four
Dilemmas in teaching

Moral uncertainty: when ethical knowledge fades

Generally, teachers must operate without specific guidance or collective
wisdom as to what constitutes ethical conduct. Consequently, teachers
are in the difficult position of having to make ethical decisions without
much guidance. If they use or are accused of using poor judgment, they
may find themselves called to account before an administrator who also
has little guidance regarding an appropriate course of action.1

Ideally, when faced with ethical decisions, individual teachers who are astutely aware of their role as moral agents would draw on an extensive body of personal and professional ethical knowledge to provide guidance and direction. However, as those who write about ethical conflicts in teaching can attest, this is not the case as teachers struggle to react and respond to often complicated situations and dilemmas that occur haphazardly and usually without warning.2

One may recall the Preface to The Ethical Teacher in which I describe a personal experience where I lacked the ethical knowledge to connect both conceptually and in practical terms my natural will to be a good, fair, kind, and empathetic teacher with a routine administrative task. Such an incident is not an isolated occurrence in schools. On another occasion, I recall how a class of fairly calm 14-year-olds erupted into an unruly and unhappy group within minutes of having to fill in a form for the school's records on which they were to list their home address and contact numbers for their parents or guardians. What I had not realized was that at least half of these students came from families with divorced parents, and some of them spent their

-63-

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