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Off Duty Conduct

Can a teacher wear a nose ring? Or have a tattoo? Can a teacher go to a bar on the weekend and become intoxicated? Or go to a strip club? The truth is there is no simple answer to these questions. Teachers have private lives and, to a degree, are entitled to live their lives as they choose. The profession, the public and the courts, however, persistently have regarded the example that a teacher sets in their private life as a legitimate area of inquiry for employment and certification purposes. As early as 1939, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in a case called Horosko v. Mt. Pleasant School District opined that “ [i]t has always been the recognized duty of the teacher to conduct himself in such way as to command the respect and good will of the community, though one result of the choice of a teacher's vocation may be to deprive him of the same freedom of action enjoyed by persons in other vocations.” Take a few minutes and read the Horosko case and you might be surprised to learn of the “conduct” that so shocked the Court in 1939.

In a society with rapidly changing mores, the challenge lies in determining when a teacher's off-duty conduct results in a perhaps unintended effect in their professional life. Sometimes it is easy to see how particular off-duty conduct can affect a teacher's professional life. For example, if a teacher is found to be using illegal drugs, it is relatively easy to assume that disciplinary action will follow given the zero tolerance for drugs in schools, the accepted position of teacher as a role model, and the perceived undermining of the teacher’s authority in the classroom as a result of the illegal conduct. The repercussions of other off-duty conduct or lifestyle choices may be more difficult to predict and may depend on the culture of a school district or the nature of a teacher's position. For instance, whether a teacher is permitted to wear a nose ring, wear provocative clothes or have a tattoo may depend on the local rules of a school district. Some districts have strict dress codes which outline these issues and others do not.

Teachers have a fiduciary responsibility to act in the best interest of the students placed in their care. This fiduciary responsibility is an expectation that only certain professions (lawyers, doctors, nurses, etc.) uphold. A teacher's private or off-duty actions can call into question his or her ability to fulfill their fiduciary responsibilities and undermine the community's confidence in their teaching. Also, a teacher's private actions may affect instructional effectiveness. For instance, a teacher who was arrested for drunk driving may lack the moral authority to instruct students on safe driving practices.

Suggested Readings

Are teachers role models outside of the classroom?

Discussion Questions

  1. In the video, the participants discuss whether they would hire certain teachers based on their appearance. Should appearance play a role in how a teacher is viewed?
  2. At what point in the progression of the teacher’s life style choices in the video would you think that her off -duty conduct impinged on her ability to be effective as a teacher?
  3. Should a teacher be able to free-lance as a nude model? Write erotica under an assumed name? Lobby for the legalization of marijuana?