Ethical standards & legislation both guide & hinder teachers

I know there is not much sympathy in general society for elementary and secondary school teachers, but they really do get a bum rap from all sides of the educational divide.  First, let me state that having taught in both pre-service and graduate education programs, I can verify that this is a group of individuals who are by their very nature, societal leaders.  

Yet, once in their jobs, teachers find out fairly quickly that their notion of independence is no more than an illusion because they have to do exactly what their government, principal and union demands — and in that order. For example, here and here are comments Doug Little wrote on another thread about union involvement.  

In other words, teachers either learn to do what they are told or they have to quit and find a new career path. Most, because they like children, the salary, the benefits and the pension plan, adapt. And, truth be told, I was no different.  

Yes, there are ethical standards of practice. But, click on the link and you will quickly see how general they are. In fact, they are all motherhood concept words or statements — edu-babble as far as the general public is concerned — because they don’t say anything concrete.

I mean, when push comes to shove, how can a parent judge whether a teacher has a commitment to professional knowledge? And, even if parents did have access to that information, where does that leave their children when they disagree about something?

Let’s say, for example, that a parent complains about an evaluation technique whereby high school teachers have been told they cannot deduct marks for handing in assignments late. Let’s assume, for discussion purposes, that the parent’s child is one of those students who works very hard and does exactly what they are told to do. Yet, they see another student do very little for the same credit. Both the student and the parent feels the policy is wrong because there appears to be a lack of fairness and equity.

Now, who exactly are parents and students going to blame for such a policy? Do they blame the Premier or Education Minister? Not likely. Rather, they tend to blame the teachers because they are the front line workers. Which is likely why, Matt, a regular commenter here, writes in a comment on the same thread as Doug, that it was not fair for me to suggest that it is the teachers who are widening the divide between the no-fail policy and parents — when they don’t like the policy either.

The irony of the situation is that the “no-fail” policy was developed in the first place because of the public complaint that too many high school students were dropping out because school was not meaningful to them. In fact, Ontario’s current Premier, Dalton McGuinty, campaigned in both 2003 and 2007 that, if elected or re-elected, he would decrease the drop out rates and increase the graduate rates. And, guaranteed, come hell or high water, he will make sure he has improved statistics in time for the 2011 provincial election.   

In reality, then, what options do teachers have if they disagree with a policy they must implement when, under the Ontario Education Act (Part X, Sections 264-265), they MUST follow their principal’s direction? It is not just as Catherine suggested in the same thread as Doug and Matt, that teachers don’t speak out because of the politics of fear. It goes far beyond that. It is the law.

Well, it seems that the only option they have is to ask their unions to lobby on their behalf. True, I have been hard on the teachers’ unions over the nearly five years I have been blogging. But, I am finally beginning to see why the teacher-union rep relationship I remember as being somewhat distant, is now so close.

Yet, I can’t help thinking positively about the whole subject. I mean think about it. Each and every day in every province and territory of Canada, there are thousands, if not millions of positive teacher-parent contacts, in person, by e-mail or on the telephone. In other words, whether it is because of College of Teachers ethical standards or legislation, such as Ontario’s Education Act, teachers are usually able to communicate effectively with parents.

However, for those parents who want to go further, to advocate change, they need to consider starting or joining a parent advocacy group that speaks regularly with provincial politicians, not on individual cases, but in general areas that need attention or reform. And, no, I am not talking about parent groups that cow tow or accept money from school boards, the government being lobbied or unions that might have a conflict of interest. In other words, parents need to become political because that is where all education policy happens. I know, because after early retirement, I worked as an EA for an Ontario MPP from 1995 until 1999, a member of provincial parliament who also happened to be the Education Minister’s PA. And, that old adage that the squeaky wheel gets the grease? Well, it is bang on!

So, while provincial ethical standards and Education Acts may be in place to provide public accountability, they may also hinder the parent-teacher communication process.

10 thoughts on “Ethical standards & legislation both guide & hinder teachers

  1. Thank you Sandy for recognizing the challenges that teachers (and all front line workers face on a daily basis). I joke with friends that the worse job to have is working the Drive-Thru window at Tim Hortons’ the day they raise the price of a cup of coffee.

    Teachers are easy targets for the anger that exists and often has little to do with them directly. Like any company or public service, laws and rules exist which dictate how we do our jobs. Many parents may not like the rules and laws, but we have to follow them. The other reality is that children are a precious part of parents. They want what they feel is best for their children, but often what one parent wants conflicts with what other parents want for their children. Parents make demands on teachers every day and teachers try to work with parents, but often what makes one happy angers another.

    Sandy, you’re also right that it’s hard to judge the quality of a teacher. You have many parents who will think their child’s teacher is the best thing since sliced bread. Other parents may feel the exact opposite about the same teacher. Comments from an earlier post shows how parents can get angry if teachers do follow the rules and laws that govern education. If teachers try to change some rules and laws, some people complain that the unions are too strong and teachers too influential. It depends which laws and rules matter to which parents.

    I welcome parent involvement in education. Unfortunately, we are all free thinkers and the successes of some parents in promoting their ideas may make other parents angry. The conflicting ideas can make things challenging, but interesting. They can also explain the high number of teachers who leave the profession within their first few years of teaching.

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  2. Generally,the way teacher’s think is the same as any other endeavour that seeks excellence. Teacher’s can also be placed into a bell curve.

    5% are excellent,
    90% are acceptable, and
    5% are rotten.
    The 90% category is generous.

    The bottom 5% need to be rooted out and fired the way any other failure in business is dealt with. With standard exams we are examining the teachers as well as the students. We need good teacher evaluation and bugger the unions that purport to have students in mind.

    In my experience living with teachers, marrying teachers and having taught somewhat, and mostly hanging out with teachers most would not disagree.

    I’ll add a personal note:
    You also need to fire students who fail their grade. No-one should get beyond grade 8 without a basic competency.

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  3. Taking an extreme example of teachers working to change things is the protest of 1997. I don’t want to get into a discuss about the issues that led to the protest. However, this was an example of teachers trying to change things that they believed were not best for the education system. Again, I don’t want my comments to lead to a revisiting of 1997. Many people supported teachers and their actions, many opposed them. Public response to the protests are still being felt today.

    My point is that there are many policies that teachers do not agree with, but do parents want teachers to be the ones to change the policies they disagree with?

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  4. Matt — Made the correction. Yea, I don’t think mentioning 1997 is a good argument. From my point of view, that was not about wanting change (other than maybe the government), but rather resisting change. In the end, ETFO caved, the principles had to find another union, and the rest was all basically for nothing. In the MPP office I worked in, we tallied the telephone calls and faxes, for and against. It was 50/50 but the teachers wouldn’t believe that. But it was. Split right down the middle. I think the latest lobbying by OSSTF to overturn the “not being able to give zeros” was a far better example of a positive campaign for change because it resulted in changed policy.

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  5. It is very hard to maintain a blog about education and please all sides of the discussion. Impossible actually.

    I think, personally, it all comes down to control. Teachers want it. The government wants it. Board administrators want it. And, of course, the teachers unions want it. Meaning, the disagreements and tug a war will continue indefinitely. And, while that tug a war continues, teachers will learn to adapt as will students and their parents. If that means, more parent advocacy, fine. But, the more parent advocacy for control and input, the more the “system” will buck any interference. Why? Because the system has to deal with the results of professional research, not just opinion, political or otherwise. Thus, reinforcing the need for parents to try advocacy. And, on and on the wheel goes.

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  6. I just put up a post that I hope regulars will pass along to everyone they know. I realize I get a lot of visitors to this site who don’t leave comments. But, this time, I really want feedback. The post is about completing the sentence: If I could wave a magic want over the education system……

    I want to know what teachers would ask for, what parents would wish for and what everyone else thinks is needed. So, let’s brainstorm. And, then, I’ll try to make sense of everything in very general anecdotal terms and write a follow-up.

    Note: This is NOT a scientific survey, far from it. But, I’d like to use the Internet to find out if there are any areas where teachers and parents merge in terms of what they would want.

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  7. Just a quick question Sandy.

    First, I’m amazed how many people supported the teachers during the 1997 protest. Second, of the 50 percent who opposed the protests, how many were opposed to teachers challenging the changes to the education system and how many did not like the protest because they had to find alternative care for their children?

    Don’t know if you have this info.

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  8. Don’t know that Matt but I do know that PC poll numbers went “up” everytime there was a hassle with teachers. It was a vote winner as was the teacher testing issue. I used to hear horns supposedly supporting teachers but that wasn’t what we heard in our office. So, I wouldn’t say the majority of the public was behind that strike, quite the opposite really. But, the media hyped it up differently.

    On a related issue, I used to see the faxes from teachers coming into the MPP’s office and would recognize the names and was amazed that they had been taken in by the exaggerated response by the unions that Harris was about to destroy the public education system and lay off 10,000 teachers. In the end, 10,000 were hired. The union position was pure bull and yet my fellow teachers followed along like lambs to the slaughter. Talk about peer pressure. Yet, my view of my profession changed during that two week period as someone looking on in utter embarrassment that my colleagues would desert the children for an illegal strike for essentially a union hissy fit.

    Sorry, but I lived through it from the other side. I didn’t cross the picket line as I worked from home. But, man I was disgusted with the way teachers didn’t even question what their unions were telling them.

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  9. As I said I didn’t want to turn this discussion into 1997 revisited. My point was that there have been examples of teachers working to change the system. Some changes make parents happy and others upset them. But who decides which changes are meaningful enough for teachers to push for changes? Input from parents is one source, but you also could easily face 30 different opinions from parents on the same issue.

    Teachers also work very hard to follow the latest research on education and teaching. But education is not rocket science and passions and emotions are real influences on education. I could easily show the latest research to justify my teaching, but parents were once students too and their experiences play a large role in their view of education and how it should be taught.

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  10. No problem Matt. My only concern is that the teachers unions have spun the 1997 strike as though the public was in favour of it. That is pure myth. The only people in favour were other private or public sector union members. Recall that even in spite of all that supposed support, Harris easily one a second majority gov’t in June of 1999. And, that was also in spite of a campaign by the teachers’ unions to vote strategically to defeat all PC incumbents. Some MPP’s did lose their seats, but the general public was outraged at the tactics.

    Now, you may understand why I have this blog. I make it my “job” to correct the myths that the unions are trying to create. The Harris PC’s were never, I repeat, never anti-teachers. I would never have worked for them had that been true. I saw first hand the B.S. that the unions were putting out. The Harrisites said that they would consider charter schools and some choice. That was it and you’d swear the sky was falling. It, the conflict, was all union driven, to keep charter schools and choice out of Ontario. There is so much more I could say, but the whole Harris/teachers thing just got out of hand.

    And, the anti-faith-based public funding was simply a continuation of the turf protection. Sad really. A little competition never hurt anybody. Now, we have publicly funded “alternative” schools. Same thing by a different name. Hypocrisy, all of it.

    As that radio announcer says: “Now, you know the rest of the story.”

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