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Ethical Obligations

Our elementary teacher education program is centered on teaching practice, content knowledge for teaching, and a set of ethical obligations.

With regard to the ethical obligations, the program uses nine ethical obligations. These ethical obligations serve as principles to guide interns' decision-making in teaching. Here, we explain each ethical obligation and provide examples of how experiences in the teacher education program support interns in working on these obligations. The examples here are not intended to be all-inclusive; rather, they are intended to illustrate the kinds of work interns do around these ethical obligations.

The elaborations are drawn directly from the TEI working group document (2009).

1. Care and commitment
To care for and demonstrate commitment to every student


Teachers, like other professionals, are obligated to show a special kind of care and commitment to their clients—in this case, to pupils. This kind of caring and commitment differs from the kind of caring and commitment that people outside of the professional arena typically demonstrate to friends and family members. It instead implies a professional commitment to the education and well-being of every pupil. Although it is rooted in the teacher's commitment to the learning of every pupil, this caring extends to interest in and care for several other related aspects of a young person's self, including the learner's social and emotional well-being and to other aspects of his or her personal development. While the primary means through which a teacher demonstrates care and commitment are paying close and deliberate attention to pupil learning, teachers show "care" for students by demonstrating respect for them in every interaction, by challenging them, and by protecting them from humiliation and other forms of harm.

Professional care and commitment differ from feelings of personal "liking" or affection (or their opposites). Teachers are ethically obligated to demonstrate care and commitment to all of their students whether they "like" them or not. Ideally, pupils will believe that their teachers care for them and are committed to their educational and personal development and may not even concern themselves with, or be aware of, whether their teachers "like" them personally.

To care for students means to hold them to high academic and behavioral standards and to avoid letting feelings of personal sympathy or despair get in the way of challenging and encouraging pupils to exploit the opportunities offered by formal schooling. It also means demonstrating interest in the ideas and educational progress of every single child.

Finally, caring for students means recognizing that children, including teenagers, may at times engage in self-destructive behavior. As adults who are responsible for helping young people both learn academic subject matter and gain increasing maturity, teachers should show empathy for students and make an effort to help them even when they have brought trouble on themselves. In some cases, this may mean disciplining students and allowing them to experience failure and discomfort, but it always means communicating a commitment to students' well-being and continued growth and development.

What are examples of how this ethical obligation is addressed in our program?

Interns work on and practice having a "small conversation" with a child in their first Managing to Teach class. This includes recognizing and appreciating the diversity of children's prior experiences both in and outside of school. In this class they also work on noticing a child, and begin to develop skills of distinguishing between observations and inferences. During the first-semester field seminar, interns focus closely on teacher language. Interns plan and practice asking open-ended questions, listening closely to students' talk and responding in ways that help students develop agency and a strong sense of self. In Teaching in a Multicultural Society #1, focused on social foundations and culturally responsive pedagogy, interns interview the parent of a school-going child, to develop understandings about the child's home life, toward the goal of envisioning how they would shape instruction for the child.

In Children as Sense-makers #1 and #2, interns work on actively listening to and demonstrating interest in the ideas of an individual student (in science and mathematics, respectively). In social studies methods and facilitating discussions, interns learn to build trusting and respectful relationships with middle school students by reinforcing norms for discussion. Similarly, in their social studies methods class, interns view and analyze the practice of a teacher who listens attentively to her students' ideas, and then they practice this skill before teaching a visual inquiry lesson to children. And in Teaching Children with Exceptionalities in Inclusive Classrooms, interns work on and develop strategies for appropriate and effective ways to hold students with high-incidence disabilities to the same standards as their peers without disabilities.

In Managing to Teach #3, interns observe teachers' beginning of the day routines, noting how each child is welcomed and how routines such as morning meetings serve to remind each child of how they are valued in the group. In their math methods class, interns work on how to take up students' alternative ideas in whole-class discussion as a way of supporting the learning of both the individual student and the class as a whole. Across this range of experiences, interns begin their work of caring for and demonstrating commitment to all children.

2. Competence
To develop and continually work to improve instructional competence, and to strive to engage in professionally-justified teaching practice at all times


In order to practice competently and thus ethically, teachers need to develop and continually build on professional knowledge and a repertoire of professionally-justified instructional practices. They choose instructional moves with deliberate reference to professional knowledge, including but not limited to research, and to an understanding of what will help students attain stated goals. They pay close attention to student progress and modify instruction accordingly.

What are examples of how this ethical obligation is addressed in our program?

Across multiple courses (e.g., the literacy methods sequence, social studies methods and facilitating discussions, science methods), interns write reflections on their planning and enacting lessons. They analyze the strengths and difficulties of their teaching and the effect on student learning. They set goals for themselves for their own continued professional development. In Teaching with Digital Technologies, interns implement a range of strategies to develop their online professional learning network. Some examples include connecting with other K-12 educators via social networking and blogging resources and developing their own professional podcasts. In addition, interns in their student teaching semester are encouraged to participate in the 4T Virtual Conference with other practicing teachers and administrators. In Teaching Children with Exceptionalities in Inclusive Classrooms, interns learn about the importance of collaborating with special educators and they practice concrete ways to do this. Through experiences like these, interns develop strategies for continually improving their own instructional competence.

3. Equitable access
To ensure equitable access to learning in one's own classroom


By "equitable access to learning", we mean opportunities for all students to learn, with particular attention to those who are struggling in school and/or are members of groups that schools have not traditionally served well. To ensure equitable access to learning, teachers deliberately set high standards for all students. They then select and skillfully use professionally-justified instructional practices (see obligation #2 for further discussion/elaboration).

Teachers who ensure equitable access to learning expect and enable high-level academic work by setting and elaborating ambitious goals for students, investing students and other stakeholders in those goals, and deliberately scaffolding and sensitively supporting students' learning. They help students learn how to succeed in school and explicitly teach them different ways of learning and being such that they can achieve success not only in school but in other environments that may be unfamiliar.

In order to ensure equitable access to learning, teachers must demonstrate awareness of how students' personal and cultural backgrounds interact with instructional choices and modify practice accordingly. They must attend to and design for diversity in students' experiences in ways that enable student success. This includes using examples, representations, and contexts sensitively and choosing topics for discussion with care. It also includes engaging students' participation in classroom conversation and activities equitably and managing external constraints on children's learning.

Moreover, teachers should attend to the climate and culture of their classroom and establish and maintain norms of respect in the relationships and discourse of the class—the teacher with the students and the students with one another.

What are examples of how this ethical obligation is addressed in our program?

Interns work on strategies to ensure equitable access to learning in one's own classroom across the program. For example, in Teaching in a Multicultural Society #1, focused on social foundations and culturally responsive pedagogy, interns reflect on a case of "Joshua" and consider why he would be viewed as a trouble-maker in one setting (i.e., school) and a successful learner in another (i.e., Sunday School). In the Managing to Teach sequence, interns work on giving clear directions, with an emphasis on learning to question their assumptions about what students will know or not know. In this sequence they also work on learning the language that teachers use to effectively remind students of the behaviors needed to be fully involved in learning, including the language of redirection and reinforcement, as well as different strategies for calling on children and how one makes choices about different techniques. Similarly, in Teaching with Digital Technologies, interns work on using technologies to allow students to participate anonymously while still receiving constructive feedback.

Throughout the program, interns learn to ensure equitable access to different subject matters. In Teaching with Curriculum Materials, interns learn to plan lessons using published curriculum materials in science, math, and social studies. Interns develop a professional disposition toward curriculum materials and professional skills with regard to selecting, evaluating, and modifying materials in ways that ensure that every student achieves standards-based learning goals.

In their methods classes, interns continue this work on equitable access. In both literacy methods classes, interns learn strategies for individualizing reading and writing instruction based upon observations and assessments. In social studies methods, interns learn how one reads historical sources; they develop and rehearse a historical literacy lesson. This work entails adapting primary sources so they are appropriate for students' reading level and to provide scaffolding to support students' reading and analysis. In science methods and mathematics methods, interns learn and practice strategies for being explicit about what might be invisible about the content or about connections between representations of the content, being explicit about the use of academic language, modeling the use of academic language of the discipline, and engaging in the practices of the discipline (e.g., mathematical and scientific arguments). Through experiences like these, interns develop concrete strategies to help them ensure all learners have equitable access to learning in their classrooms.

4. Difference and diversity
To learn about and demonstrate awareness of and appreciation for cultural differences and social diversity, particularly as they are present in one's classroom, and to draw on diversity as a resource in instruction


As part of a commitment to the learning of all children, teachers must pay attention to and show appreciation for diversity among their pupils. By "diversity", we mean differences related to race, gender, sexuality, religion, and disability status, among other aspects of human diversity. Teachers are ethically obligated to serve the learning needs of all children, and to do this they must recognize, understand, and demonstrate an appreciation for the perspectives, cultural backgrounds, values and beliefs, world views, and different kinds of motivation that students bring to school. If teachers cannot recognize and demonstrate a basic understanding of the affordances and importance of these kinds of difference, they may not be able to meet the needs of all of their pupils, and they may cause pupils significant harm.

Where possible, teachers use the different kinds of personal and cultural knowledge and experience that their students bring to the classroom as an instructional resource. In order to do this, teachers must continually learn about cultural differences and social diversity—in theory, as they are manifest in the United States and around the globe, and particularly as they are present in their own classrooms. Teachers should understand enough about their students' cultural, social, and personal backgrounds to recognize when local or world events are likely to be particularly significant to individual students, to protect students from taunting, bullying or other kinds of harm related to difference, and to draw on students' knowledge and experience as a resource in explicating concepts and ideas for other pupils. They should also be cognizant of when particular topics, texts, or assignments are likely to make students uncomfortable for reasons of personal or cultural background. To do this, teachers need to seek relevant information and cross-cultural experience whenever they can. They face a particular imperative to learn about the community in which they are teaching, and to explore the cultural and social resources of that community for instruction.

It is important to note that the understanding and appreciation to which we refer are professional and not necessarily personal. They enable teachers to design and execute instruction that has a high probability of meeting the needs of individual students, but do not necessarily connote a personal embrace of particular practices, religious or moral beliefs, or worldviews. There may be cases in which teachers do not share or are even opposed to the moral codes, religious convictions, beliefs, or worldviews of their students, such as when a teacher who believes that homosexuality is wrong encounters a gay pupil. In such cases, it remains the teacher's responsibility to welcome and protect the student and his or her right to open expression and access to learning, and to refer him or her to appropriate resources or personnel when necessary. In short, there is a difference between a teacher's own closely-held personal beliefs and the manifestation of professional acceptance of diversity in the classroom.

Teachers also need to become self-aware of their own culture, habits, and ways of being, and the ways in which those factors may affect how others perceive or respond to them, and to learn to adjust those sensitively in tune with the context in which they work. This includes understanding privilege (including not just economic privilege, but racial privilege, gender privilege, etc.), oppression, social identity, and social construction. Being a "good person" is not enough to ensure ethical teaching practice. Teachers incur a special obligation to understand and act on instances in which their own or others' ignorance or prejudice can interfere with the learning of all pupils, and to do this means to build a set of professional knowledge and skills that extends beyond those naturally developed by "good" people.

Several tensions attend the ethical obligation to understand, appreciate, and use diversity. One has to do with recognizing and using diversity in one's own classroom versus attending to diversity that is not present in one's classroom Teachers need to bring in perspectives and ideas that are not represented in their own classrooms, balancing attention to unfamiliar kinds of diversity with attention to the ideas and voices that are already present. Another dilemma concerns the manifestation of ideas and viewpoints that are widely condemned in the United States. Teachers must strive to protect students and their freedom of speech while still maintaining a safe, respectful learning environment. Similarly, teachers are obligated to develop their ability to foster open dialogue about uncomfortable issues in their classroom, in part as a means of protecting and furthering the learning of all of their students.

What are examples of how this ethical obligation is addressed in our program?

In the interns' first literacy class, they engage in interactive read-alouds that are designed to engage children in considering a critical concept from a text. The texts are chosen to be multicultural texts in which authors deliberately share a counter-narrative. For example, one text provides a fictional account of the Columbus narrative told from the perspective of a Taino Indian boy. An experience like this helps interns begin to appreciate difference and diversity and to develop strategies for helping students to develop a broader worldview. In mathematics methods, interns learn that algorithms that have been traditionally taught and used in the US are not always the algorithms used outside of the US. Interns explore algorithms that are standard and non-standard in the US, learn about a few algorithms that are non-standard in the US but standard elsewhere, and begin to develop a disposition to explore whether alternative algorithms consistently work and why.

5. Capacity for learning
To demonstrate through concrete actions an awareness of the capacity of every individual to learn


Research indicates clearly that all students can learn. Teachers are ethically obligated to demonstrate through their actions an awareness of this evidence. This includes maintaining the highest of expectations for what all students can learn, and communicating those expectations to students relentlessly. It also means deliberately helping pupils internalize a belief in their own capacity to learn and to improve.

What are examples of how this ethical obligation is addressed in our program?

In Teaching with Curriculum Materials, interns explore ways in which they can design a lesson to use multiple approaches for reaching the same learning goals. In Teaching with Digital Technologies, interns use a universal design for learning (UDL) approach to integrating technology. Interns identify the learning strengths and weaknesses of individual K-12 students and then identify appropriate assistive technologies so that all students can enhance their learning experience through scaffolds provided from digital technology tools. In Managing to Teach #3, interns learn about the physical structure of the classroom and analyze how elements as basic as arrangement of desks or structures for turning in homework can impact whether all children have access to learning and can demonstrate their capacity for learning. In science methods, interns are expected to employ a range of forms of scaffolding to make science learning more accessible to all learners (e.g., sentence starters, visual representations, etc.). In math methods, interns work on picking and using mathematical tasks that will allow for a wide range of participation by students (i.e., tasks with multiple entry points into the mathematics). In the field during third semester, interns differentiate a lesson for different students. Through experiences like these, interns begin to recognize every individual's capacity to learn, and demonstrate strategies to support all learners, including through differentiation.

6. Personal responsibility
To take responsibility for obstacles to student success and to work assiduously to ensure equitable access to learning opportunities


Virtually all students encounter difficulty in school at some point in their careers. Some struggle often and across many subject-areas, some struggle only occasionally or in certain area—but virtually all do struggle. Many factors bear on student learning and can become obstacles to students' academic success. Personal, familial, and societal realities can cause students to experience difficulty in school, as can school-related factors, including the teacher's instruction. In pursuit of the goal of academic learning for all pupils, teachers are ethically obligated to search out the reasons why specific individuals or groups of students are encountering academic difficulty, whether it is with a particular lesson or concept or across a larger unit of instruction, and to work to remediate the problem.

Similarly, teachers are ethically obligated to ensure that all of their students are challenged to reach high standards of academic learning. This is the case even when external factors can make doing so difficult. Placing all of the blame on pupils and their families is almost always unacceptable.

One tension that attends this obligation is that the assumption of personal responsibility can sometimes overwhelm teachers and even cause them to "burn out." Meeting pupils' needs may require teachers to work long hours at challenging tasks, to seek out professional development opportunities for themselves, to know what resources are available in the school or community for students (e.g., social workers, counseling services, health care), and to refer students to other services appropriately. This is time-consuming and demanding work, and teachers need to take responsibility for themselves as well as their students. This may mean making deliberate decisions about when to cease one's efforts and to take a break.

What are examples of how this ethical obligation is addressed in our program?

In the interns' first literacy class, interns learn to engage in "miscue analysis" where they attend to the semantic, syntactic, or visual errors children make as they are reading. Based on the errors the intern identifies, s/he must design instruction accordingly. This emphasizes to interns that they have a responsibility to design instruction that fits the child's needs. In Teaching with Digital Technologies, interns explore virtual options to connect with students for extra help (e.g., screencasting, virtual classrooms, social networks). Throughout the interns' second year in the program, punctuated by their experience in Teaching in a Multicultural Society #2 focused on working with families, interns work on parent communication in the context of their year-long student teaching field placement. Without strong lines of communication with families, students may face significant obstacles to their learning; thus, focusing on ways of building those lines of communication is key. Using multiple modes of communication (e.g., written, phone, in person) with a range of purposes, interns open meaningful lines of communication with parents and caregivers. Through experiences like these, interns begin to learn how to take personal responsibility for obstacles to student success.

7. Power and authority
To understand and exercise carefully the power and authority of the teaching role


It is important that teachers, like other professionals, demonstrate an awareness of the affordances and limits of their power and authority. In many communities, teachers enjoy special respect that comes with the title of "teacher." They have the ability to assign grades that may have a lasting impact on their students' lives and to influence children's and parents' perceptions of themselves, of each other, and of the world in which they live. It is crucial that teachers use their influence and authority always in others' best interests.

What are examples of how this ethical obligation is addressed in our program?

In the field seminars, interns focus on teaching language and its influence on students' sense of agency. Interns analyze videos of teacher language and use inclusive language in their questions and interactions with students. Across the Managing to Teach sequence, interns work on their teaching persona. They explore ways of using their voice and body in ways that attend to issues of power and authority, considering the ways in which authority and authoritarian are different. Across multiple classes (e.g., the literacy sequence, science methods), interns practice engaging in parent-teacher conferences as a way of considering issues of power and authority.

8. Respect
To treat students, colleagues, parents and care-givers, and community members with respect and generosity in all communications with and about them


Teachers must show respect to everyone with whom they work if they are to carry out their core responsibility of helping students learn. At a minimum, this means treating students, colleagues, parents and care-givers, and community members with generosity, civility, and with high expectations for what they can contribute to any given discussion or problem. It also means keeping in mind the limits of one's own experience and actively demonstrating an appreciation for others' knowledge, strengths, personalities, viewpoints, and needs. It means using one's voice, manner, and person in culturally sensitive ways.

Part of a teacher's job is to help students cultivate and channel their strengths productively. Respecting students means looking proactively for their best qualities and skills, helping them understand how they can build on and use those qualities and skills to accomplish their chosen goals, and assisting them in shoring up personal weaknesses.

Similarly, teachers should recognize that students, parents, and other members of the community may have goals for how they wish to use their education that differ from the educational goals that teachers might hold for themselves or for their own children. They should show appreciation for others' hopes, particularly those of students, and help students both reach for their own goals and attain skills and knowledge that will allow them to have choices about what they want to do when they finish school.

Finally, respecting students may sometimes mean maintaining appropriate personal distance from them. While teachers may at times need to acknowledge and discuss issues that are taking place in students' personal lives with them—or to bring up and devote instructional time to major world events that are outside the scope of the main curriculum—they should not involve themselves significantly in students' personal lives when to do so would be meddlesome or distracting.

What are examples of how this ethical obligation is addressed in our program?

In the first literacy methods class, interns learn strategies for communicating with mentor teachers in a respectful manner. In Teaching in a Multicultural Society #2, interns interact with a caregiver panel, heightening their awareness of the differences among families and the respect (or lack thereof) given to the families and the assumptions made about families. In Children as Sense-makers #2, with scaffolding, interns write a student-progress memo at the end of a cycle of work with a student. The memo is given to the teacher of the student. Throughout Managing to Teach #3, interns discuss schools and classrooms as cultures and how children, who come from a range of linguistic, cultural, economic, and social backgrounds may have a range of expectations of the adults in the school. They learn how to have a short, significant conversation with parents from varying backgrounds. In math methods and science methods, interns work on respectful interactions with colleagues—namely, their peers. In both classes, interns rehearse elements of lessons with their peers, and are supported (through checklists, rubrics, etc.) in learning to provide respectful, constructive, and focused feedback to their colleagues. Through experiences like these, interns develop appreciation of the range of family structures with which they will work and practice strategies for engaging in respectful interactions with all individuals with whom they interact including students, colleagues, parents, and care-givers.

9. Subject-matter integrity
To represent the ideas of the academic disciplines and subject-matter that one teaches with integrity


The fundamental work of teaching is to build bridges between students and the subject under study. To accomplish this work, teachers need to represent the ideas of the academic disciplines and the subject matter that they teach in intellectually honest ways. Care with the subject matter is central to students' futures, for if teachers are casual about the impressions that students draw about the nature of the subject (e.g., to think that mathematics is not subject to reason and is merely a series of mindless rules and formulas, or to think that history is a series of dates or stories about White men), they will have contributed to the lessening of students' engagement and empowerment in the subject. Or, if they are inattentive to important aspects of the ideas that they teach, students may develop misconceptions or have distorted understanding of key concepts. Treating the subject matter (its ideas and practices) with integrity is vital for ensuring equitable access to the disciplines, for teachers are ambassadors of these fields as they represent them to students. Taking this responsibility seriously is at the heart of teachers' obligation to build bridges between students and the worlds of the disciplines to which education affords them entry. Integrity in teaching: Recognizing the fusion of the moral and the intellectual. American Educational Research Journal, 33, 155-192.)

What are examples of how this ethical obligation is addressed in our program?

Interns work on teaching the academic disciplines that they teach with integrity in each of their subject matter methods courses as well as in other courses. Throughout their subject-specific coursework, interns engage in work that highlights the centrality of accuracy and rigor of academic content. For example, in Teaching with Curriculum Materials, students begin to learn how to formulate high-quality, standards-aligned learning goals in social studies, mathematics, and science. The interns then use these goals to evaluate and strengthen the quality of the instructional experiences offered in curriculum-based lessons.

In Children as Sense-makers #2, the mathematical focus is fractions, and interns learn about the ways in which typical representations of fractions do not allow for engagement in one of the core mathematical ideas (the necessity of equal parts). Interns explore ways of providing opportunities for students to see and work with unequally partitioned shapes and number lines early in their work on fractions. In their science methods class, interns are expected to provide students with opportunities to learn that reflect the authentic scientific practices highlighted in the Next Generation Science Standards. For example, they are expected to support students in constructing scientific explanations by supporting claims with appropriate and sufficient evidence. Similarly, in their social studies methods class, interns focus on ways of thinking and related literacy skills in social studies. Interns are expected to provide students with opportunities to learn to do the work of history and social studies, for example through analyzing evidence and substantiating claims with reliable evidence. And, in their math methods class, interns work on two of the mathematical practices named in the Common Core: (1) interpreting and making sense of problems and (2) making mathematical arguments and critiquing the reasoning of others. Interns engage in the practices themselves and also support students' engagement in the practices in the course of leading mathematical discussions. Through experiences like these, interns learn that representing the academic disciplines with integrity is crucial (even in the lower grades) and they develop subject-specific strategies for doing so.