This set of ethics was first published in the article Re-Claiming a Moral Profession in Unethical Times, excerpted here:

In these dire times of unethical decision making by policy makers, it is important that teachers remain grounded in moral principles that have proven timeless in preserving the purpose and promise of public education. It has been painfully evident that our own unions have struggled to find that moral footing across the last decade of market-based reforms as union leadership has settled for political maneuvering rather than unwavering principle.

In 1990, Kenneth S. Goodman wrote “A Declaration of Professional Conscience For Teachers” as a way of establishing some measure of ethics for the teaching profession. His writing is as relevant today as it was 25 years ago. I would like to honor and expand upon Goodman’s vision by proposing “An Ethic for Teachers of Conscience in Public Education.” It is one way to differentiate our work from the political gamesmanship and corporate greed that has enveloped our profession for far too long. This is a working document, open to debate and amendment, but it is a conversation on ethics in public education that is long overdue. I welcome public comment on this set of ethics. It is my hope that teachers can continue to shape these ethics, paving a way for their general adoption.

An Ethic For Teachers of Conscience in Public Education

 A moral imperative to attend to the development and well-being of our students

  • We develop strong relationships with students and their families, built on mutual respect and trust. We respect the abilities, cultural identities, languages, and values that our students come to us with.
  • We devote ourselves to fostering the cognitive, academic, social, emotional, and physical development of our students.
  • We foster students’ inherent desire to learn and help to develop the skills and dispositions necessary for lifelong learning and effective community and civic engagement.
  • We support students in developing their creative potential and offer robust experiences with the arts.
  • The welfare of students in our schools is paramount. We protect students from violence and all forms of mistreatment, abuse, and exploitation.
  • We work against discrimination and and injustices that affect students and that are present within our educational institutions.

A moral imperative to know our students well and understand their learning

  • We give our students opportunities to present and reflect on their learning through multiple modalities.
  • We use multiple methods of assessment to know students well and to understand their learning.
  • We are discerning when considering the biases, reliability, and validity of assessment methods and in evaluating the information that those methods reveal.
  • We require assessments to be transparent and to have a direct application to teaching and curriculum development.
  • We do not generalize or make high-stakes decisions based on a single method of assessment.
  • We do not define students, or encourage students to define themselves, by their assessment results.
  • We do not carry out assessments with the primary purpose of ranking and sorting students or bestowing statuses upon students.

A moral imperative to serve our communities

  • We will welcome and teach all children without prejudice–regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, language, national origin, gender, disability, sexual orientation, or citizenship. 
  • We value diversity in our public school communities and believe that integrated schools are fundamental to an integrated society. 
  • We believe that teaching students to understand and value diversity contributes to a viable democracy.
  • We consider public schools to be a part of the commons. We will work to make our schools spaces that support the learning, health, and the democratic participation of our local communities.

A moral imperative to promote learning in service of the public good

  • We teach students literacy and the fundamental skills necessary to advance learning and pursue their full potentials. 
  • We teach students to think critically and problem solve.
  • We teach students to apply their learning to issues of social justice.
  • We teach students to work collaboratively toward a common purpose.
  • We teach students to be stewards of the natural world around them.
  • We teach students civic engagement and democratic values.
  • We teach students social ethics and how to work through conflict constructively.
  • We are committed to our own development as teachers, including but not limited to trainings, coursework, observations and exchanges, descriptive reviews, and teacher-led inquiry and research. 

A moral imperative to preserve public education

  • We believe that students have the right to equitable resources through public funding.
  • We believe that public education must remain democratically governed and in service of the public good, not private interests or for-profit businesses.
  • We believe that policies that divert public funding to privatized alternatives to public schools, undermine the purpose and potential of public education.
  • We believe that public schools must remain accountable to institutions that are publicly controlled and democratically governed, including parent associations, school leadership teams, school boards, and local, state, and federal governments.
  • We believe that public agencies and governing bodies must conduct their business transparently, maintain public records, and seek ways to involve the public in decision-making processes.
  • We believe that the implementation of standards, assessment systems, curriculum materials, and teaching programs must be done in consultation with teachers and democratic governing bodies. Implementation must not be driven by private profit or through the decision making processes of private entities.

Colin Schumacher

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