Ethics refers to the study of conduct and moral judgment. It is moral philosophy. Codes of ethics are essentially short statements of principles governing certain aspects of conduct. Ethics, as related to the professional educator, is concerned with the teacher’s conduct in situations involving professional duties and responsibilities. It is concerned with the teacher’s relationships with children, parents, the general public, other teachers, administrators, supervisors, and the educational profession. In the words of the NEA Committee on Professional Ethics:

Professional ethics means much more than obtaining a position through professionally accepted channels, carrying out a contract, and keeping as confidential scholastic record. It includes the attitude which the teacher holds towards his profession, the spirit in which he deals with his associates, the dignity and professional manner in which he acts toward pupils and parents. It implies the presence of a sense of relative values whereby a teacher chooses the professional course of action in all circumstances. It implies loyalty, though not blind devotion, to the teaching profession, to one’s associates, and to the children under one’s care.

A code of ethics usually includes both general and specific statements of principles which are intended to govern conduct not already governed or controlled by law. The code is based upon standards of moral behavior, the violators of which are usually punishable only to the extent of expulsion from membership in the association. While there may be some little value attached to the writing of a code of ethics, real and lasting value can come only when its principles are enforced.

A code of ethics functions as more than a well-written statement of what ideal behavior of people would be under certain conditions. It serves to protect the conscientious teacher and to penalize the offending one. It serves to assure boards of education, administrators, teachers, parents, children, and the general public of a kind of working relationship which adds dignity to education. It helps develop a sense of mutual confidence in the behavior and attitudes of all groups concerned in the business of education.

It would be difficult, if not impossible, for any organization to devise or construct a code of ethical standards which would be completely satisfactory to the thousands of individual members to which it pertains. To avoid this problem some codes are composed of such general statements and platitudes that they mean very little to the people to whom they apply. If a code of ethics does not serve many useful purposes to the individual member it is of little real value.

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