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Ethics, Teaching and Diversity

The Code outlines clear expectations for the ethical responsibilities of teachers with respect to diversity:

Professional educators shall exhibit consistent and equitable treatment of students, fellow educators and parents. They shall respect the civil rights of all and not discriminate on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, culture, religion, sex or sexual orientation, marital status, age, political beliefs, socioeconomic status, disabling condition or vocational interest.

22 Pa. Code §235.4(b)(4).

The Code clearly mandates that teachers "respect" students' civil rights and "not discriminate" against them. But how does this expectation manifest itself in a classroom setting? As our society becomes increasingly diverse, our schools and classrooms will reflect this changing composition. Across the Commonwealth, teachers should expect ethnic, gender and cultural diversity within their classrooms. Teachers must be prepared to work with a diverse population of students and be respectful of their individual learning needs by employing a variety of teaching methods to insure that all students have access to the curricular content. In some cases, teachers may need to expand their knowledge base to better understand and effectively meet a student's needs and to insure that their classrooms are free from inadvertent or overt discrimination.

Barbara Gross Davis, University of California, Berkeley, in Tools for Teaching suggests the following general strategies and tactics for overcoming stereotypes and biases:

General Strategies and Tactics

  • recognize any biases or stereotypes that you may have absorbed;
  • treat each student as an individual and respect each student for who he or she is;
  • rectify any language patterns or case examples that exclude or demean any groups;
  • be sensitive to terminology;
  • get a sense of how students feel about the cultural climate in your classroom;
  • become more informed about the history and culture of groups other than your own;
  • convey the same level of respect and confidence in the abilities of all your students;
  • don’t try to “protect” any group of students;
  • be evenhanded in how you acknowledge students’ good work; and
  • introduce discussions of diversity within the school faculty.

Course Content and Material

  • select texts and readings whose language is free of stereotypes;
  • do not assume that all students will recognize cultural, literary or historical references that are familiar to you;
  • consider students’ needs when assigning evening or weekend work; and
  • bring in guest lecturers to enrich the course.

Class Discussion

  • emphasize the importance of considering different approaches and viewpoints;
  • make it clear that you value all comments;
  • encourage all students to participate in class discussions;
  • monitor your own reactions in responding to students;
  • speak up promptly if any student makes an inappropriate remark even if made in jest; and
  • avoid singling out students as “spokespersons” for their race, culture or nationality.

Assignments and Exams

  • be sensitive to students whose first language is not English;
  • suggest that students form study teams that meet outside of class;
  • assign collaborative learning activities; and
  • give assignments and exams that recognize diversity.

Suggested Readings

Allan, J. (2011). Responsibly Competent: Teaching, Ethics and Diversity. Policy Futures in Education, 9(1), 130-137.

Assaf, L., Garza, R., & Battle, J. (2010). Multicultural Teacher Education: Examining the Perceptions, Practices, and Coherence in One Teacher Preparation Program. Teacher Education Quarterly, 37(2), 115-135.

Ehrensal, P., Crawford, R., Castellucci, J., & Allen, G. (2001). The American Melting Pot Versus the Chinese Hot Spot. in J. Shapiro & J. Stefkovich (Eds.), Ethical Leadership and Decision Making in Education. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Krause, J., Traini, D., & Mickey, B. (2001). Equality versus Equity. in J. Shapiro & J. Stefkovich (Eds.), Ethical Leadership and Decision Making in Education. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Milner, H. (2010). What Does Teacher Education Have to Do with Teaching? Implications for Diversity Studies. Journal of Teacher Education, 61(1-2), 118-131.

O'Neill, J., & Bourke, R. (2010). Educating Teachers About a Code of Ethical Conduct. Ethics & Education, 5(2), 159-172.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it important to create a classroom environment where students can learn without the fear of discrimination?
  2. Have you ever felt discriminated against in a classroom setting by a teacher or by a classmate? Did that impact your ability to be successful in that class? Have you ever observed either overt or inadvertent bias in a teacher’s methodology or choice of instructional materials? If so, identify how such bias could have been avoided.