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Rachel is a highly dedicated teacher who is keen on ensuring that her students achieve success in their academic and social lives. Most of her students are LBOTE (language background other than English) hence there are terminologies that may be problematic to them. She has done everything within her powers to prepare these students and she is sure if the right vocabularies are used in the exams, they can excel and proceed to higher levels of education. However, she notices that the exam has been set using very complex terminologies that will negatively affect her LBOTE students. She raises the issue with the staff, as a concerned and responsible teacher, but her concerns are ignored. Determined to make her students pass, she contemplates spending some time with her students before the exams to explain these some of these terms.
However, she is legally obligated not to leak exams to her students in any way because that would defeat the very purpose of the exams (Millan 2014). The principal has reminded all the teachers of this obligation. She faces a serious ethical dilemma on how to ensure that the interests of her students are taken into consideration by having an exam that is fair both to the English as First Language (EFL) and English as Second Language (ESL) students (Epstein 2001). In her mind, there is a feeling that what the principle does not know does not hurt, and as such she is tempted to help them out without letting the authorities know about it.
In this scenario, there are a number of ethical and professional issues that brings about dilemma to the teacher. Teacher Rachel is fully aware that she has done everything within her capacity to make her students pass the exams. She knows that her students have also done their best to understand the concepts taught in class and the syllabus is fully covered. At the back of her mind, she knows that parents of these students have also done their best to ensure that their children go to school so that they can have a better future in life. However, she notices that the exams have been deliberately set using terminologies that do not favor ESL students.
Her concerns are dismissed when she raises them in the right forum. She believes that the staff does not care about these students and that if nothing is done, then these students who have worked very hard will fail their exams. Her main dilemma is on how to address the injustice against her students. She is professionally and ethically expected not to share exam content with her students (Freakley & Burgh 2000). She is also professionally expected to respect the instructions from her principle (Epstein 2001). However, the principle and the entire staff are unjust to her student. Her attempt to address this injustice at the right forum has been frustrated and now she is in a dilemma because the only remaining option is professionally and ethically wrong.
Male and Palaiologou (2012, p. 110) define consequentialism as a “doctrine that the morality of an action is to be judged solely by its consequences.” Under this philosophy, before one takes any action, the most important question that should come to mind is the consequence of the action. If an action has significantly negative consequences, then the action may not be moral hence should be avoided. In case the action may have both negative and positive consequences, then it is the responsibility of the actor to weigh both the positive and negative consequences of the actions. If the positives outweigh the negatives, then it may be considered a moral decision. If the negatives outweigh the positives, then the action should be avoided.
This approach has its strengths that make it popular. It allows the actor to view the consequences before taking an action (Millan 2014). As such, when the action is taken, it is expected that there will be no significant negative consequences. The main disadvantage is that sometimes doing the right thing may have more negative consequences hence one ends up doing the wrong thing. In addressing the dilemma of Teacher Rachel, this approach would recommend that she avoids any attempt to explain difficult terms to students. The consequence may be that her students will fail and parents will be disappointed. However, she will have opportunity to continue being a teacher and to do something differently in her future classes.
Virtue ethics, according to McKenna, Cacciattolo, and Vicars (2013, p.78), “looks at the virtue or moral character of the person carrying out an action, rather than at ethical duties and rules, or the consequences of particular actions.” Emphasis is put on the actor other than the action. One looks at why a person would want to act in a given way and the moral obligations that drive such actions. The strength of this approach is that one would stick with what is right even if there may be consequences afterwards. One will stick to that which is right even if the majority opposes it. The main weakness is that the method may sometimes justify an action that may be harmful to people (Heikka & Waniganayake 2011).
It also solely relies on a person’s rational judgment. Under this approach, Teacher Rachel would be advised to explain to her students these complex terms without informing them that they are part of the exams. Given that she is strongly convicted that her students have the content and that examiners have come up with dubious ways of making them fail, she should spend some time with her students explaining these complex terms. To do this in a proper way, she should include other new terms not set in the exams to broaden their understanding of the language and to eliminate the feeling that she is only focused on making these students pass her exams.
Acting ethically in any situation closely connects to being a professional. Every person trusted with any responsibility is expected to act ethically. Acting ethically does not mean doing what the majority would like to see. Sometimes what many people prefer may be unjust and harmful to the minority. Giving in to such unfair practices for the purpose of pleasing the majority may not be considered acting professionally. Teachers, doctors, police officers, and many other professionals are entrusted with important duties in our society.
Success of the society largely depends on how ethical these people act when they are on their official duties. The decisions they make defines how well they perform in their professional duties. According to Lingard and Lingard (2003), professionalism and ethics are closely intertwined concepts. Anyone who is not ethical in his or her official duties cannot claim to be embracing professionalism at work. Epstein (2001) says that it is almost impossible to separate professionalism from ethics because ethical behavior is what defines professionalism.
Ethical actions should not try to focus on what should other people will say or act. It should be based on what is right and beneficial for the society. Sometimes these professionals may face dilemma such as the one that Teacher Rachel faced. The desire to please majority and to avoid negative consequences may override the desire to do that which is good. It is important for a teacher to make an effort to stick to doing that which is right. Being professional means understanding what the profession ethically requires of a person. As a teacher, it is ethically expected that one would complete the syllabus in time and do everything to ensure that learners acquire knowledge as designed in the syllabus.
It is also ethically expected of a teacher to ensure that learners do not have access to the exams because they have to be fairly tested to know if they can proceed to higher levels of education. However, it is wrong to manipulate the exams by coming up with complex terms purposefully to make some students fail. As Hargraves (2000), professionals are expected to be fair at all times. Whenever one is faced with an ethical dilemma, the main question that should come to mind is whether a given scenario bringing dilemma is just. When one is convinced that there is injustice and that the injustice is created deliberately to harm others, then the best decision would be to act justly and try to correct the wrong created by the phenomenon.
List of References
Epstein, J 2001, School, family, and community partnerships: Preparing educators and improving schools, Springer, New York.
Freakley, M & Burgh, B 2000, Engaging with ethics: Ethical inquiry for teachers, Social Science Press, Melbourne.
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Hargraves, A 2000, Professionals and parents: a social movement for educational change, Core reading, Routledge Falmer, London.
Heikka, J & Waniganayake, M 2011, Pedagogical leadership from a distributed perspective within the context of early childhood education, International Journal of Leadership in Education, vol. 14, no. 4, pp. 499-512.
Lingard, B & Lingard, H 2003, Leading learning: making hope practical in schools: Leadership as pedagogy, Open University Press, London.
Male, T & Palaiologou, I 2012, Learning-centered leadership or pedagogical leadership? An alternative approach to leadership in education contexts, International Journal of Leadership in Education, vol. 15, no. 1, pp. 107-118.
McKenna, T, Cacciattolo, M & Vicars, M 2013, Engaging the disengaged: Inclusive approaches to teaching the least advantage, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne.
Millan, V 2014, Teachers, students and the law: A quick reference guide for Australian teachers, Victoria ACER Press, Camberwell.