Teacher Ethical Conduct

Ethics is a collection of moral standards by which each person should be guided in their private and professional life. It tells us right from wrong, and how to live moral lives. The teaching profession, as many others, has its own code of ethics, which describes the process of grading students and teacher's behavior in the classroom as well as outside the premises of the institution. It is one of few professions that evaluates the totality of behavior of an individual and its potential influence on others, in this case - students. The following are some of the rules of conduct you should follow:

* If you do not know an answer, admit it. Do not bluff. At times, questions will arise that you will not be able to answer. Find the correct answer at the earliest opportunity; then provide the information to the class as soon as practical.
* Keep your remarks professional and appropriate to the classroom. Do not use profanity or obscenity. Use of profane or obscene language is one of the fastest ways to lose the respect of your students.
* Be patient. Be aware that not all people learn in the same way or at the same rate.
* Deal with frustration. While you may easily become frustrated with a person who is having difficulty with seemingly simple material, never allow your frustration to show. If all else fails, take a break to cool off, or consult with other teachers to find another approach to resolve the difficulty. Remember, in the majority of situations, students are sincerely trying to understand what is being taught. Your job is to find a way to help them.
* Maintain rapport with students. The use of sarcasm is another way to lose the respect of your students. Sarcasm, whether it is directed at one individual or the entire group, is never appropriate.
* Treat students with respect. All of the individuals you train should feel you have a sincere interest in their efforts to learn. Although your students will not have your knowledge or experience, you should think of them as being physically, mentally, and emotionally mature.

Ultimately, it is young people, with their personality and knowledge of the world still in the formative process, whose individual tendencies and characteristics are the most susceptible to and affected by any kind of negative influences. When discussing teacher's ethics, one must consider it on two separate plateaus.

Firstly, the legal one$2C or so to say, administrative, where all aspects of teacher's behavior, teaching procedures, and assessment of students are framed into a set of regulations drawn up by the Board of Education and by individual schools.

Secondly, at the personal level, which includes a teacher's own attitude and conduct that is not otherwise proscribed/prescribed by law or whose breach might never be detected or pursued in a grievance process. The teacher's code of ethics comprises his/her duties, responsibilities, attitude, honesty, and most of all - fairness.

What are the potential breaches of the teacher's code of ethics? This is a list of a few in no particular order.

* Having inappropriate relationships with students (sexual, business partnership, "after school buddies", drinking binges, etc)
* Violation of clearly stated school rules and educational procedures
* Failing to perform duties (no teaching, chaos, wrong attitude toward the teaching profession, etc)
* Imposing on students personal views unrelated to the subject of a lesson or promoting such, especially some that do not represent the main stream (extreme political or religious views, views on controversial social issues, interest of a particular social group, etc).
* Improper grading, partiality, and lack of fairness (based on who is liked, who is not; race, past performance, background, etc)
* Exposing students to embarrassment or disparagement (emotional or psychological harassment)
* Invading students' privacy
* Engaging students in unethical behavior
* Accepting gifts and favors, quid pro quo ("for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous")
* Deceiving students and their parents.

This list can go on, from violations of criminal laws, through commonly accepted standards of good and evil, violation of public trust, to unprofessional job performance. The areas of many of them may overlap; what constitutes a violation of public trust might as well be against the law and professionalism, but still within the teachings of morality.

The most common ethical problem that any teacher will face at some point in time is the bias-free assessment of students. Teachers are supposed to create a learning environment that fosters autonomy and guides students in their learning experience. An important part of their work is evaluation of students' knowledge and progress. Without such an assessment, one cannot determine if the learning is taking place. Moreover, this is one of the most problematic areas of the job.

However, what does a "to assess a student" mean? Teachers will apply a set of rules and predefined formulas to measure the amount of knowledge that has been successfully retained by students or perhaps they will check the understanding of a problem being considered. In multiple-choice tests or "yes or no" questions as well as many other similar tests calling for a single correct answer, the assessment of students' work seems relatively uncomplicated. The gray area begins to surface when teachers have to use their own judgment in the assessment process and contaminate the very process with subjectivity that they are bound to produce.

As much as people would like to eliminate injustices of this world and turn it into a better place, they will always have their own biases and prejudices, with which they will never be able to part. Teachers (fortunately or not) are human beings too and are no exception to this rule.

Laws and regulations may control human behavior or modify it if necessary, but they will never make people like one another. Does Johnny the Brat, who has just uttered his poignant remarks disparaging Mr. Mentor, deserve a good mark for his excellent knowledge of English grammar? Mr. Mentor is an experienced teacher. Should he or can he forget about this little incident while assessing little Johnny's work? What about a future assessment of Johnny?

One must remember that both students and teachers come to the classroom with their own sets of values, personalities, priorities, feelings, emotions, problems, experiences, knowledge, understanding, abilities, upbringing, likes and dislikes, moods, and hundreds of other elements, which when combined make up an individual as a whole.

Teachers may overrate or underrate students' performance based on a countless number of factors. They can do it deliberately, which beacons the possibility of ethical breach, or unaware, which may be a result of unfortunate circumstances or possible negligence.

The question before us is not how to eliminate unethical behavior, since this may never occur, but how to reduce it to a point where it is no longer a distortion of the accurate picture of Johnny's knowledge? How to create an environment where students and teachers are encouraged to learn and correct their flaws? How to educate teachers so they could restrain their negative personal feelings and concentrate on positive educational goals?

Randy Andes has over 25 years experience as a teacher, school administrator, and author in the government, corporate, and public sectors. He holds degrees in Business Administration and Education. More teaching excellence tools can be found at Teaching Excellence Today