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You Went to College - Just Teach!

Troy Hutchings, Ed. D.

I was terrified – it was my first teaching job, and I only had two weeks to prepare.

Teaching middle school students isn’t what terrified me. But starting my career in the early 80’s meant the only curricular roadmap was a textbook. And that was severely outdated.

No state standards. No internet. Inadequate texts.

I sheepishly entered the principal’s office and asked, “What content should 8th graders be learning in their English classes – what should I be teaching?”

“You went to college– just teach,” she replied with a smile.

It was probably the only answer she could give – an honest confession exposing a gap that was present in our profession.

State teaching and learning standards, as we know them today, simply didn’t exist in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Words and phrases that we now take for granted – benchmarks, competencies, direct instructional lesson planning, instructional scaffolding, learning objectives, cross-walking standards to curriculum – were not a part of our professional lexicon.

For those of us at the middle and high school levels, to “just teach” meant that we often went a bit rogue. Too often, we found ourselves in curricular and pedagogical silos. What was being taughtvaried greatly between teachers. And most importantly, there were extreme differences between what students might be learning – even within the same course, school, district and state.

So much of what I chose to teach in the pre-standards era was based on my own values, experiences and preferences. And I was not unique. As crazy and chaotic as that sounds now, that was the norm.

So, what does any of this have to do with professional ethics?

I am finding striking similarities in the discussions I have with educators about the field of ethics. Without common professional ethics standards, practitioners are left on their own with only their personal values and experiences as a guide – which means a high degree of isolation and variance between educators in determining appropriate courses of action when interacting with students, parents and other stakeholders.

Today, it would be unconscionable to ignore district, state and national standards when curriculum mapping. Yet, we are one of the few fiduciary professions that has not had ethics standards with which to align to our daily decision-making – and we can’t disregard the fact that we are in a high-risk profession where seemingly insignificant decisions can cause irreparable damage.

The education profession has made great strides since I first started teaching. Teacher candidates today know what needs to be taught because content standards are now part of the DNA of our profession.

Lesson plans, objectives, unit plans – they are all linked to collectively agreed-upon standards.

And now it’s time to do the same with standards in professional ethics. Since 2015, the Model Code of Ethics for Educators (MCEE) has been available as a mechanism to bridge that gap – allowing educators to collectively determine responses to the complexities of their practice in a way that aligns to the values of the profession.

But let’s be perfectly clear about this set of professional standards.

The Model Code of Ethics for Educators is not meant to be used for evaluation or assessment. It is not a set of rules. It is not about right or wrong. It does not tell us what to do, or even what not to do. It is not meant to bind or constrain educators.

Quite simply, it is an invitation.

Professional ethics invites practitioners to collectively determine how to best navigate the intense demands of the overlapping roles and personal relationships they are expected to foster by using the MCEE standards as a guide. Key concepts that are present in all professional codes – transparency, risks, unintended consequences, implications, equity, appearance of impropriety, communication, conflict of interest, confidentiality, multiple relationships, role ambiguity – are at the core of the standards contained within the MCEE.

Other professions – law, counseling, medicine, finance, psychology – all have a long history of integrating their codes of ethics and ethics standards into their professional frameworks.

It is as foundational to their practitioners as content standards are to educators.

It is time we do the same.

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