Ethics Codes For Teachers Essay

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Unlike other professions such as medicine and law, the teaching profession has not developed a consistent and universal code of ethics—a prerequisite for being a profession in the minds of many theorists. Figures such as Myron Lieberman, an expert on education policy and teacher bargaining, have argued that such a code cannot emerge as long as collective bargaining drives teacher–school district negotiations. The development and enforcement of ethical standards, according to Lieberman, is left to administrators and school boards. This is not to suggest that teachers, as a group, are devoid of ethical principles, only that as a professional group, they have not adopted, nor do they enforce on their peers, an ethical code of behavior.

In this context, if a teacher observes other teachers conducting themselves in what may be perceived as an unethical manner, it is not considered his or her duty to enforce a code of professional ethics. This does not mean that teachers do not have an obligation ethically, and possibly legally, to report inappropriate behavior by fellow professionals. But it is not their job to enforce such codes or rules. Instead, this is the responsibility of school administrators and local school boards. Such a model is unlike that of the legal profession, in which peers judge peers based on their conduct and are subject to deliberations by the Bar. Likewise, doctors are subject to peer review by medical boards made up of fellow practitioners.

Ethical codes for teachers are occasionally promulgated at the state and local level, and there is an ethical code that has been developed by the National Education Association (NEA), something which does not exist for the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). According to Lieberman, if teacher unions played a more active role in defining and policing the ethical behavior of their members, they would find themselves faced with two insolvable problems: (1) they could not represent the interests of the teachers who had membership in the union, since there would be a conflict of interest; and (2) there would be an unavoidable problem of accountability—the union leadership, by definition, being an organization that is not legally accountable to the school district or the local community where the ethical misconduct may have occurred.

The educational philosopher Karl Hostetler maintains that Lieberman’s interpretation is based on a “conceptually inadequate notion of moral and political negotiation.” Instead, he argues that the union can take an intermediary role by establishing standards for ethical behavior and seeing that they are enforced, while at the same time advocating for the rights and protecting the interests of its members. In such a scenario, it becomes reasonable for a union to put in place a code of ethical conduct.

In the case of the National Education Association’s code, its basic principles are brief and to the point. According to the NEA, educators (in terms of dealing with students) should seek to help each student realize his or her potential, while at the same time stimulating the process of inquiry, acquisition of knowledge and understanding, and the formulation of worthwhile goals. The teacher shall not deny students access to different points of view; shall not suppress or distort knowledge; shall make reasonable efforts to protect the safety of students; shall not intentionally embarrass the student; shall not discriminate against the student based on race, color, creed, sex, national origin, marital status, political or religious beliefs, family, social or cultural background, or sexual orientation; shall not use his or her professional relationship with students for private advantage; and shall not disclose private or confidential information about students unless compelled to do so by a clear professional reason or by the law.

In terms of commitment to the profession, the NEA Code of Ethics maintains that teachers are public servants, and therefore expected to maintain the highest possible standard of professional conduct. In this context, teachers should not make false statements; should not overstate their professional qualifications; should not assist the entry of unqualified individuals into the profession; should not knowingly make a false statement concerning the qualifications of a candidate for a position; should not assist noneducators in participating in unauthorized teaching; should not unnecessarily discuss information about colleagues unless professionally compelled to do so or as required by the law; should not make false or malicious comments about a colleague; and should not take gifts that will influence their behavior or professional judgment.

In conclusion, ethical issues faced by teachers are particularly complex: Teachers are public servants, they serve highly complex and diverse populations, and they work with minors. While issues of regulation and authority may be debated, reasonable principles do exist, which ultimately provide guidelines on appropriate ethical conduct and behavior.


  1. Hostetler, K. (1989). Who says professional ethics is dead? A response to Myron Lieberman. Phi Delta Kappan, 70, 723–725.
  2. Lieberman, M. (1994). Professional ethics in education. In M. Lieberman, Public education: An autopsy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  3. Peters, R. S. (1966). Ethics and education. Atlanta, GA: Scott, Foresman.
  4. National Education Association, Code of Ethics of the Education Profession:

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