Sunday, October 9, 2011

Ethical Teaching

Ethical educators don't cheat.

That means not on tests and not on curriculum for students. The test part is easy to understand, but what does it mean to be ethical when designing curriculum?

First, it means that an educator takes the time to get to know the student for whom they are designing curriculum and considers that as the most important point of entry. I don't care how brilliant the project or assignment is; if you have mis-read or completely ignored the student in front of you as an individual, the best you will get is mediocre. Students are not the same, which is generally overlooked in the traditional grade-banding and same-age grouping of schools. We like to think of ourselves as adults being individuals, so why, then, do we believe that every student is the same?

The second challenge of ethical teaching is differentiation, which means to modify instructional process and product to meet the needs of each learner differently. This is one of those terms that is thrown around in education but that very few really understand. I taught 45 teachers over three years in the gifted endorsement, and of those 45, maybe three knew what it meant to differentiate in the classroom (although all of them talked about it fluently). You cannot fake differentiation; superficial changes in instruction produce the same mediocre results as if you walked in the room and handed out worksheets.

Ethical instructors care about what they do; they don't fake their passion for teaching. It matters to them if their students succeed, and they are genuinely thrilled with their progress and achievements. This is not some mythical TV or movie creation, and it doesn't mean that they all demonstrate their passion for their subject in the same way; some teachers are less ebullient than others, but it doesn't mean they care less. Passionate educators try everything, advocate for their students and keep learning as professionals, not because they have to but because they want to.

This type of ethical educator is disappearing from the public school system as testing and lockstep curriculum takes away most of their license to create. Teachers are human, and they can only take the beating they are currently receiving for so long before they walk away.  Ethical educators don't cheat their students, and, eventually, they won't cheat themselves out of their creativy and work.

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