pennsylvania).

RESPONSE TO CASE #
  1. ETHICS VIOLATION: In my opinion, this would likely result in loss of employment and revocation of her certificate. The debate in some areas of the world supports that it may be permissible to have an intimate relationship with a former student as long as it did not start while the student was at school. We have learned that the American Psychological Association has an ethical guideline of non-fraternization for at least two years post-treatment, while the National Association of Social Workers has a one year moratorium for sexual involvement with a client. However, frankly, in the teaching profession, due to the inherent power imbalance that can influence inappropriate relationships between teachers and students or former students – even after graduation: Are either of these models relevant?
  2. ETHICS VIOLATION: Most would say this was a serious noncompliance with the school district’s drug and alcohol policy, violation of the local laws governing underage consumption, and likely breach of your fiduciary responsibility. No decision is a decision… walking away means you condone the behavior. What if the drinker becomes sick or has an accident and gets hurt “on your watch?”
  3. ETHICS VIOLATION: Better check your state’s code of ethics. From the Pennsylvania Code of Professional Practices and Conduct, “No educator is permitted to accept personal or financial gain or advantage (other than their contractual compensation package) through their work in a school system.” Interpretations may disagree on a “true-life” experience: At a music conference, I was invited to a special dinner celebrating the “best clients” by a vendor representative who insisted on picking up the tab. Minimal infraction?  Would you change your misconduct rating if the party took place at Hooters? How about at a strip club?
  4. ETHICS VIOLATION: The convicted drunk driver did not win his argument. He probably would lose his job and faced criminal penalties! Although he may still hold his teaching certificate, it is unlikely he will ever be considered for employment as a teacher in any state.
  5. ETHICS VIOLATION: Did you initially interpret this as the choral director being misguided, emotionally immature, and only exhibiting unprofessional conduct by allowing the sharing their mutual feelings and experiences? According to the author of this scenario, after investigation, she was asked to resign from her position, and she complied. She did not lose her certificate… but could have depending on state or district regulations and the extent of her off-school behavior.

 

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More ethical dilemmas and case studies for discussion are available here, the second page of a handout distributed at one of my teacher ethics workshops.

Of course, ETHICAL ISSUES are not always black and white… no one will ever agree on one definitive set of moral standards. My purpose here was only to inspire thinking and a fresh perspective on this topic… probably succeeding in creating more questions than answers in your mind.

 

business-1753098_1280_ Mary Pahlke

Definitions and Revisiting MCEE

To summarize, lets review the well-stated foundations of “right or wrong” making up our “ethical equilibrium,” and these concepts that represent the compass of decision-making in education:

  • Personal Morality: “Personal values and beliefs derived from one’s life experiences… subjective and may or may not align with community mores.”
  • Regulations of Law: “Policies, statues, and judicial activity that articulate conduct absolutes.”
  • Professional Ethics: “Professional ethical standards that assist practitioners within situation and systemic contexts in choosing the best course-of-action.”
  • Professional Dispositions: “Agreed upon professional attitudes, values and beliefs to be held by educational practitioners.”

 

MCEE

Finally, at this juncture, it would be most appropriate for you to recap your thoughts and correlate your “judgments” of the above scenarios with the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification Model Code of Ethics for Educators. If you have not read this comprehensive document, “do it now!” You should also review your own state’s code of ethics.

This is all about BALANCE and exercising extreme care and sensitivity in meeting the needs of our students. Keep “fighting the good fight” and your commitment to ETHICS and the highest standards of what E.A. Wynn refers to as “moral professionalism” in his research article, “The Moral Dimension of Teaching.”

PKF

Special Thanks to These Sources of Mock Scenarios
  • Pennsylvania Educator Ethics and Conduct Toolkit by Dr. Oliver Dreon, Sandi Sheppeard, and the Professional Standards  and Practices Commission
  • Nebraska Professional Practices Commission
  • Connecticut Teacher Education & Mentoring Program

 

Featured photo credit from FreeImages.com:
“Ethics” by Olivier Le Moal

 

Remaining photo credits in order from pixabay.com:
“ethics-right-wrong-ethical-moral” by Tumisu
“mobile-phone-smartphone-keyboard” by Gerd Altmann
“question-mark-pile-question-mark” by Arek Socha/qimono
“choice-arrow-question-mark-path” by Eric Leroy/Kingrise
“business”-idea-style-concept-goals” by Mary Pahlke
“wooden-train-toys-train-first-class” by Couleur.

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© 2019 Paul K. Fox

Pets and Citizenship

Definitions of Neighborly?

The farmer and the cowman should be friends.
Oh, the farmer and the cowman should be friends.
One man likes to push a plough, the other likes to chase a cow,
But that’s no reason why they cain’t be friends.
 
Territory folks should stick together,
Territory folks should all be pals.
Cowboys dance with farmer’s daughters,
Farmers dance with the ranchers’ gals.
 
I’d like to say a word for the farmer,
He come out west and made a lot of changes
 
He come out west and built a lot of fences,
 
And built ’em right acrost our cattle ranges.

— Lyrics of “The Farmer and Cowman” from Oklahoma by Richard Rodgers

In 1906, when events in the show Oklahoma are taking place, there were plenty of reasons farmers and cowboys didn’t want to be friends…

Disputes over land and water rights were the most common reason for fights. Cowboys were used to having the whole territory available for them to drive huge herds of cattle, so when farmers settled near water sources and claimed areas for their own herds of cattle or sheep, there was an understandable amount of hostility. The farmers, on the other hand, would fence in territory and then have all their efforts trampled by cowboys and their droves of cattle, which was also frustrating.

“OKLAHOMA – The Farmer, the Cowman, and Why They Couldn’t Get Along”

What an unusual opening citation for an odd topic to share on this blog-site! Did I get your attention? Admittedly, I have few answers… just the ramblings of this senior citizen. (So, agree or disagree, we would appreciate hearing your views by posting a comment!)

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This article was born from reading a resident’s rant about dog walking on social media:

“It has become apparent, especially in my neighborhood, some of you dog walkers have no respect for other people’s property. Some of us take pride in keeping our yards looking nice. Some also take time to add fertilizer. By letting the dog you are walking pee and or poop in another’s yard, the scent attracts other animals who also want to do the same. Also, urine can kill grass. Being a pet owner myself, I can state when my dogs see another dog peeing or pooping in my yard, they become territorial. The best part is when I politely state please don’t let your dog in my yard, I have actually been asked, “Why not?” The ones who are doing this are the same to whine, complain, and/or call the police when someone offends them.”

— Jason D. on Next Door app, June 17, 2019

My first reaction to this homeowner’s “beef?” He was not being very “neighborly!” But, there’s a lot more to this issue, and I may be on the lower moral ground of the argument.

neighborly
Adjective: Characteristic of being a good neighbor, especially helpful, friendly, or kind.

dogs at Christmas 2015 - 3Okay, since retirement, for the first time in my life, I may call myself a “good neighbor!”

Since becoming a “stay-at-home” retiree, I can now tell you the names of my neighbors, many previously unknown to me when I was a full-time, 24/7 music teacher constantly returning back to school for extra-curricular activities like marching band, plays, chamber choir practices, festivals, musicals, adjudication trips, and meetings. Until 2013 when we entered our post-employment “bliss,” my wife and I (both retiring from similar all-consuming music programs) were never home. Do you need proof? When we first moved here, my next-door neighbor accidentally “turfed” my front yard in the middle of a snow storm (and I did not notice it until the spring thaw). I was told their lack of notification was due to the fact they never saw us. “We were planning to tell you and promise to fix the damage, but you’re never around and seldom answer your phone.”

twodoggies4u - - 2Well, now I have two dogs (Gracie and Brewster) that I walk religiously several times a day. This means that, unless it is raining hard, I am “out and about” in my neighborhood, a wonderful “bedroom-community” with sidewalks and neatly manicured lawns, flower beds, and trees. One could say I have become a “watch dog” on things “coming and going.” Strangers should beware! We serve as an informal “fox and hounds” security service! The three of us know if you don’t belong on our block (although the pups love the mailman, and would probably bark first and then strain the leash to run over and kiss any other newcomer).

With several small “poop bags” in hand, I clean up our messes. Brewster and Gracie are about 12 pounds each… their impact on the environment is minimal! However, I have noticed a lack of citizenship from other pet owners. One dog walker (large breeds) leaves unsolicited “presents” on the grass near the sidewalk…. sometimes even “gift wraps” them in a plastic bag and drops them by the curb! Shame! It gives the rest of us a bad name! With gloves on my hands, I have taken up bringing a large trash bag with me, cleaning up any of these “rude” donations of doggie pollution, or even stray junk thrown from passing cars on our street.

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On occasion, when we expand our territory and walk around the entire block, the dogs and I run into two types residents – opposites – those who love dogs and those who want nothing to do with them. I know there are some who are afraid of pets, so we give them a wide berth. We also avoid the ones who, when I was a kid, we labeled “crab grass kings,” homeowners with not single blade of grass or foliage “out of place.” If your ball accidentally rolled into their yard, you were admonished, “Don’t leave a mark on my turf!” (I remember an incident about a hyper-neighbor with “perfect landscaping” who called the police to “bust up a graduation party” when several teenagers legally parked their cars in his circle. The problem? Several of their tires “touched his grass” (by inches). If memory serves me right, “the rest of the story” was that the angry “lawn-master” would no longer be able to maintain a “perfect landscape” again… the vengeful adolescents retaliated and dug up his scrubs, turfed his grass, defaced his trees, and threw mud on his house and driveway – not once but every time he cleaned up the place.

IMG_1477Gracie, Brewster, and I don’t trespass. We try to model “good citizenship.” We do our best to honor the wishes of our neighbors, respecting any of their issues for privacy, restricted access, fears, or phobias. For the six years I have become a pet owner, only two people have told us, “Don’t let your dogs pee in my yard.”

But, dogs are dogs. Mine seek to “water” every mailbox post and tree trunk on our route. The ten-inch strip of grass between the curb and the sidewalk, a township “right-of-way,” also gets a lot of attention. And, yes, the grass in these areas often fares the worst with numerous brown or yellow patches (although road salt is probably more to blame!)

Am I the cowman whose feels he has the right to let his “doggies roam the pastures?”

No, I will NOT feed my dogs a supplement, like an amino acid-based oral product that claims to eliminate urine spots by changing the pH of your dog’s urine!

Contrary to popular belief, urine spots are not caused exclusively by female dogs or by certain breeds. Rather, it’s the result of urine being deposited in a small concentrated area. Since female dogs tend to squat and stay in one spot to urinate, it will be more likely to damage the grass in that spot. In general, any dog (male or female) that squats or sprays in one spot will deposit urine into a concentrated area. Dog urine spots may also be more noticeable with larger dogs, due to the higher volume of urine produced.

“Green Grass, Happy Dogs: Preventing Dog Urine Spots on Lawns”

If the trouble is in your own yard, there are plenty of sites recommending a solution:

 

But, first make sure your dog is really to blame! The are a lot of conditions that may cause discolored areas on your lawn! Other potential culprits are fungus and other grass disease, insect pests, lack of nitrogen or iron, over-fertilizing, or under-watering.

Believe it or not, dog urine is not as damaging as many people believe it is. Sometimes you may blame the dog for brown or yellow spots in the lawn when in fact it is a grass fungus causing the problem.

To determine if dog urine is killing the lawn or a grass fungus, simply pull up on the affected grass. If the grass in the spot comes up easily, it is a fungus. If it stays firm, it is dog urine damage.

Another indicator that it is dog urine killing the lawn is that the spot will be a bright green on the edges while a fungus spot will not.

“Dog Urine and Your Grass”

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The bottom line? Walking your dog away from your property is important to your pet’s health. Besides elimination, walks are essential for exercise and mental stimulation. Someone once told me, taking your pooch out in the neighborhood on a daily basis is the dog’s equivalent of “checking email” and “posting updates on social media.”

Dogs like to go for walks to get outdoors, sniff and engage with their environment, exercise, and perhaps socialize with people and dogs outside the home. There is no reason that a walk cannot encompass and meet all the needs of both humans and dogs. Because time is often at a premium, it is useful to help owners understand and find creative ways to meet these needs.

“How to Walk Your Dog – How to Do It Well, and Why It Is So Important”

Retirees, read more about the essentials of dog walking here:

 

Other elements regarding pet ownership and citizenship (perhaps the perfect subject for a future blog):

  • Dogs jumping up to greet visitors
  • A large dog “saying hello“ to your guests by placing its paws on their shoulders
  • Dogs who like to play in the mud or wet grass and then leave their calling card with dirty paw prints (on floors, furniture, and people!)
  • Leaving unplanned (solid and smelly) “presents” at the most awkward times
  • Excessive barking, even in your yard, especially when it disturbs your next-door neighbor who likes spending time outdoors gardening

Remember, it usually isn’t the dog’s fault. You don’t actually train animals, you train their handlers! Citizenship is all about the pet owners!

I feel like telling “Jason D” (above) to CHILL OUT! GET A LIFE! There are so many more important things in life about which to worry! One might consider caring a little more about the people (and their children and pets) in his community. His attitude fosters animosity, and besides, “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”

But… Jason has rights! It is his yard!

What are your thoughts on this subject?

Now, I have to go walk the dogs…

PKF

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© 2019 Paul K. Fox