Professionalism, Special ‘Teacher Standards’ Edition

From an anonymous emailer:

Education goes beyond that though. You are expected to be so wholesome. Teachers, even today, may find themselves in a conversation with the person who performs their evaluation if they are reported to have been seen leaving a bar, smoking a cigarette, buying a lottery ticket, or any number of other legal activities that are nobody’s business when away from the workplace.

I think this is correct. Unlike many other jobs (even other public sector jobs), K-12 teachers are – still! – expected to have stellar private lives, using a relatively conservative set of criteria. They – we? – are expected to achieve a “higher moral standard.” (Note: I am not advocating what the teacher at the link did; I am noting that the school district in question specifically stated that they expected teachers to be held to a higher moral standard.)

This raised lots of question for me; I will list the questions in bold and my answers in italics. If you have answers to the questions, or simply want to comment on my answers, please do (and please indicate which question you are responding to).


If we can be specific, what are the components of the “higher moral standard” that teachers must meet?

Well, I know someone who keeps their tattoos covered…I don’t see many teachers with piercings outside their ears, though I can think of one person with a facial piercing…I don’t know of any teachers personally who are openly LGBT, though that may be a function of the district I am in…I also imagine there are social sanctions for being non-monogamous/in an open relationship or marriage…finally, I imagine teachers must be incredibly circumspect about smoking/drinking/gambling/etc. The point is that teachers must be careful when doing anything that’s not in line with the dominant cultural paradigm.

Are they written down anywhere?

Probably varies by district. I’d imagine they are to some extent, but more likely is the inclusion of a broader phrase or guideline such as “maintain a professional relationship with students” (i.e. don’t talk about one’s personal life) that doesn’t allow or deny specific behaviors (though I suspect that enforcement of specific guidelines would be difficult as they may be found to infringe on free speech and other personal freedoms).

Is there a uniformity to them, or do they vary?

See above answer.

If they vary, from where to where and how much?

I would imagine they reflect the dominant culture of the region. For example, standards in Texas and standards in NYC are probably going to differ substantially. In fact, I wonder if the urban-rural split could be the dominant determinant.

How do we divide up the public/private split for a teacher’s life, and is that division different than other public sector folks?

I think it is different. I think teachers are expected to remain much more circumspect about their personal lives (politicians possibly excepted, and even then I’m not sure), with the motivation perhaps being that one cannot create a neutral learning environment if one’s students know too much. However, I think this is unfair to both teacher and students – it forces teachers to essentially act like something other than human beings with thoughts, feelings, and emotions while in the classroom (of course, we ask this of students regularly as well; I’m also amazed at what happens when I convince students their personal life is not only off limits, but a relevant source to draw on in relation to the material of the day). It forces the people in the classroom to act like Its rather than Thous.

I am of the belief that what is important is not always what the teacher believes, but whether or not the teacher creates an environment in which a student can disagree with a teacher without fear of retribution. To be honest, many of the students I encounter refuse to speak freely on the grounds that they fear getting in trouble. This says some disturbing, but typical, things about the way in which the teaching profession as a whole views the idea of power.

And I’ll preemptively say that anyone who comments to claim that we should ask teachers to remove themselves from the equation while working will be published. Just don’t expect me to politely agree with you.

Do classified and/or administrative staff get held to the same standards as teachers?

Tricky question. I’m not sure. Anyone takers out there?

If they don’t, is that fair?

Ummm… see above answer.

Are the standards teachers held to fair, or just, in the first place?

No, for all the reasons I’ve already stated.

And at the least, U.S. society needs to discover some consistency in what we expect from teachers and education staff: Is it strictly academic? What about moral/ethical/personal development? What about “instilling values” in students?

I know this is an ongoing debate and that there’s no real answer, but some open discussion and a shared understanding of the issues, if nothing else, would be nice.

Explore posts in the same categories: amateur philosophy, education, pedagogy

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