situational ethics….French Teacher

I teach French and Study Skills in a large north metro Atlanta suburban high school. Before I entered the teaching profession 22 years ago, I worked as a mid-level business manager for a public relations firm that was expanding its client base throughout the South. I spent many weeks in hotels and decided that after all the years of studying abroad, I did not want to spend my life in a career so laden with travel requirements. Nonetheless, I still do travel quite a bit–just my own choice of destination! I try to stay current in my field and have continued to study abroad from time to time during the summers, when I wasn’t taking staff development courses or working part time at department stores to supplement my teaching salary.

I have stayed in teaching for many reasons, both good and bad. Inertia, downturns in the economy in my area, unwillingness to live outside of my preferred region, fear of rejection, etc. along with the rewards intrinsic in face-to-face instruction, …all of these things have kept me in the profession longer than I thought I would stay. In general, when I hate my work, it has little to do with the students and much to do with supervisors , colleagues or parents who succomb to ’situational ethics’

..we all want ’standards’ until our child fails to meet them …..then we want our child to be given a grade he or she did not earn, so college will continue to loom on the horizon……but our own surgeon or lawyer better have come by his diploma on his own merit! We want accountability until it backfires in politician’s faces and proves that class size and lack of local school input do impact student achievement…the whole community is ‘up in arms’ about disciplinary breakdowns until an affluent attorney and his ALTA Tennis Wife have to bail their son out of jail because the faculty called the police first and them second when he ran over another student in the parking lot as he arrived at the prom, drunk as a skunk, driving his BMW right up onto the steps of the convention center…then the parents sue specific faculty members since they are obviously ‘picking’ on their son–he wasn’t all that drunk, after all….Ignorant, uneducated parents scream over the phone that their children did not misbehave, we are all lying and that video tape is ‘doctored!’

Other, well-educated parents show up for parent-teacher conferences with their attorneys, threatening to sue or make us really sorry if we attempt to hold little Susie accountable for that whopper of a plagiarized term paper…after all, it’s just junior English and nobody cares anyway…Colleagues with their heads in the sand, unwilling to take a stand….because it’s too much work or too risky to tell someone in power that we disagree with their procedures or policies or tactics….

I don’t think ‘whistle-blowing’ is all that common in any profession but it is amazing what we in the teaching profession see everyday and still do not take the forefront in the march to the Capitol to DEMAND changes…. I understand that it can be a pink collar ghetto and that we need more men in the profession..since they don’t tolerate inconvenience or inequity as well as women, their presence might serve to ’stir things up’…..the incredible waste of human potential among the faculty and the student body, the failure to spend money in ways that help students instead of bureaucrats and politicians, it is sickening.

I belong to the NEA/GAE and my local organization but it is less and less effective in areas that truly matter. I am not even sure if another layer of ‘non-teaching’ personnel slipped into the equation, would help or hurt….unions can be useful, useless, and/or dangerous….I do know that it is time that we decide what we should pay for in public education….we can’t be all things to all people….maybe we need a 1oth grade diploma and true vocational/technical education with solid apprenticeships available throughout the country…maybe we need nationalized standardization of some areas of education…if we are not meeting standards, then let’s try to focus on improving our aim when trying to hit the target on the core issues…for example, stop offering so many choices in extracurricular, so many choices in languages, etc., until we find that we are helping our students to meet their basic skills needs effectively, in the time that we have. The students are in school for eight hours a day or more…yet, only half of that time ends up being used for actual teaching/learning….let’s stop trying to do everything for them and just try to meet our core mission of providing solid academic instruction. Once we’ve accomplished this, then we could perhaps safely focus on broadening other, non-academic extra-curricular opportunities, etc. I know that it is easier to control employees than children’s parents, consequently, we seek to put the pressure on school personnel to ‘do something’ about ‘our’ problems….but teachers and schools truly cannot and should not try to be all things to all students.

Churches and parents and community organizations have their roles. The number one mandate of the school should be academic instruction in a safe, supportive environment that serves both the individual’s and the community’s needs… We need citizens who can think critically and have some knowledge of what it means to be living in a participatory democracy, who can also demonstrate basic skills …and basic SOCIAL skills! and thus be employable… While character education is infused in the curriculum of any quality program, the community must take primary responsiblity for moral development and put it back into the laps of parents and churches. Unfortunately, there are sleazy people who also happen to be parents. They care about their child…sometimes. They care about themselves….all of the time. They care about the rest of the children…..none of the time.

I am going to continue to teach and to try to do a good job for my students. I want them to know that life can be very satisfying if they will take the right kinds of risks and care more about what they learn in class than whether they look ‘cool’ or whether they’re accepted by certain groups, etc. I want them to discover inner resolve that I know many of them possess and could choose to develop. I want them to come to an understanding that in spite of how rotten life is with divorced parents or substandard housing, they can still do much to take advantage of where they are and what they’re doing while at school….history is full of ‘disadvantaged children’ who grew up to be major contributors to society…I want them to reach stage 5 in Kohlberg’s moral development, even if their parents are still in love with only their material goods and only behave out of fear of punishment or promise of reward…. I want them to reach beyond needing to be liked and discover that sometimes, it is worth the price one pays to do the right thing no matter how much grief others dish out because of it–so I try to perform my duties in a responsible, caring manner, trying to emulate what I would like to see growing in them, as well as in my own four children at home….I plan to retire in eight years…I am currently pursuing a master’s in another field, but I know that there are intelligent, talented people who will continue to choose to teach, in spite of the sea of mediocrity in which they will live out their professional lives….and there will be students who will remember them and their efforts, and smile…long after they’ve started their own work in life….