Part I: Back to Basics
I keep a close watch on this heart of mine
I keep my eyes wide open all the time
I keep the ends out for the tie that binds
Because you’re mine, I walk the line. — Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash sang his love song, “I walk the line…” but for teachers in the education profession, it is a “fine line” to maintain the standards and appearances of professionalism, morality, and ethical codes of conduct in the school workplace.
The purpose of this blog series is to explore an introduction to the definitions, philosophy, and practices of teacher ethics, integrity, professional standards, and behavior “codes,” and some of the available resources, perspectives, and “legalese” on proper relationships among students, parents, and other professionals, appropriate student-teacher boundaries, warnings of vulnerabilities and dilemmas at the workplace, and tips to avoid the problems of unacceptable appearances and actions.
However, the disclaimer is that I am not an attorney, human resource manager, nor scholar on school ethics, nor was I ever trained in a single workshop, college class, teacher induction or in-service program on this subject. After reading this article, you should immediately visit the website of your state’s education department, and search on the topic of “code of ethics” or “code of conduct.” A few examples of the “real deal” are listed below, and yes, you must study “every word of” the entire document and applicable rules from the state you are/will be employed.
Teacher Rules — The Good Old Days?
According to Snopes (see http://www.snopes.com/language/document/1872rule.asp), the following “rules of conduct for teachers” — one of the similar “the way we were” documents of questionable origin — may have been circulating since at least the 1930s.
“Nobody has ever been able to verify the authenticity of this list of rules. It has been reproduced in countless newspapers and books over the last fifty years, and copies of it have been displayed in numerous museums throughout North America, with each exhibitor claiming that it originated with their county or school district.”
However accurate, one can only marvel at the real or perceived grimness of the late nineteenth/early twentieth century American schoolteacher’s lot: “the profession was lowly regarded, the work was physically demanding and involved long hours on the job, the position paid poorly, retirement benefits were non-existent, and teachers were expected to be among the most morally upright members of their community.”
Sample Rules for (Female) Teachers 1915
- You will not marry during the term of your contract.
- You are not to keep company with men.
- You must be home between the hours of 8 PM and 6 AM unless attending a school function.
- You may not loiter downtown in ice cream stores.
- You may not travel beyond the city limits unless you have the permission of the chairman of the board.
- You may not ride in a carriage or automobile with any man except your father or brother.
- You may not smoke cigarettes.
- You may not dress in bright colors.
- You may under no circumstances dye your hair.
- You must wear at least two petticoats.
- Your dresses may not be any shorter than two inches above the ankles.
- To keep the classroom neat and clean, you must sweep the floor at least once a day, scrub the floor at least once a week with hot, soapy water, clean the blackboards at least once a day, and start the fire at 7 AM to have the school warm by 8 AM.
Like medicine and law, teaching is a “professional practice,” a “conservative” occupation with high expectations and close public scrutiny. Although many have considered the 24/7 nature of a career in music education a “calling,” the true qualities of the teaching professional include these values also embraced by doctors and attorneys:
- Achievement of higher education, constant training and retooling, specific goals, and self-improvement
- Adoption and refinement of “best practices”
- Habits of creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, and communication skills
- Acceptance of criticism, peer review, teamwork, compromise, and group vision
- High standards of behavior, etiquette, appearance, language, and ethics
According to “The California BTES – Overview of the Ethnographic Study” by David Berliner and William Tikunoff, “an effective teacher” is distinguished by exceptionally high standards:
Effective teachers score high on accepting, adult involvement, attending, consistency of message, conviviality, cooperation, student engagement, knowledge of subject, monitoring learning, optimism, pacing, promoting self-sufficiency, and structuring.
Effective teachers score low on abruptness, belittling, counting hours or “clock punching,” defiance, illogical statements, mood swings, oneness (treating whole as “one”), and recognition-seeking. — David Berliner and William Tikunoff
Referred to as “moral professionalism” (see Wynne, E.A. 1995. “The moral dimension of teaching.” In A.C. Ornstein Ed. Teaching: Theory into Practice. pp. 190-202. Boston: Alyn and Bacon), the bar is further raised:
- Coming to work regularly and on time
- Being well informed about their student-matter
- Planning and conducting classes with care
- Regularly reviewing and updating instructional practices
- Cooperating with, or if necessary, confronting parents of underachieving students
- Cooperating with colleagues and observing school policies so the whole institution works effectively
- Tactfully but firmly criticizing unsatisfactory school policies and proposing constructive improvement
Webster’s definition of eth·ics is “the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation” or “a set of moral principles.” Others have tried to clarify the meaning of these terms with more in depth interpretations:
Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do. — Potter Stewart
Ethical behavior is doing the right thing when no one else is watching – even when doing the wrong thing is legal. — Aldo Leopold
Ethics and morals relate to “right” and “wrong” conduct. While they are sometimes used interchangeably, they are different: ethics refer to rules provided by an external source, e.g., codes of conduct in workplaces or principles in religions. Morals refer to an individual’s own principles regarding right and wrong.
— “Ethics vs. Morals” at Diffen http://www.diffen.com/difference/Ethics_vs_Morals
According to Laurie Futterman, former Heart Transplant Coordinator at Jackson Memorial Medical Center and now chair of the science department and gifted middle school science teacher at David Lawrence Jr. K-8 Center, “ethics is a branch of moral philosophy.” Futterman wrote the following in the March 31, 2015 issue of Miami Herald about how ethics “involves defending and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct.”
“In discussion however, ethics can become eclipsed by commingling concepts of values and morals. They all provide behavioral rules, so what are the differences?
- Values are rules from which we make our personal decisions about what is right and what is wrong, good or bad. Values help direct us to what is more important and past what is less important. This helps guide us when making decisions.
- Morals tend to be broad yet are more far reaching because of their strong link to good and bad. We judge others by their morals rather than their values.
- Ethics, in contrast, are a set of rules that tend to be adopted and upheld by a group of people. This could include medical ethics, journalism and advertising ethics and educational ethics. So ethics or intent, tends to be viewed as something upheld and adopted internally, such as professionalism, while morals are ideals we impose on others.”
In addition, there are distinctions between “Codes of Conduct” and “Codes of Ethics.” Although they both provide self-regulation of (un)acceptable behaviors, frequently the Code of Ethics outlines a set of principles that affect/govern decision making, while the Code of Conduct delineates specific behaviors that are required or prohibited and governs actions.
For the sake of our discussion here about ethics in education, I will add the qualifier that a “violation of ethics” is usually associated with significant consequences or punishment, like charges of medical malpractice or lawyers facing an “ethics committee” hearing. Confirmed unethical behavior may result in censure, suspension of license or certification, or other discipline action. Most state education governing entities post legally-binding “educator discipline acts” or codes of professional standards, ethics, and/or behavior, with extensive penalties.
The grounds for imposition of discipline are broad and far-reaching, and will be governed by the state or county education system to where you are employed. As an example, “the laws” defining infractions in Pennsylvania are:
- Sexual misconduct, abuse or exploitation
- Violation of the PA Code for Professional Practice and Conduct Section 5(a)(10)
- Illegal use of professional title
- Failure to comply with duties under this act, including the mandatory reporting duties in section 9a.
- Actions taken by an educator to threaten, coerce or discriminate or otherwise retaliate against an individual who in good faith reports actual or suspected misconduct under this act or against complainants, victims, witnesses or other individuals participating or cooperating in proceedings under this act.
— PA Educator’s Discipline Act: 24 P.S. §§2070.1 et seq. Chapter 237/Definition of Terms: http://www.pacode.com/secure/data/022/chapter237/chap237toc.html
For more discussion on these definitions, visit http://www.pspc.education.pa.gov/Promoting-Ethical-Practices-Resources/Ethics-Toolkit/The-Commission-Professional-Discipline-and-the-code/Pages/Educator-Misconduct.aspx.
Violations range from exhibiting poor behavior or even the semblance of impropriety to “breaking the code” or criminal offenses. (Yes, “appearances” can get you in trouble, due to one’s interpretations of the above charges of “immorality,” “intemperance,” and “negligence!”) In short, from bad (unprofessional) to worse (illegal), this illustration defines misconducts.
The first two on the bottom of the figure (unprofessional or immoral incidents) may only (?) result in damage to one’s professional reputation, lowering the year-end teacher evaluation score, earning a “warning” or “write-up” by the principal/supervisor, or a job re-assignment, but unethical or illegal conduct usually results in further investigation and possible major (and often permanent) disciplinary action:
- Private Reprimand
- Public Reprimand
- Suspension (temporary termination of certificate)
- Revocation (termination of certificate)
- Surrender (of certificate)
- Supplemental Sanctions
- Legal (Criminal) Action (fines, suspension, jail time, other penalties)
- Civil Action
Ethical Equilibrium: Consequential “Codes of Conduct” vs. Professional Ethics
“From a decision-making standpoint, I tend to look at it from the perspective of Ethical Equilibrium (some work by Troy Hutchings). Teachers weigh the moral (personal) dimensions with regulatory ones (the law) with the ethics of the profession (ethics of teaching?). While focusing on consequences is important, I worry that teachers may interpret this to mean that as long as they don’t break the law, they can still be unprofessional and immoral.”
– Dr. Oliver Dreon, Associate Professor at Millersville University and author of the Pennsylvania Professional Standards and Practices Commission Ethics Tool Kit.
The foundations of “what’s right or wrong” and what your mother always said was “behaving appropriately when no one is watching you” are all about professional ethical standards that guide decision-making. The work of Troy Hutchings (among other leaders in this field) helps to further clarify these sometimes blurred definitions:
- Personal Morality: “Personal values and beliefs derived from one’s life experiences… subjective and may/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.”
See the slide below borrowed from the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education webinar presentation “Beyond the Obvious: The Intersection of Educator Dispositions, Ethics, and Law” by Troy Hutchings and David P. Thompson.
In other words, the intent of these essays on ethics is not to emphasize the “lowest standards of acceptable behavior” or the consequences of misconduct for music teachers. We will strive to move from “obedience and punishment orientation” (stage 1) and “self-interest orientation” (stage 2) to “social contract orientation” (stage 5) and “universal ethical principles (stage 6) of Lawrence Kohlberg’s “Six Stages of Moral Development.” (See http://ww3.haverford.edu/psychology/ddavis/p109g/kohlberg.stages.html).
Sample Codes of Ethics
One of the best examples endorsed by many states, college education methods programs, and other institutions, the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification has published its “Model Code of Ethics for Educators” (see http://www.nasdtec.net/?page=MCEE_Doc) outlining the following principles:
- Responsibility to the Profession
- Responsibility for Professional Competence
- Responsibility to Students
- Responsibility to the School Community
- Responsible and Ethical Use of Technology
In addition, it would be valuable to study the standards proclaimed by other organizations, such as
The latter “Music Code of Ethics” was revised and ratified in 1973 by the Music Educators National Conference (now the National Association for Music Education), American Federation of Musicians, and the American Association of School Administration (now the School Superintendent’s Association). It is worth reading mutual agreement of these parties regarding which performance events are sanctioned for music education programs and those that are only appropriate for professional musicians who make their livelihood in the field of “entertainment.”
To be continued…
Part II: The Nitty Gritty will review:
- Societal Changes Promoting Ethical Disputes
- The Role of Education in Upholding Standards of Behavior
- Philosophies in Moral Development
- Sample Code of Professional Practices and Conduct
- The Teacher-Student Relationship
- Social Media
Special thanks and credits go to Dr. Oliver Dreon, Associate Professor at Millersville University (in Pennsylvania), and one of the authors of the Pennsylvania’s Educator Ethics and Conduct Toolkit, the source of much of the research, quotes, and perspective of this three-part series comes.
© 2017 Paul K. Fox
Photo credits (in order) from FreeImages.com: “Ethics” by Olivier Le Moal, “Piano Prodigy” by Crissy Pauley, “Old School House” by Vikki Hansen, “On the Phone Closing the Deal” by Michael Roach, “Balance” by Stephen Stacey, “Gavel” by Jason Morrison, and “Music” by Ricardo Vasquez.