Saturday, January 31, 2009

It's More Than Just Content

I have been thinking a lot about my "Ethics in Teaching" class lately and about teacher behavior -- not teacher behavior in the classroom but instead how teachers behave when not teaching yet still in places where students are. This blog is not about specific people or events (in fact, I do not think that would be ethical), but I do want to explore how we teach and instruct students outside the 45 minutes or however long we have them in class each day.

I know I am highly conscious of my actions during the school day -- what I say, more importantly how I say it, and what I do. In fact, at times I feel I am too conscious of this, that my consciousness ends up momentarily creating small walls between students and me. Being human and being natural is important for us as teachers so students see we are people they can relate to and learn from. But I also see or hear about or read about the other extreme in teachers -- how they seem to feel they can do or say anything around students, and students will know the right way to read/interpret/respond. I wonder what students take away from moments when they hear a teacher making fun of another teacher (or worse yet a student) or observe a teacher coming late regularly to class (and not because they have the prior class across campus) or have to laugh with the class again when a teacher is unprepared.

In our society today, so much human interaction is in your face, uncensored, anonymous, "I was just joking." I wonder how students learn to be strong, kind, and considerate people when so much of what they observe and experience is not. Family is the first and strongest part of this education, and schools can come next. Part of our school's technology initiative is focused on this -- helping students see they need to think about how they create their online footprint because it is a reflection of who they are as people. But I think a large part of my job, and the main ethical responsibility I have, is to be a model for students to learn from in day-to-day human interaction. In fact, I think what we do in those moments between formal teaching is what our students end up learning the most from, particularly the way we speak and interact with others.

So I suppose this leaves me wondering if I believe that as teachers we have a responsibility to be more ethical, more careful, more thoughtful. Yes, we will (and should because we are human) make mistakes, but we then must deal with those mistakes directly and correctly. Do you believe this?


  1. Everyone should just try to be more ethical in the work place, but would we really see that happen? I'd love to say yes but I don't see it happening nation wide or anything.

  2. Yes, I believe it. Everything we do and say matters. We should model appropriate behavior for the students. And I'm always surprised when that doesn't happen.

  3. As a male teacher at an all-girls school, I try to be very aware of my out-of-classroom behavior. Whether I'm interacting with students or not, they're watching. I'm not saying I do it right, but I'm certainly better at self-monitoring than I was when I started teaching. Really, it's about boundaries - where does my personal life and my opinion end and my professional behavior begin? This is an old question that has been made fuzzier by the online world.

    I plan to write some ethical guidelines for teachers when it comes to that online interaction with students - Facebook, IMing, texting, etc. Do you know of any examples?

  4. I know of school districts with policies restricting teachers from friend-ing students on Facebook period, but I have not run across schools that try to teach a good balance on Facebook/texting. My school does not have a specific policy about any of it (we do have guidelines for student behavior online for academic work), but the unstated one seems to be not friend-ing current students (alums are okay). As a laptop school, we have not yet started using Facebook for educational purposes. We do have teachers who use IM for evening extra help, and that seems to be just fine. I would love to see wha you wrote if you tackle a set of guidelines like this.

    And great point about experience helping us see the line more clearly between our professional and personal lives.