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 are less important. This helps guide us when making decisions.
Ethics and ethical behavior are no less prevalent or important in education.
We are all too familiar with the tales of the unethical choices that a few educators have made, as well as stories of parents who have been dishonest about their residence in order for their child to attend a school outside their boundary, or have been compelled to do their children’s projects so they could a higher grade. We have also heard stories about educators, parents and community partners who have and continue to step up and selflessly give their time and/or funds to improve education.
There’s a big fear out there that somehow teaching ethics in school will seep into students a particular viewpoint. “But ethics must be taught and are being taught in school. It’s impossible not to teach ethics in a school.”
If Schools have a code of conduct, they are teaching ethics.
There are five basic principles of ethics that are common to all faiths:
- Do no harm
- Make things better
- Respect others
- Be fair
- Be loving
These values are defined differently in different parts of the world, but they are cross-cultural and expected among all groups of people. They should extend beyond the walls of the sanctuary and should be taught and expected in homes and classrooms as well.
Where there is good will, there is always someone trying to take advantage. Ethics and ethical behavior belongs to everyone. And until everyone realizes that their choices impact everyone, a truly fair and just educational system will remain elusive.
There are an infinite number of ethical topics that lend themselves to the practice of education or the system itself. Let’s look at a few practical, nonetheless pivotal issues that affect students, parents and educators on a daily basis.
▪ How much should teachers help students? Meeting the needs of students promotes better learning. Teachers work hard to make themselves available to their students. Many offer students in need multiple ways to contact them. Many arrive early and stay late. Internet technology extends classroom time and some teachers even provide home telephone numbers and emails. Does this pose a potential problem for teachers? However, requests for special treatment has become an ethical dilemma some teachers feel they face when faced with repeated requests for help from certain students.
▪ Should teachers and students be friends? Teachers are better able to structure their content and presentation methods when they have an understanding of their individual students and the way they live. For some teachers, this means being available to them as often as possible and sharing experiences. Moments that diminish the perception gap where students see teachers as out of touch with their world, promotes friendship.
Befriending students is not a problem. But where does friendship end and how does a teacher make sure he/she does not become friendlier with some students than others? Preferences are inevitable and can influence classroom behavior on the part of both teacher and student.
Awareness. We all need to be reminded from time to time to step back and think about our decisions. As parents and educators, we all have ethical behaviors that society expects from us. It is up to us to uphold them. As I say to my students, the sign of a truly ethical person is one who does the right thing, in whatever capacity, even when no one is looking.
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