If You See Something, Say Something: Teachers, Their Students, & Ethical Conversations

As educators, our jobs entail so much more than teaching the content area in which we are certified. We spend hours each day with our students and, as such, have constant opportunities to talk to them about the development of their moral character, a class that is not taught in most public schools but one that is very important for the betterment of our society. I read an article yesterday that really concerned me about a teacher that held up the moral obligation of her position.

The NY Post reports that Karen Eubanks, a veteran dance teacher at Manhattan’s High School for Environmental Studies, ‘was filling in at the school when she watched the performance, which, as she saw it, exposed the bottoms and/or genitals of some of the 30 dancers. She spoke to the young women afterward, and also to their coach.

And that left her subject to an expensive investigation and an eight-day trial on misconduct charges.’

“It’s shocking that I was accused of wrongdoing after advocating for the dignity of our students,” she told The Post.

I’m disappointed, but not shocked. Too often, even with the best of intentions, teachers’ hands are tied when it comes to having non-academic conversations with their students.

Teachers are held to a very strict moral and ethical code, as per the New York State Department of Education. Even the slightest error in judgement can bring a teacher up on charges under the overarching umbrella of “conduct unbecoming”. Yet, as the case against Karen Eubanks underscores, we are not free to speak to our students — and, yes, all of them are our students whether they are on our teacher roster or not — about issues surrounding dignity and how to carry themselves in ways that highlights their best attributes.

This case hits close to home for many teachers who have been brought up on charges for simply doing the right thing. There seems to be a misconstrued notion that teachers are robots who must fit into a carefully-crafted box that involves teaching students to the point where they can, at the very least, pass a test (don’t get me started on that) and addressing our students’ social-emotional needs and deficiencies:, but not too much: definitely not to the point of speaking to them lovingly about something that could offend them.

This is an unrealistic expectation. Our students are coming to us from homes that are oftentimes dysfunctional. If the saying is true that “children learn what they live,”  how can we ask teachers to not address their students when they see the residue of that dysfunction manifested in the school setting? If parents are openly having difficulty raising their children, and teachers have no support when they venture to help children guste their moral compass, who exactly will these children grow up to be? What future are we leaving to them or ourselves?

Even the MTA admonishes riders to say something if they see something for the safety of all riders. Afford teachers that same conversational latitude with our students’ moral growth and development.

What do you think?

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