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Guiding Principles for the Teaching Profession

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I am currently attending an annual conference of State directors of teacher education  - the folks who license and certify teachers in their state agencies – focused on ethical issues involving teachers and principals.  These issues range from cheating on student tests (teachers/principals changing student answers, coaching students, etc.) to heinous issues like sexual misconduct between teachers and students.

The numbers of cases that are being cited are staggering.  3400 cases before one ethics board in a larger state, many hundreds before a Commission in another involving wide-spread cheating in specific districts, and many examples given about sexual misconduct.  Several times, it has been stated that these cases have involved outstanding teachers, like teachers of the year.

Listening to this information, some given in specific detail, it often seems that there is an element of peer pressure involved, (particularly in cheating cases), and of baby steps towards a poor decision that causes irreparable harm to many lives (in the cases of sexual misconduct).  In some cases, where the behavior is repeated many times over with different victims, it sounds like individuals who are deeply in need of help and should absolutely not be in classrooms.

This body of people is struggling with issues like keeping databases of offenders, making decisions about revocation of licenses, setting policy about reinstatement should circumstances warrant, penalties, cooperation with law enforcement agencies, and the like.  Some speakers have addressed issues from the parents’ perspective and some from the viewpoint of the students impacted.  It has been a very draining conversation to listen to as a career educator, and constantly raises the issue of professional responsibilities and, to use a term I don’t care for, ‘policing our own.’

At the same time, I have been made aware of several news stories involving severe cases of bullying, in which school officials and educators were aware of the bullying, but did not act; in two of these cases, the victim committed suicide.  This too has raised, for me, the issue of educators making good decisions about acting or not acting.

During my classroom teaching career, (as you know, I still consider myself a teacher), I worked as a Holocaust educator with the Holocaust Center at our local university.  In this work, we had a specific vocabulary to describe groups of people impacted by the Holocaust:  victim, perpetrator, bystander, rescuer were the primary human descriptors.  This seems a vocabulary that would be equally appropriate here, with the addition of a new word, whistle-blower for people who report abuse.

These two sets of information – the conference and the news stories – have brought home to me yet again the responsibility that we bear as recognized teachers.  This responsibility is bigger than monitoring our own behavior, and extends to protecting our students, and providing them with a safe environment in which to learn and contribute to the learning of others.  And, for me, it speaks to the need for a set of guiding principles for our profession generated by teachers for teachers.  We are being held accountable by so many right now; guiding principles would allow us to hold ourselves accountable to behaviors and actions that we deem appropriate.  Almost every other profession has such principles, sometimes called professional principles, ethical principles, guiding principles, etc.  Below are a few links to some of these principles for other professions, along with a brief description that I wrote for a paper:

Industry has systematically created measures for determining effective performance through sets of guiding principles defined by the profession, for the profession.  These principles help to define the expected professional behavior, education and training, skills, knowledge, and abilities that members of the profession will exhibit. 

Generally Accepted Accounting Principles or GAAP principles, as defined, for example in the Accounting profession, are typically developed by a representative group of practitioners in the field, through their professional organization.  They are not handed by a union, government body – although they may adhere to government dictated standards - or other group to the profession, but are developed within the profession itself.

One such set of principles are the GAAP principles defined by the Accounting profession.  One definition of GAAP analysis is the accounting rules used to prepare and standardize the reporting of financial statements, such as balance sheets, income statements and cash flow statements, for publicly traded companies and many private companies in the United States (Stephanie Paul, LegalZoom) http://www.legalzoom.com/articles/article_content/article14076.html

Paul goes on to explain that GAAP is determined through measurement and disclosure principles and that it provides a consistent measure of accountability by which companies’ performance can be judged.  GAAP principles vary by profession but they all focus on standardizing a means of holding a company accountable for its performance.

Given this definition – essentially, using a set of measures to determine expectations and measure existing performance against those expectations to determine where an entity is and is not meeting expectations, should the teaching profession not have such a set of principles in place, developed by practitioners for practitioners?  In fact, could there not be three sets of principles - equally important areas of study followed by action:  GAAP for individual teacher effectiveness, for school leader effectiveness, and for school performance. Examples of guiding principles in other professions are provided through the links below:

American Dental Association:  http://www.legalzoom.com/articles/article_content/article14076.html

American Medical Association:

  1. a.      Declaration of Social Responsibiity:  http://www.ama-assn.org/resources/doc/ethics/decofprofessional.pdf
  2. b.      Code of Medical Ethics:  http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/physician-resources/medical-ethics/code-medical-ethics.page

National Association of Colleges and Employers:

http://www.naceweb.org/Knowledge/Principles/Principles_for_Professional_Practice.aspx

Others:

http://www.nasponline.org/standards/2010standards/1_%20Ethical%20Principles.pdf

http://www.ipacweb.org/principles.html

http://www.ascld-lab.org/about_us/guidingprinciples.html

http://www.phrma.org/about/principles-guidelines/code-interactions-healthcare-professionals

It occurs to me sitting here listening that other professions have actually outlined what is and is not acceptable behavior; we would think that these things would be no-brainers, but laying them out makes them more real and provides a basis for accountability.  This is something that I would like to see NNSTOY involved in developing for teaching.

The keynote speaker for this conference was Tim Dove, Ohio STOY 2011 and 2012.  Tim set the stage by reminding us what it is that teachers do in the classroom every day and of the exciting school in which he works and leads.  Tim represented us extremely well.  Listening Tim and to the conference presenters also makes me even more grateful for knowing that you are representatives of the finest that our profession has to offer.  Thank you for all that you do.




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