A Clean House

Last week, my colleague, Leslie Gates, and I gave a presentation to a group of teacher candidates who were starting their year-long internships. The presentation mostly focused on professionalism, but also discussed educator ethics a bit. Leslie and I have been giving this “kick-off presentation” for the last five or six years, and while the content could be overly preachy and pedantic, we try to keep our message positive and our advice as practical as possible. More than anything, we hoped the presentation would help our teacher candidates avoid potential ethical “land mines” in their interactions with students, parents, and other professionals in the schools in which they’re interning.

After the whole group presentation, faculty members met with teacher candidates in small groups. I met with ten prospective teachers, and we discussed the presentation content in more detail. The group had lots of great questions. Should I cover my tattoos? Can I text my mentor teacher? Do I have to delete my social media accounts? Am I allowed to have a social life? I’m not new to these kinds of questions. About a decade ago, I worked with some folks at the PA Department of Education to develop an ethics curriculum for teacher preparation programs. Since then, I’ve given dozens of professional development workshops and induction trainings for inservice teachers. I recently served on a committee that wrote new ethics competencies for teachers seeking certification in the state. So, while I typically blog about teaching and learning and online education (and other stuff), I’ve dug into the world of educator ethics, too.

During the small group conversation, one of the teacher candidates posed a question that caught me off guard. She wondered whether presenting a sanitized version of ourselves as teachers was fake. She also questioned whether acting a certain way to look professional was inauthentic. I started by talking about the expectations of the profession. I explained that as teachers we had a responsibility to our students and their families to be the best versions of ourselves. It’s not that we’re being fake as teachers but trying to accentuate the best parts of who we are (and can be). To make the point a little clearer for the teacher candidates, I asked what they would do if they were inviting people over to their house for a party. As a good host, wouldn’t they try to clean up a bit? Wouldn’t they want the house to look the best it could be? Sure, our houses don’t always look that way. Our kitchen sinks are sometimes full of dishes. Our carpets may need to be vacuumed. The end tables may need to be dusted. But if we have guests coming over, don’t we want things to look their best?

The analogy seemed to make sense. Thankfully, this won’t be the last time we’ll be talking about ethics with these teacher candidates this year. Later in the semester, Leslie and I will be facilitating a workshop which will help these folks think through some potential ethical dilemmas they’re likely to face as teachers.  Ultimately, we want the teacher candidates to learn that the ethical landscape can be really complicated for teachers. But that will take time and lots of thoughtful conversations. During these first days of the semester, however, we hope they’ll be able to showcase their best versions of themselves.

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