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Ethical dilemmas. What would you do if...?

You are an enthusiastic, talented and hard-working new teacher. You have good skills and good professional values. You love the job and despite the long days and short weekends you’re as keen as mustard – you’re well liked by your colleagues. They’ve even elected you teacher-governor and the union rep.


Yeh, you make a few boo-boos here and there but your hard work makes up for it and anyway you know right from wrong… right?


You’d know what should be done with a dentist who was embezzling from the NHS, or a nurse who was snorting cocaine while on duty or a doctor having a sexual relationship with a patient… right?


Some things are easy to make judgments about, especially when as an outsider, you can stand back and be the judge of other people’s ‘unprofessional’ actions.


But what about you, working inside a collegial profession like teaching? What are your responsibilities to the accountability of your own profession?


Here’s a scenario to consider… what would you do if…

a new teacher colleague (who has become your best friend on the staff), tells you in strictest confidence that she has started a relationship with another newly qualified teacher in the school…? (So what… most people meet their partners at work don’t they..?)


Actually I got that wrong… she tells you that the colleague she has started a relationship with is not another NQT but someone in senior management.


Think about that for a second.


In fact, that’s not the whole truth either… The person she has been sleeping with for the last three months is the Deputy Head Teacher… who is married… Oh, and another thing… his wife also teaches at the school.


What would you do..? Anything?


One day you discover a large number of empty spirit bottles in a school store cupboard…


Think about that one for a moment.


Mystified, you go to the Head and tell her. She asks you to come in to her office and sits you down. She tells you they belong to her. She pleads for your discretion and admits she has been drinking heavily to cope with the stress of her elderly mother becoming terminally ill and needing full time care at home.


How would you respond…?


One day you walk in to an office you think is vacant. A well respected and experienced senior colleague you consider to be ‘a mentor’ is sitting alone accessing an adult porn site on the internet…


Take a second to think about how you would handle that.


He apologises for the embarrassment caused but says it’s his own computer… and anyway, it’s his lunch-time… You glance at the screen. It’s hard-core porn featuring so-called 'teenage school girls'…


What do you say? Do you do anything?


You are a teacher-governor and you’re on the Finance Committee. At one meeting you are confused by discrepancies in some un-reconciled accounts. You talk to the Head about it…


The Head breaks down and admits that she has used school money to pay for additional palliative care for her mother, now recently deceased. But the discrepancies in the accounts are the result of her paying the money back into school funds. The sums are thousands, but she says she has now re-paid every penny she ‘borrowed’.


What would you do…?  (Apply for another job? - because that’s one hell of a school you’re working in…!) No. I’m joking.


Seriously, I am very interested in what you would think, sayand doin all of these very ‘unprofessional’ but also very ‘human’ situations.


I suspect that if (and when) we really find ourselves in the midst of such dilemmas, our responses wouldn’t be as straightforward as we’d like to think.


One more thing… just in case you think all these scenarios are totally inconceivable and you’ll never find yourself in such messy situations... these are all authentic examples from the disciplinary case history of teaching’s professional regulatory body in England.

I think a profession should take responsibility for the accountability of its own practitioners. In my view, that’s what professional bodies are for.


Alan Newland worked as a teacher and headteacher in London for over 20 years and then at the DfE and GTC. He now lectures on teaching and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk.  His book “Working in Teaching” (Crimson Publishing) was published in March 2014.