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Phoenix Forward

Should teachers receive ethics training?

Ethics training for teachers

Ethics training is mandatory for many professions — from medicine to law — but not for teaching. Teachers have no national standards to govern their behavior and relationships with students, according to Troy Hutchings, research chair for the College of Education and School of Advanced Studies at University of Phoenix.

“When it comes to ethics, there should be core, guiding principles about how teachers interact with their students,” says Hutchings, who this past April spoke to about a dozen participants at an invitation-only Educator Ethics Symposium sponsored by Educational Testing Service in Princeton, New Jersey.

At minimum, he advocates establishing a national code of educator ethics to guide teachers in making responsible and informed decisions, including how to properly interact with students inside and outside the classroom. The standards would require enforcement, whether through teacher education programs or state or federal teaching agencies. State boards could also use the guidelines for teacher licensing, he suggests.

When it comes to ethics, there should be core, guiding principles about how teachers interact with their students.

Until there is such a code, however, many teachers will continue to rely on their own morals in their relationships with students, which Hutchings says can lead to inconsistency and poor or misinformed decisions. That approach should not be the formal prescription for an entire profession’s ethical standards, he asserts.

Consider the case of a teacher who builds a trusting relationship with a student, preventing the student from dropping out of school, but then finds the student drinking on a field trip. If the teacher reports the incident, the school’s zero-tolerance policy requires the student’s expulsion.

If there were a national ethics code to follow, Hutchings says, the teacher could not allow his compassion for the student to trump his ethical and legal obligations.

At University of Phoenix, Hutchings notes, instructors emphasize teachers' professional and personal conduct, decision-making, and critical-thinking responsibilities as they relate to ethics. They also discuss the ways ethical issues impact student learning, he says, adding that some teacher preparation programs do offer specific ethics courses, but those tend to focus on the teachings of philosophers.

That’s neither practical nor applicable, he points out.

“If a teacher is faced with hundreds, if not thousands, of fast-paced decisions a day that directly impact students,” Hutchings says, “he is not going to think of Aristotle first.”

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