Cooper: The code of conduct for teachers can be helpful, but its vagueness leaves a lot to the discretion of others

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It’s a miracle that anyone wants to become a public school teacher today, but thank goodness for the dedicated souls who do so.

We are raising this issue because the Hamilton County Board of Education recently adopted a Code of Conduct for Teachers, which is the same or nearly identical to the Tennessee Code of Conduct for Teachers.

We’re not against what’s in it, but it’s one more line they need to cross aside from dealing with the masked or unmasked health of their students, having to prepare virtually anytime for it. learning online, filling mountains of bureaucratic paperwork, struggling with little to no disciplinary power and, oh, yes, teaching and grading student work.

Before the code was recently approved, board member Marco Perez raised an important point regarding a policy line stating that teachers should be careful about speaking out.

We imagine that it was this sentence: “[E]Employees should be very careful, when exercising their own freedom of expression, to be aware of the impact of their point of view on a student or parent’s perception of the educator so as not to create unnecessary obstacles to the education process.

“We currently live in an environment where it’s almost impossible to express something that won’t alienate people or create barriers,” Perez said.

He’s right, and he might as well have been talking about a class discussion than a social media post about politics or alternative lifestyles.

Most businesses today have social media policies, so teachers who sign a contract that they will adhere to the district’s policy have only themselves to blame if they violate it and become self-righteous. make take.

But what concerns us more is the concern that teachers may have expressing themselves in the context of a class discussion. A good teacher is able to skillfully moderate a discussion in which various student opinions are debated without taking sides, but there will inevitably be times when the teacher – perhaps even playing the devil’s advocate – offers a point of view. opposite.

The Tennessee General Assembly’s ban on critical teaching of racial theory earlier this year comes to mind. We agree that Critical Race Theory, where every aspect of society is examined through the lens of race, does not have to be taught in K-12 schools. But this should not prevent talking about race, its role in history or civil rights. And while the Tennessee Department of Education has provided some guidelines on this issue, teachers may still feel pressure on what to say.

This is unfortunate because a vital part of teaching is to stimulate critical thinking, not to defend critical race theory.

It’s a shame, in general, there has to be a code of conduct for teachers. If we talk about what happened ‘back then’ we risk being labeled ‘across the hill’, but most teachers in the not-so-distant past were older women. wore suitable shoes or were traditionally married women or men whose worst vice sneaked a cigarette into the teachers’ room.

We remember, for example, the high school biology teacher who, not wanting to delve into a chapter on sexual reproduction, summed up the material by saying, “The only thing I have ever done behind my wife’s back is of its zipper. “

On the other hand, a code of conduct might have been appropriate for another teacher whose temper sometimes won out. Words in the code such as “behave in a manner that preserves the dignity and integrity of the educational process”, “maintain a professional approach with students” and “protect their emotional well-being” would apply.

It was the elementary school music teacher who, seeing a student leaning against his folding chair, gave him a thumbs up and said, “I hope you fall. She once also caught the class’s attention by throwing a book across the room until it slammed with a loud bang against a row of metal lockers.

At the time, too, few people had to worry about the “parents’ perception of the educator”. For the parent, the teacher’s word was law, and if a teacher were to tell a parent what their child has done, the child might expect additional consequences at home.

What we firmly hope is that the new district code of conduct does not become a springboard from which to emerge new investigations or prosecutions.

After all, as critics point out, it contains vague language like, “Employees must protect the health and safety of students.” When teachers are unable to intervene in altercations and unable to insist that all their students wear masks, such a task is virtually impossible.

The best we can probably hope for is that the teacher offenses are very few but clear, like the 1964 description of obscenity by US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart.

In his ruling on a pornography case, he said he couldn’t begin to define such material, “but I know it when I see it.”

As such, we hope that teachers will exercise discretion in what they say and do and that parents will provide a little leeway to allow appropriate teaching of material so that their students can reflect and grow.

And then maybe the recent whispered revelation from a young parent will be the only type of behavior teachers are known for: “He rides a skateboard.


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