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Like doctors, social workers and many other professionals, teachers have to maintain ethical standards. Many states and some teachers' organizations have adopted codes of ethics for teachers. Professional ethics are usually taught in teacher preparation courses and may be included in district employee handbooks. Codes of ethics often cover teachers' professional obligations towards students, parents, colleagues and themselves.
A code of ethics for educators always addresses issues such as fairness and confidentiality. Teachers may not discriminate against students for any reason, and they must not share information about the student with anyone other than school professionals who need the information to assist the student. Teachers are expected to provide a physically and emotionally safe learning environment for students that includes the full scope of the subject matter being taught.
Some codes of ethics make it clear that any sexual or romantic interaction between a teacher and student is verboten, as is the teacher providing drugs or alcohol to a student, or permitting their use. Some district codes of conduct spell out the consequences for such behavior.
Teachers must always deal with parents in a professional manner. The National Association of Special Education Teachers' code of ethics states that teachers should work to collaborate with parents and build an atmosphere of trust. Teachers must also never allow themselves to treat a student differently based on the student's parent's position in the community. It is generally considered to be unethical for teachers to accept costly gifts from parents. School districts may set formal limits on gifts.
Teachers' codes of ethics often address a teacher's relationship with her colleagues. The Texas Classroom Teachers Association code of ethics states that teachers may not make false statements about colleagues, coerce fellow teachers or retaliate against other teachers. Teachers are expected to treat colleagues fairly and to encourage one another to adhere to high professional standards.
Ethics require that a teacher work to maintain a high personal standard of professionalism. The code of ethics developed by the National Education Association warns teachers not to misrepresent their professional qualifications. Teachers are also expected to comply with local, state and federal laws, as well as district policies. Ethics dictate that teachers not misappropriate school funds or equipment.
Teachers may also consider professional development necessary from an ethical stance, as it can help them to better serve the students in their charge.
Elise Wile has been a writer since 2003. Holding a master's degree in curriculum and Instruction, she has written training materials for three school districts. Her expertise includes mentoring, serving at-risk students and corporate training.