Notes: Ethics & Education 4: Fishbowl discussion – Why are ethics important in the teaching profession?

Yesterday we moved all the furniture around to set up for a fishbowl discussion based on the introductory seminars (see earlier Ethics & Education posts for background). We had five chairs like a panel at the front, with the rest of us acting as the audience. The only people who could speak were those on the panel, and if others wanted to contribute to the discussion they have to sit at the front also. The chairs were hot-seats with four people beginning the panel, leaving one chair empty and waiting for another participant from the audience. By the end of the 90 minute session just about everyone in the class had spent some time on the panel, posing questions, answering others, describing experiences and debating points of difference.

The notes I took are a mess, but as you can imagine it was impossible to write down everything that was being discussed, especially when I was in the panel myself! Some key points covered were: whether we need codes of ethics, role of legislation, religion and spirituality as ethical guides, society’s expectations, universality of values, dealing with diversity, conflict between personal and professional ethics, transmission of ethics and the need for transparency.

Why are ethics important in the teaching profession?

Can you imagine what teaching profession would be like if we didn’t examine our ethics at all? We need the autonomy of teachers … do we need a set of standards at all, or should all teachers have their own? We need it because we work with children who are vulnerable. Who decides on this code of ethics, problem of totalitarian govt for eg. 1984. Discussion about differences between countries and cultures. Can we trust those who are in the positions of power that their ethics are appropriate for the profession? Legislative framework based on ethics, in school system teachers have to figure out how to apply these or carry them out in the classroom… and how to deal with structural inequalities that come from this system. Some might clash with society’s expectations and teachers can make a choice in their classrooms and make learning moments from this. Very diverse classrooms will bring more challenges and opportunities to have these moments. Universal values? Our we currently speaking right now about our own personal ethics or those of the country etc? Example of code of conduct e.g. teachers shouldn’t be friends with students on social media, or take any gift from student if it’s more than $20. Very different with another experience where students were encouraged to be on fb as it was a way for teachers to reach out to them and their families in their homes. Ethics are meant to protect the inalienable rights of the teacher and learner. Also to be a framework within which we operate. We are humans and there are times we go beyond our limits – who checks us? Formulating code of ethics collaboratively – govt legislation, parents, teacher professional body and also the learners. Need for understanding why these ethics or guidelines are included in the framework. What is the difference between code of conduct, rules and ethical guidelines? When does our personal ethics clash with the school code of conduct, and what do we do in that situation? Spirituality also has a role? But then how to define this? And where does religion come into it? Or culture? Risk of religious indoctrination etc. Also be careful about referring to spirituality and religion or mixing with culture – culture and politics using religion as tool of control. Why there is a need for ethics to be based on universal human rights values. Turkey coup and moving away from secularity. How can the teacher meet the ethics of the students? Schools don’t just create workers for the economy, but also citizens for the society? How much responsibility should teachers have? Models to our students whether we like it or not. Can be so difficult to do this in a society or with a government that doesn’t support. China and appearance rules restricting people with disabilities and scarring etc from being teachers. Common sense? What is right and what is wrong? Common = universal? e.g. stealing is bad is common sense… but then what if family is starving and then is taking the bread off the table still bad? Having to make ethical judgements. Kenya very polarised, currently talking about bringing ethics into the curriculum. Now everybody asking about what ethics are? S went to a Catholic school when younger, and then he was taught ethics there but it was done in tandem with Christian and specifically Catholic doctrine. How do we transmit ethics? Explicitly in a set formalised class, or in our modelling of behaviour? Tribalism and corruption. Can we teach learners to be good citizens when they are young in a context where tribalism and corruption is still very prevailing? In US being a good citizen is heavily emphasised in younger grades, sharing toys, playing fairly etc. As they grow up there is more of a move away from this to focus on academics. Value based schools – weeks for kindness, caring etc. They teach values explicitly and how can it be better integrated and made more intrinsic? Example of training a puppy to be a good dog through conditioning. Can we have a similar set of rules for our young children that is connected with the specific communities? Would we be different people now (and in what way and by how much) if we each hadn’t had our own ethical learning experiences? Ethics as a specific subject should be transparent and if we are going to be teaching it explicitly then we must be be honest about it. Honest and open self-reflection also integral to teaching ethics more implicitly through modelling of behaviour and creation of classroom environment that nurtures this.


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