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"Please, Just Tell Me What to Do!"

Troy Hutchings, Ed. D.

This past week I had the privilege of working with a group of preservice candidates who are currently immersed in their student teaching semester. The look on their faces said it all – exhausted and overwhelmed. The general topic of our discussion was professional ethics and the virtue of practitioner decision- making that aligns to professional standards. The specific focus, however, was on “navigating the gray” by using the Model Code of Ethics for Educators as a collective tool for crafting resolutions to complex issues.

About an hour into our time together, one of the participants stated in exasperation: “My head is about to explode. Please, just tell me what to do!”

I had missed the mark entirely.

I failed to remember what it was like to be in their shoes. For our newest educators, each day is a struggle to navigate the seemingly endless crush of student needs while still trying to learn content, craft lessons and implement individualized learning plans. And as daunting as the pedagogical workload is for a new educator, the emotional fatigue from making hundreds of non-trivial daily decisions in isolation can be just as overwhelming.

But here’s the catch – it’s not just beginning teachers who are pleading “just tell me what to do!” Teachers, at every level of professional experience, also confront countless complex decisions in their daily practice with only their personal values as a guide.

Unlike the licensed practitioners of other professions, teachers do not receive adequate training in professional ethics. More importantly, the education profession does not provide its practitioners with an understanding of how a code of professional ethics can provide a framework for evaluating difficult issues and offer assurances for both the decision-making process and the outcomes.

When the student teachers and I finished our time together, one of them summed up the isolation of professional decision-making with a germane observation: “We talk about data, classroom management, and RTI – but I don’t remember anyone talking about ethics in our professional learning communities. But we should. Why is this such a private matter?” His observation was spot-on. We turn ethics into a private matter when our professional decision- making is based on our differing personal values and not on agreed-upon professional norms and standards – like those contained within the Model Code of Ethics for Educators.

Let’s be perfectly clear – the Model Code of Ethics for Educators is not THE solution. In the world of professional ethics, the solution always resides with practitioners. Kenneth Pope and Melba Vasquez, ethicists with the American Psychological Association, perhaps said it best: “The formal standards are not a substitute for an active, deliberative and creative approach to fulfilling our ethical responsibilities. They prompt, guide, and inform our ethical consideration; they do not serve as a substitute for it.”1

Let’s start the discussion.

1 Pope, K. & Vasquez M. (2007). Ethics in psychotherapy and counseling (3rd edition, p. 18). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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Julie Ferin
Julie Ferin
Jun 29, 2023

This is so true...overwhelming is exactly how many pre-service and in-service teachers feel each day. The Model Code of Ethics is a quality tool that all practicing teachers and teacher preparation programs leaders benefit from. The videos and discussion guide are a wonderful complement to the Model Code of Ethics.

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