When Teachers Behave Badly

Reading Time: 5 minutes

What should reasonably be expected of a teacher?

When teachers behave badly it makes local or national news, and bringing the profession into disrepute is not something you want on your CV. There is a self-assessment at the end of this post…

A recent survey revealed that teachers are highly thought of by the public at large. This is wonderful news. According to the Ipsos MORI Veracity Index 2018, teachers are the third most trusted profession in the UK with nurses taking top spot followed by doctors. Yet, there are teachers who threaten to plunge us to the level of advertising executives and politicians because they fail to “uphold public trust in the profession and maintain high standards of ethics and behaviour.

Standard-Bearers

If a teacher uses their mobile phone to check messages, make a call or do some online shopping during a lesson is that unethical?

What about a teacher who is abusive to another teacher on Twitter because they disagree with a viewpoint or comment?

In England, the Teachers’ Standards Guidance for school leaders, school staff and governing bodies “define the minimum level of practice expected of trainees and teachers from the point of being awarded QTS.” Compare these to the standards expected elsewhere such as the Code Of Professionalism And Conduct (COPAC) in Scotland.

These professional standards are there for a reason as core professional standards. They “continue to define the level of practice at which all qualified teachers are expected to perform”. Yet judging by Twitter, there are plenty of teachers who fail to live up to these standards.

It’s down to the professional judgement of headteachers and appraisers to “assess teachers’ performance against the standards to a level that is consistent with what should reasonably be expected of a teacher”.

When teachers fall short of these standards in school, the evidence is normally visible and easy to spot. It’s also easy to spot on social media, yet some teachers seem to forget that. Reputations can literally evaporate in seconds. It seems that depending on what you teach, you could quite literally get away with misconduct.

Bog Standard

There are many examples of where intemperate teachers have literally pressed self-destruct and exploded online. They get themselves caught up in a feisty exchange which rapidly descends into a snake pit of unprofessionalism. Rather than withdraw, they go at it and the exchanges get worse.

These comments are more than just the “disgruntled of Tunbridge Wells” sort you’d see in The Daily Telegraph. No, these are vile and venomous attacks vomited by bullies and Twitter attack dogs.

These have caused some colleagues great harm and led to some retreating from social media entirely. Despite this, many colleagues continue in their jobs and continue to act with little or no integrity in their social media worlds. They may need reminding that “A teacher is expected to demonstrate consistently high standards of personal and professional conduct” rather than think it doesn’t count on social media.

Toilet Twitter is the equivalent of road rage.

Come up to Standards

The current code of conduct for teachers or Teachers’ Standards has been in effect since September 2012. So, let’s remind ourselves what the Standards are in relation to Part Two: Personal and professional conduct. The following statements define the behaviour and attitudes which set the required standard for conduct throughout a teacher’s career.

*Teachers must uphold public trust in the profession and maintain high standards of ethics and behaviour, within and outside the school, by:

  • treating pupils with dignity, building relationships rooted in mutual respect, and at all times observing proper boundaries appropriate to a teacher’s professional position
  • having regard for the need to safeguard pupils’ well-being, in accordance with statutory provisions
  • showing tolerance of and respect for the rights of others
  • not undermining fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect, and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs
  • ensuring that personal beliefs are not expressed in ways which exploit pupils’ vulnerability or might lead them to break the law.

*Teachers must have proper and professional regard for the ethos, policies and practices of the school in which they teach, and maintain high standards in their own attendance and punctuality.
*Teachers must have an understanding of, and always act within, the statutory frameworks which set out their professional duties and responsibilities.

If you have concerns about a teacher’s behaviour and their lack of professional standards then you should be free to speak up as encouraged in the NHS. It is important that we whistle blow to make sure that those who need to know and see it, do so.

Gold Standards

There are plenty of ethical and unethical behaviours that we can discuss as a staff and remind ourselves where lines need to be drawn. Barrett et al (2012) administered a 41 item survey to almost 600 educators and teachers in training. It’s worth looking at these in more detail. For each of the 41 statements, respondents gave 2 separate ratings:

  • a) the degree to which they agree or disagree that the behaviour occurs frequently
  • b) the degree to which they agree or disagree that the behaviour represents a serious violation of professional standards
  • They used a five-point Likert scale format: 1= Strongly Disagree, 2= Agree, 3 = Neutral, 4 = Agree,  5 = Strongly Agree.

How would you answer?

If a teacher:

  1. raises a child’s grade due to parental pressure.
  2. spends considerable class time engaged in activities irrelevant to the subject area.
  3. knowingly allows a student to violate a school rule in his or her classroom.
  4. fails to keep an accurate record of his or her student’s academic performance.
  5. makes a statement about subject matter without being certain that is correct.
  6. teaches a course without attempting to follow curriculum guidelines.
  7. gives rewards or punishments to students based on students’ popularity.
  8. engages in a romantic relationship with a student.
  9. uses the classroom to promote his or her religious views.
  10. raises a student’s grade due to pressure from the student.
  11. returns student papers without identifying or correcting errors.
  12. gossips to other teachers about a student.
  13. begins a class without having prepared a lesson.
  14. gives a child a higher grade than the child deserves because the teacher likes the child.
  15. talks about highly personal subjects with a student.
  16. uses profanity in the classroom.
  17. uses technology in the classroom that has not been approved by the school’s technology administrators.
  18. makes a derogatory statement.
  19. gives rewards or punishments to students based on students’ ethnic or cultural characteristics.
  20. fails to follow special education guidelines.
  21. makes a derogatory comment about a colleague to another teacher.
  22. makes a sexually provocative statement to a student.
  23. fails to report a colleague’s unethical behaviour.
  24. dresses inappropriately at work.
  25. behaves in an unprofessional way while outside of work.
  26. uses a lesson or materials developed by another teacher without giving credit to the teacher who developed the material.
  27. raises a child’s grade due to pressure from an administrator.
  28. refuses to fail students, even when they perform poorly.
  29. shares confidential information about a student with another student.
  30. allows students to engage in romantic behaviour in the classroom.
  31. makes a derogatory comment about a colleague to a student.
  32. copies material from publisher’s text and distributes it to a class as though it is the teachers original material.
  33. communicates with students about professional matters through Facebook, Twitter or similar social media site.
  34. hires students to do chores.
  35. gives students high grades in return for favours.
  36. encourages students to address him or her by their first name.
  37. uses physical force to discipline a student.
  38. changes a student’s grade or test score without justification.
  39. fails to report a child’s threat of violence to self and others.
  40. posts personal opinions about students on a public or semi-private site such as Facebook.
  41. downloads and implements a lesson found on the World Wide Web instead of creating an original lesson.

There are certainly some meaty statements here to chew over. It is worth thinking about how these fit into and relate to the standards we are expected to adhere to. Why not rate these statements yourself and reflect on what you and your colleagues think. It could be interesting!

Teachers’ relationships with pupils, colleagues, parents, school management and the public are based on trust, integrity, care and respect. Teacher misconduct and unprofessionalism threatens to undermine the prestige of the profession. Don’t let it pass, on social media too, report it!

John Dabell

I trained as a primary school teacher 20+ years ago, starting my career in London and then I taught in a range of schools in the Midlands. In between teaching jobs, I worked as a national in-service provider, project manager, writer and editor. I am the teacher without a tongue. www.johndabell.com

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