Ethics Of Teaching

by | Jan 26, 2022

Picture only for representation purpose (Clicked by Itishree, a 2018 fellow)

Think about your favourite teacher. They can be your primary school teacher or your college faculty but all of us have had at least one “favourite” teacher who had a profound effect on our lives. What qualities of that teacher made them your favourite? Were they funny or did they create engaging lessons? While you think about your favorite teacher, “ethics” probably does not enter your mind. You would rarely hear someone say, “I like that teacher because she was ethical.” But it is a critical element in teaching and plays a crucial role in teacher’s personal and professional life.

In ancient India, Gurus were informally imparting skills, knowledge and attitudes to Chelas in Gurukul. There was no fixed duration of learning. Education was value and skill based, acquired through experience, realizations and knowledge application, and gurus were reputed persons with knowledge, principles and the ability to be role models for their disciples. In sixteenth and seventeenth century, Buddhism, Jainism and Islamic kings and their ideology influenced the Indian education. In late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, British colonizers aped their education system and medium of instruction in India. But how did it affect the ethics?

There are no rules or codes that can guarantee a change in behavior or character to ensure a teacher’s personal integrity. However, as role models for students, teachers must follow a professional code of ethics. As a (new) teacher, it is important to identify the role of ethics in the profession. It is also critical to reflect whether the ethical responsibilities of teaching align with personal belief structure and values.

I recently attended a session on ethics with a few public and private school teachers and was intrigued about the facilitator’s emphasis on teachers to be motivated by a universal respect for human life and to be guided by principles of caring. It also provided a platform for teachers to discuss their professional ethical dilemmas.

“The sad state of affairs today is that some teachers are no more role models to students, lack higher order virtues and have become ritualistic in teaching-learning environment without concern for quality. Hence, there is a scope to delineate ethics in teaching”

Arun Satpathi, a government high school teacher

Is teaching an ethical and moral profession?

Many educationists assume that teaching is essentially and fundamentally a moral profession. The nature and quality of the teacher-student relationship informs virtually all that the teacher does. How one cares for students is thought to be among the most important of all professional matters. Ethics are at the heart of a teacher’s disciplinary knowledge, that knowing a discipline is not merely a matter of cognitive attainment but an ethical achievement. To teach is to be embedded in a world of uncertainty and hard choices, where what a teacher does and how they think is morally laden.

Ethical and moral conflicts confronting teachers

Conflicts around norms and beliefs pervade teaching, some originating in the way in which teaching is structured and how authority is understood as well as enacted. Some in competing interests of teachers, students and their parents. Teachers understand and respond to these conflicts differently. Based upon a wide range of life experiences, these response patterns are apparent in how teachers work with moral dilemmas. Some of them respond by prioritizing ego needs, while others give priority to social and institutional norms.

What teachers must do?

Both pre and inservice teacher education can facilitate the development of moral understanding and ethical sensitivity among teachers. Case methods appears to be a promising means of promoting ethical and moral development, but how a case is understood, varies. However, experts argue for the value of reflection directed towards a range of teaching practices and teacher’s qualities. Moreover teachers need to be coached, so their reflection on moral matters gains in power. They must not assume that their students have highly developed reflective skills. Also there needs to be an awareness around the importance of the informal or hidden curriculum of a school, not just a classroom, and how it shapes moral understanding.

Teachers stand in a fiduciary duty to act in a way that is in best interest of their students

In a fiduciary relationship, there is an imbalance of power where the students place their trust and confidence in the teachers, who are responsible for caring for their students and respecting their needs. This overarching responsibility leads to an ethical standard of professional practice to which educators must abide by. A teacher is constantly under scrutiny of their students and society at large. Therefore, every teacher should see that there is compatibility between their precepts and practices. The national ideals of education have already been set forth and they should seek to inculcate among students their own ideals.

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