The Moral Life of a Teacher

In the context of professional ethics, morals refer to so much more than lessons learned from fairy tales. Greene provides that a moral refers to a varied selection of values, judgments of right and wrong, good and bad as well as relational judgments concerning peoples’ actions (Greene, 1973). Many professionals, including teachers, are often held to a high standard of morality. Morals are measured through many mediums; there are personal values, professional standards, societal norms and legal statutes which are a few examples of foundations that morals are compared against.

This response will examine the current legal context associated with teachers in regards to morals and ethics. The basis of this examination has stemmed from various articles addressing contemporary issues of teacher misconduct outside of the classroom, and how that misconduct is subsequently being dealt with at an appellate court level. There is an evolving judicial construction of teachers’ roles in Canadian jurisprudence. Judges continue to examine the social and educational significance of teachers through the varied misconduct cases that they are encountering in their courtrooms.

There has been an increase in recent years of litigation surrounding teacher conduct. Cesare and Manley-Casimir outline three main issues that have caused controversy and debate in both judicial and educational environments. The first issue surrounds the definitions of teacher misconduct within provincial statutes. As judges are dealing with situations not outlined or clarified within the statutes, they are led to establish their own definition of the role of a teacher, thus justifying their decisions as to the conduct of teachers.

Each province indeed has a professional code of conduct, yet these documents can be interpreted as quite vague and unclear in a legal sense. The second issue arises from temporal and spatial circumstances. When alleged misconduct occurs outside of school property and during off-duty hours, the justice system has an obligation to address basic rights and freedoms. There are times when these rights and freedoms conflict with the standard that teachers are held to. In such cases judges must consider the bigger picture of society and their expectations for educators.

Thirdly, the issue that causes much debate is the evidence, or lack thereof that the judicial bodies have chosen as appropriate to base decisions on. Inferences have been made based on various conditions in some cases, which conflicts with decisions made in other cases (Cesare and Manley-Casimir, 2005). As exemplified, the judicial construction of the roles of teachers is ever-changing and open to inference based on context and circumstance. When defining teacher misconduct, there seems to be some roadblocks in the way of clear standards.

In accordance with the issue mentioned above of vague provincial statutes; sections dealing with misconduct often do not set spatial or temporal limits, thus making it difficult to clearly define misconduct out of the school setting. Case law, though, has provided many examples that make it abundantly clear that teachers remain teachers in their private time. Teaching is a highly public and normative occupation (Piddocke, Magsino & Manley-Casimir, 1998) and as a result, teachers are always legally considered to be on duty to some extent (Dickinson, 2003).

The British Columbia Court of Appeal defined the teachers’ role as one of trust, confidence and responsibility. This court upheld the decision to suspend two teachers, husband and wife, in a misconduct case in 1987. The husband had taken partially nude pictures of his wife and they had submitted the prints to a pornographic magazine. The court stated that the behavior of a teacher must satisfy the expectations that the community holds for the education system as a whole (Cesare and Manley-Casimir, 2005). This decision made it clear that teachers can and will be held to stricter codes of conduct than other citizens.

This case also exemplifies that even with a list of inappropriate behaviors, judicial bodies still must decide issues of misconduct based on particular context. Cesare and Manley-Casimir (2005), maintain that the court has treated misconduct as an integral part of the larger concept of the role of a teacher. In another case litigated at the British Columbia Court of Appeal, a teacher attended a meeting at her son’s school, where she engaged in an argument with another teacher; criticizing their abilities and subsequently made negative comments about this teacher in public.

This teacher was charged with a breach of the Code of Ethics of the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation. Justice Lambert, who wrote for the majority of the Court of Appeal, stated this; “I don’t think people are free to choose which hat they will wear on what occasion. Mrs. Cromer does not always speak as a teacher, nor does she always speak as a parent. But she will always speak as Mrs. Cromer. The perception of her by her audience will depend on their knowledge of her training, her skills, her experience, and her occupation, among other things.

The impact of what she says will depend on the content of what she says and the occasion on which she says it?? ” (Cesare and Manley-Casimir, 2005). This statement sends a pretty clear message that teachers may not always freely disassociate from their occupational role. Cesare and Manley-Casimir (2005), provide that the court has established the teachers have a duty to engender trust and confidence in many key players; their students, their colleagues, their employer, their administrators, and the community at large.

It seems that legally, whenever this duty is not met, misconduct has occurred. Neither of these cases contained evidence of direct harm to students or the school system. This concerns the issue of the evidentiary process that the courts are using in cases involving teacher misconduct. As a result of courts looking at teacher misconduct in the large scale frame of the role of a teacher, and the education system as whole, judicial bodies are facing situations where they look to the perceived or potential harm of a teachers conduct in deciding whether or not misconduct has occurred.

The British Columbia Court of Appeal based its decisions on assumptions that the public was aware that the wrongdoers were teachers. Thus far, it has been made clear through the two discussed cases, that teacher’s personal beliefs and activities outside of the classroom are subject to disciplinary action and possible dismissal. The case that was presented as the narrative for this topic was a recently litigated decision from the Supreme Court of Canada. Ross vs. New Brunswick Supreme Court of Appeal, dealt directly with the issue of teacher misconduct in the context of discriminatory practices.

Ross, who had published his anti-Semitic views outside of the school context, was held responsible for professional misconduct for discrimination against a minority group, and his contract was terminated. This Supreme Court decision is important for several reasons, one of which being that it lends support to the Court of Appeal decisions discussed earlier, in affirming that a teachers conduct while off-duty is still prosecutable if it falls below acceptable standards. These standards would be; interpretations of provincial statutes, public opinions and expectations for the education system and previous standards set in litigation.

The Supreme Court of Canada endorsed the definition of the role of a teacher as espoused by previous decisions. The majority of the Court stated that teachers are inextricably linked to the integrity of the school system. Teachers occupy positions of trust and confidence, and exert considerable influence over their students as a result of their positions (Cesare and Manley-Casimir, 2005). Justice La Forest (1998), reiterates that teachers occupy positions of trust and confidence and exert considerable influence over their students.

He continues to provide that teachers are in a very real sense ? role models’ for their students. As a result, it is not enough for teachers to merely teach values, they also must be expected to uphold them through their activities inside and outside of the school. La Forest states that teachers, like other citizens should be able to enjoy rights of privacy and to a considerable extent their off-duty activities should not be subject to external scrutiny. However, when teachers displace the trust and confidence given to them by the community, through their extra-curricular conduct, they disrupt the educational experience of their students and society then has an interest in intervening.

The Supreme Court of Canada held that Ross created a poisoned environment characterized by a lack of equality and tolerance. They maintained that it was a poisoned educational environment because Jewish children were likely to feel isolated and suffer a loss of self-esteem based on their Judaism. The Court assumed that when a poisoned environment within the school system is traceable to the off-duty conduct of a teacher; it is likely to produce a corresponding lack of confidence in the teacher and in the system as a whole.

Justice Hereux-Dube of the Court stated that in order to ensure a discrimination free educational environment, the school environment must be one where all are treated equally. As a result of their decision the Court exemplified that a finding of discrimination may be supported by an inference on the basis of what is reasonable to anticipate as an effect of the off-duty conduct (Cesare and Manley-Casimir, 2005). La Forest (1998), argues that young children are especially vulnerable to the messages conveyed by their teachers.

They are less likely to make an intellectual distinction between comments a teacher makes in the school and that the teacher makes outside of the school. This view also lends support to the concept of teachers not being able to easily disassociate from their role. All of the examples that I brought forth in this response concerned the conduct of teachers outside of the school setting. It was shown in all though that the teachers were held responsible for their actions, as the Courts still deemed them as misconduct. I found the legal processes of these litigations to be very interesting.

The Courts were dealing with situations that caused them to construct meaning and definition to the role of a teacher. Although many may feel that it is not their place to do so; I felt that the definitions and roles they assigned to those of the teaching profession to be an honor. Their constructions demonstrate that the judicial system hold teachers to a high standard and recognize them to be very important role models in students lives. The phrase; once a teacher, always a teacher; refers to so much more than career choice.

It can also be interpreted to exemplify the behaviors teachers must always be aware of and the perceived sacrifices that some teachers may have to make in order to be deemed appropriate in the eyes of others. References Alberta Teachers’ Association ? Code of Professional Conduct (English). (n. d. ). Retrieved November 22, 2006, from http://www. teachers. ab. ca/Albertas+Education+System/Teaching+in+Alberta/Professional+Conduct/Code+of+Professional+Conduct. htm Alberta Teachers’ Association ? Teachers’ Rights and Responsibilities. (n.d. ).

Retrieved November 22, 2006, from http://www. teachers. ab. ca/Albertas+Education+System/Teaching+in+Alberta/Teachers+Rights+and+Responsibilities/ Cesare O. & Manley-Casimir M. (2005). The judicial construction of the role of the teacher. McGill Journal of Education, 40 no3, 405 ? 422. Spr/Aut 2005. Greene, M. (1973). Excerpt from “Choosing the Right. ” Teacher as Stranger. Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing Company. pp 213-235. Zirkel, P. (1999). Showing r-rated videos in school. NASSP Bulliten, 83 no607, 69-73. May 1995.