Professional Ethics and Standards

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Although I feel I have a good understanding of ethics and standards in education in general, since all of my teaching experience has been overseas, I wanted to learn more about codes of ethics used by educators in the US. To research this topic, I visited the websites of several prominent US education associations to review and compare their professional codes of ethics. The websites I visited included the National Education Association (NAE), the Association of American Educators (AAE), and the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC).

Comparing the NAE’s, AAE’s and NASDTEC’s codes of ethics, there are definitely many similarities and overlaps. Each of the codes breaks down the ethical responsibilities that teachers are endowed with into several categories. NAE’s code is divided into Commitment to the Student and Commitment to the Profession. AAE’s code is broken down into Ethical Conduct Toward Students, Ethical Conduct Toward Practice and Performance, Ethical Conduct Toward Professional Colleagues and Ethical Conduct Toward Parents and Community. NASDTEC breaks their code down into: Responsibility to the Profession, Responsibility for Professional Competence, Responsibility to Students, Responsibility to the School Community, and Responsible and Ethical Use of Technology.

Of these three professional codes of ethics, I found NASDTEC’s to be the most comprehensive and most appropriate to teachers in the 21st century. Their code of ethics is extremely well though-out and articulated. I will briefly address each of the five principles and talk about how I currently exhibit each principle through my teaching and professional behavior.

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Principle I: Responsibility to the Profession

This principle refers to the basic fact that if teachers and educators are to be respected as professionals, each one needs to themselves as well as other educators to a high ethical standard, perhaps more than that simply required by law. This means behaving in an ethical manner, adhering to a code of ethics, reporting and cooperating with any reporting of ethical issues, engaging in professional development and advocating for the profession.

As a teacher working overseas, this principle is especially pertinent. Often, foreign teachers are not held in high esteem, and I have seen too many examples that perpetuate this estimation. Many young people decide that they want to teach English overseas as a way to pay for an extended party/vacation in another country. Too often foreign teachers demonstrate a low degree of professionalism, frequently leaving contracts mid-year, not taking the work seriously or taking opportunities to improve their teaching. Because this stereotype often precedes us, those of us who are teaching in foreign countries and DO consider ourselves professionals have to work extra hard to demonstrate our commitment and responsibility to the profession.

I am always very cautious when I start working in a new country to watch, ask and learn as much as I can about what is expected and seen as professional. Often, there are subtle or even very obvious differences between cultures. One example is that in the Czech Republic, we introduced ourselves and allowed our students to call us by our first names. But in Turkey, this is seen by other teachers as informal and unprofessional. Allowing students to address me as Angela rather than “Miss Angela” or “Teacher Angela” would not be appropriate.

Although I may have been a victim of the “tourist teacher” stereotype, I have always managed to prove myself pretty quickly through hard work, participation in the school community and good communication with colleagues and administration.

Principle II: Responsibility for Professional Competence

This principle goes right along with the professional development element of Standard 9. In the mind map I created to show the professional development activities I have participated in, it’s easy to see how with each year I have become more involved in professional development. As I grow professionally, I have a stronger desire to develop myself, better my methods and practice, and stay abreast of new developments in the field. Teach-NOW has been the most intensive aspect of my professional development so far, and I am already thinking about what I would like to do next to further my development.

Principle III: Responsibility to Students

This is the element that we probably think about first when we think about ethics in teaching. It includes students rights and the proper relationship between educators and students, caring for the educational, social and emotional well-being of students, and respecting student privacy and confidentiality.

I think that I have always demonstrated a good understanding of the proper boundaries of teacher-student relationships as well as respecting my students’ needs and privacy. However, it’s important, again, to be very cautious of these in different cultural contexts and even at specific schools. For example, a few years ago I had a kindergarten student who was very interested in paleontology and wanted to be a paleontologist when he grew up. My brother is a professor of geology and paleontology (who also wanted to be a paleontologist when he was in kindergarten!). I had told my student’s parents about my brother, so when he came to visit me in Istanbul they invited us for dinner (we live in the same neighborhood) so that my student could meet and hang out with a “real” paleontologist. This was great fun for my student and for me and my brother too.

Later, the head of my department told me that we weren’t supposed to see any parents or students outside of school – she was super nice about it and knew that I hadn’t known any better. I was horrified to think that I broke any rules, although on close inspection of all our employee handbooks and documents I could find no reference to such a rule, so I remain confused about that point. Suffice to say I never met a student or parent outside of the school again. Other schools I have worked for in Turkey, including my current school, don’t have a rule like this that I am aware of.

Another point where it’s important to consider this principle is when discussing students with others, especially in parent meetings. I never mention a student by name to the parent of another student. This is necessary to protect the privacy of all students.

Principle IV: Responsibility to the School Community

This principle refers to appropriate and positive relationships with parents, colleagues, employers and the community. In this area I think that I do very well. The principle of my school made it a point to tell me during my mid-year feedback last year (my first year at my current school) that they were especially happy with the way that I communicated with them and related to my colleagues. While I have certainly come across a few people who are more difficult to work with than others, I generally get along very well with parents, fellow teachers and school staff.

There is an aspect of this principle that I know that I need to improve or get better at reckoning with, and that is my “unionizer” spirit. There have been times when I get really frustrated with some of the incessant demands placed on teachers, particularly in a setting where I feel like teachers are being overworked or taken advantage of for the sake of profit. I find it really difficult to see a situation where I either feel taken advantage of or feel that others are being taken advantage of and keep my mouth shut. In this arena, I need to learn how to choose my battles, and avoid turning things into an “us and them” dichotomy. I have a rebellious nature, which can be good when I use it in the right way and dangerous when I give it free reign. In fact, I think that I would love to be involved in a real teacher’s union in the future, but in the meantime as I work in private schools in foreign countries I need to get better at toeing the line and save my crusading for only the most worthy of causes.

Principle V: Responsible and Ethical Use of Technology

I think that any code of ethics in this day and age should include an element around ethical use of technology. This is probably the area where I have seen the most grey area in terms of questionable behavior from teachers I have worked with. I have definitely seen far too many teachers share pictures or information about their students online without parent permission, befriend their students on social media, or share inappropriate information about themselves publicly on social media.

In an interesting development this year, about a month ago the government sent forms to all teachers in the country that we needed to sign saying that we would not share any photos or information about students on the internet. I guess this was such a widespread problem in Turkey that the government felt the need to get involved.

This principle also points to staying up to date about current educational technology and how to use those resources to improve our students’ education. Teach-NOW has been a great help to me in finding all kinds of new tools, while also taking the time to get acquainted with some that I had been introduced to during professional development opportunities but had yet to actually make use of. One of my favorites that I learned about in Teach-NOW and made use of this year is Flipsnack, which although it has a totally ridiculous name is great for student projects. This year I compiled writing from students into class flip books, which is a much more interesting way to present their work than on paper.

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