Codes of conduct and ethical dilemmas in teacher education

Year: 2009

Author: Tobias, Stephen, Boon, Helen

Type of paper: Refereed paper

This paper reports on a research study into ethics and moral reasoning in schools and undergraduate teacher education. Since the 1970s the utility and efficacy of ethics curricula in undergraduate courses have received heightened global attention. During this time, an ethics boom has occurred designed to counter the disappearance of ethics education and the marginalization of moral education from higher education. This boom, witnessed in most professional programs, is also notable for its absence from teacher education programs in Australia. There is a considerable gap in ethics literature for teachers. This is extraordinary considering the plethora of educational dilemmas and subsequent decision making and reasoning that is currently required for moral and ethical teaching. It seems that undergraduate teacher preparation, in this complex field, presently satisfies teaching authorities requirements by implementing professional standards as derived from global codes of conduct. However, many preservice teachers report of having observed what they believe are unethical experiences in schools and are unsure of how to deal with these situations. Proactive foundational ethics experiences that develop moral reasoning and decision making skills is suggested as a fundamental means of enabling future teachers to cope with what seems to be a deepening area of concern in schools.

This investigation is centred on a regional Australian university's teacher education course and seeks to understand how undergraduate teachers' developed moral and ethical reasoning skills prior to entering the classroom as qualified teachers. The study found that preservice and classroom teachers were observing or experiencing unethical behaviour in schools. Many felt underprepared to cope with ethical dilemmas or school-based situations that they personally felt were wrong. It is suggested in this study that all preservice teachers require an explicit understanding of contemporary issues such as bullying, cheating, violence and harassment and how to proactively deal with these situations before they begin teaching. It is also argued that ethics education should be taught as an explicit and intensive subject, perhaps as a foundation unit, rather than by embedding codes of conduct or professional standards into individual subjects, as is currently the case. The ultimate goal is to facilitate dialogue and to prepare undergraduates to meet their professional obligations with a clearer understanding of the ethical contingencies. The study employed a confluence of qualitative and quantitative instruments. A curriculum audit, focus group interviews with preservice teachers and semi-structured interviews with classroom teachers indicated that teacher education and professional development is lacking and that open and unambiguous instruction is required in ethics education.