Six Core Characteristics of Ethical Teaching

Ethics are no walk in the park. While many scenarios are black-and-white, easily solved with clear-cut answers, not every circumstance that a teacher comes across is so simply resolved. As a teacher, you may come across decisions that impact an individual’s entire life, from family to future. You need to be prepared to deal with that.

Regardless of the severity of the dilemma, however, every teacher will need to take action based on a code of ethics. A code of ethics is a personal set of guidelines that you’ll use to determine the right course of action in a given situation. Although the teaching profession has no formally adopted code of ethics, any code of ethics should comprise six basic elements:

1. Knowledge

Possessing adequate and appropriate knowledge is crucial in solving ethical issues. Having adequate knowledge of both the situation in question and what is expected of them helps teachers visualize multiple approaches to ethical dilemmas. After assessing the pros and cons of the consequences of possible actions, a teacher can then make a decision about how best to approach the situation.

2. Empathy

Empathy refers to the ability to appreciate a situation from the point of view of the various participants involved. It enables decision-making that aims to provide the greatest unbiased benefit to all parties. Empathy opens up multiple pathways for reaching a decision that includes perceptions and views of all involved.

3. Reasoning

The ability to logically and coherently analyze situations and perspectives represents an important element of the code of ethics associated with the teaching profession. It’s important for teachers to be able to reflect on a situation or circumstance while taking all aspects into consideration and maintaining moral principles as a gauge for deliberation.

4. Appreciation for Moral Considerations

The ability to identify and analyze conflicting and competing moral interests involved in any given situation is very important when faced with ethical dilemmas. Everyone’s rights should be protected, and no one should be deprived of what they deserve. The most important trait in dealing with moral considerations is the ability to adhere to the truth.

5. Courage

The ideals of ethical teaching, such as appreciation for moral considerations, reasoning, and empathy, are much more difficult to reach if the element of courage is missing. Courage is required to create ethical outcomes appropriate for all parties involved, and it can take the form of willpower, tact, or even street-smartness, depending on the situation. Courage comes more naturally to some people than others. As a teacher, you will be required to display courage in a number of situations, sometimes on a daily basis. It will always help to know that you have the school regulations, or possibly even the law, on your side, but there are very few cases in which you can be completely sure without actually having the courage to bring the issue up with a relevant third party. Keeping your students’ best interests at heart will help to guide you in the right direction.

6. Interpersonal Skills

Even teachers with all of the preceding attributes could still be prevented from acting ethically if they lack the requisite communication skills to make their position known. Even if your understanding of right and wrong is clear and just, and is accompanied by all the qualities of being an ethical teacher, the potential for positive outcomes in your ethical dilemmas is diminished if you lack interpersonal skills. In ethically tinged situations, teachers must know how to formulate their words tactfully and how to use the right expressions and put them forth in frank manner, so they appear neither too harsh nor too feeble.

As a teacher, you’ll find yourself with ethical decisions to make every day. These might involve complex issues like reporting child abuse or censorship. Even if the issues you encounter aren’t so weighty, it’s still just as important to be able to make the right decision even when it may not seem to “really matter.” Center your internal compass on these six values, and your ability to act according to a code of ethics should true, no matter how choppy the moral waters.

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