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Teachers: ethical behavior is not "teamwork"

first place trophy
A team of coaches got him there -- don't our students deserve the same treatment?
                                                                                           AP Photo/Manu Fernandez

A local retired teacher and former school board member took umbrage with Merit pay could promote teamwork, as did many of her colleagues. Claiming that my premise showed “lack of understanding,” she continued,

“Why does …[Marie] think teachers form associations and negotiate for salaries? We are already working together to support our profession and our disciplines.”

Working together to support a profession is ethical behavior. Such attitudes preserve and maintain cordial, collegiate working relationships between teachers in a school or in a district, and allow all employees to feel supported in their (also ethical) actions. But ethical behavior is not teamwork.

For instance, I coach figure skating after school each day. Even if my professional knowledge enables me to see errors in the skating of another coach’s student, it is unethical for me to say anything – to that skater, to her coach, or to her parents. Under the PSA Code of Ethics, I am supportive of the different methods (and results) of my colleagues’ efforts (as they are of mine). In this way, a peaceful coexistence of coaches and skaters is maintained, allowing everyone to advance at the chosen pace, with the chosen instructor. But this ethical behavior should not be confused with teamwork.

Teamwork occurs when I teach in unison with another coach: when we share a student, plan for her progress, and work toward that progress by sharing techniques and ideas and training plans. Teamwork benefits all athletes by giving them diverse outlooks and more coaches who are coordinating their success. Olympians require a team of coaches to reach advanced performance levels. Students in our schools deserve the same dedicated approach to teaching.

Teachers who work in teams do not relish being the “best 6th grade teacher” or “the best Calculus teacher”. They do not hide their techniques and successful lesson plans from others who teach the same grade level. They share grant ideas and funding so that all students – not just the ones in their own classes -- can benefit from innovative projects.

I live in a small district, much like that of Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegone, where ethical behavior determines that all teachers are above-average, and all classes are satisfactory, if not advanced. Union and teacher ethics force professionals to hide the deficiencies hidden within their ranks. No one may discuss poor teaching; no one may make another teacher feel inadequate. This is ethical behavior; it is not teamwork.

The premise of Merit pay could promote teamwork is that sharing merit bonuses could enhance teachers’ abilities to work together – to advance the professional development of all colleagues, and to increase teaching performance across the board. In this way, teachers – even those who belong to unions – could remain ethical as well as work as a team. Such behavior would benefit not only the teaching profession, but its students and the educational future of America itself.

For more info:

Teamwork -- What can parents do?
How can parents tell if a school is really good?
Ten traits of an excellent school
Why your choice of schools matters
Deep practice: why homework is key to academic success

Code of Ethics for Idaho Professional Educators
Professional Skaters Association Code of Ethics
Professional Skaters Association Tenets of Professionalism

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