Teachers Have a Responsibility to Report Out of Control Colleagues

If you have been following my work, you know I spent 7 years a K-12 teacher and 7 years as a university professor, eventually becoming the dean of a school of education. As a teacher, I was passionate about helping students reach their academic potential and become productive citizens. As a professor and education dean, I was devoted to developing the next generation of teachers and education administrators. For the last two and a half years, I have been an education entrepreneur, launching an education company, Lynch Educational Consulting, which also manages the following web properties: The EdvocateThe Tech Edvocate, and Edupedia.

However, I often miss being in the classroom, and when I do, I usually channel this energy in an article, resource, or project that will benefit educators everywhere. This time I decided to create a series of case studies that are meant to help pre-service teachers get a glimpse into the problems and issues that they will encounter in the field. These case studies will also give them a chance to reflect on how they can use each scenario to inform their own practice. Let’s get started.

The education community is a family, and because of this, we want to protect the members of it. But what happens when a fellow teacher is engaging in risky behavior, which is affecting their teaching ability, and consequently, their student’s? To find out what happens when a teacher allows an out of control colleague to hit rock bottom, read the case study below, entitled “The Case Tanika Auala.” Afterward, reflect on the questions below, using your thoughts to shape your own practice.

  1. What is the biggest obstacle to Tanika taking action?
  2. What should Tanika consider doing first, before making a firm decision about what to do regarding the situation with Karla?
  3. How many different ethical issues is Tanika dealing with at the moment? Which do you think is the most important, and why?
  4. What should Tanika’s ideal decision be, considering her moral responsibility as a member of the teaching profession?

Tanika Auala is a fourth-grade science teacher at the Hazlewood Elementary School in South Bend, a medium-sized city. For the past 5 years, she has worked closely with the fourth-grade mathematics teacher, Karla Jefferson. Tanika remembers a time when Karla was very enthusiastic about teaching, but over the past 2 years, she has noticed some distressing changes in Karla. About 2 years ago, Karla experienced some financial difficulties. Her brother introduced her to gambling, suggesting that she might make some extra money. Karla actually made very little, but she slowly started to spend more and more time gambling at the casino, and less time preparing for her lessons.

At first Tanika would cover up for Karla. Because their subjects had so much overlap, Tanika could easily incorporate some of the mathematics concepts into her science lessons without the students losing out on too much. However, when Karla seemed to reach a low point, both personally and financially, Tanika finally suggested that she get help. Karla realized that she had developed an addiction to gambling and that it was impacting her work and personal life. She spent a lot of time working hard to make changes in her life. Tanika was very pleased, as she could see that her colleague was on the mend and Karla was slowly regaining control over her lesson planning and content.

A few months ago, however, every teacher was provided with a personal laptop for use during school hours. Tanika noticed a sudden, dramatic drop in the Karla’s quality of teaching. In fact, Karla’s students requested that Tanika start including more mathematics concepts in her science lessons, as they learned more with her than with Karla. Tanika quickly made an appointment to speak to Karla about the students’ request, but Karla became aggressive and evasive, saying that her students had no right to question her teaching methods. Tanika decided to wait a few days before tackling the issue again.

One day while waiting outside the classroom, Tanika noticed that the children were all behaving in an unruly manner, noisily running around the classroom chasing each other as if they were on the playground. Karla was at her desk but was furiously clicking away at her laptop, paying no attention to the children. Tanika watched as she threw her hands up in exasperation and shouted a swear word. Some of the children objected to this, asking her to apologize.

Karla became aggressive and shouted, “It’s bad enough that I have already agreed to give you all good grades because you went and told lies to Ms. Auala! I am the teacher here, and I can do exactly what I want, so be quiet and let me get back to my roulette game!” The children appeared frightened, so she quickly changed her tone and said, “If you keep your mouths shut, I’ll buy you all a chocolate candybar.” The children cheered and resumed their unruly behavior.

Putting the pieces of the story together, Tanika realized that she would not be able to handle this situation on her own. She remembered how aggressive Karla became during her recent attempt to tackle the problem and was worried that Karla appeared to have the students on her side. Tanika knew that she could not continue to help Karla hide her problem any longer but was unsure of what to do next. She was also worried that she might be implicated in the poor performance of Karla’s students, because she hadn’t reported Karla’s gambling problem to the school authorities immediately. Tanika walked away from the classroom without confronting Karla, thinking that she should first decide on the best course of action.

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