Ethics in Educational Settings
Dr. Carolyn Ryan
Ethical Society Without Walls
As my title suggests, I have multiple positions in education. Most of my time is spent in the public school setting. As a licensed psychologist and board certified behavior analyst, my role varies according to the needs and issues of the school district, the school, the administrators and staff, and the parents, as well as the students themselves. I also teach graduate courses in Psychology at the local university, supervise upcoming behavior analysts and psychologist, evaluate children with autism, write professional articles and book chapters, and present at conferences and workshops.
The benefits of working in these settings are that I have opportunities to collaborate with and influence a variety of individuals. Not surprisingly, ethical challenges are accepted as a necessary element in the field.
From my experience, serious ethical dilemmas involve resolving issues related to organizational demands according to ethical guidelines. Difficult ethical challenges involve situations in which my personal and professional ethics are not aligned with the organizations' or other individuals' ethics.
Here are three cases, examples from public schools, that highlight a few types of situations with special-education teachers that I face regularly. In one of the most challenging situations, to avoid having to fire her, a tenured teacher was transferred from a high school resource room position to a primary elementary classroom for which she had no interest or prior training. Unfortunately, the teacher spent the first three months of school disagreeing with my recommendations, complaining, and conjuring schemes against the district. Eventually, the teacher left the school and is currently in the process of suing the school district.
In another situation a teacher with whom I had had a good rapport and a reasonable working relationship for three years, recently earned tenure. When she returned the following school year, she was less than enthusiastic and motivated. Her lackadaisical behavior served as a poor model for the six staff within her class of five students. I attempted reasonable methods to improve the situation for the students and staff. I described the situation to her supervisor to no avail. Although the situation was very disappointing and frustrating, this type of behavior is what I encounter most often.
Finally, for the past few years I have been working with an extremely diligent and professional teacher. I can rely on this teacher to follow-through on any recommendations that I make for her students or assigned staff. She is bright, honest, and a strong advocate for her students and families. As a result, students have made the best progress of their school careers in the years that she worked with them, in upper-elementary school and middle school. The students have learned independent skills which make them candidates for mainstreaming opportunities that are so needed in life. Since she began working in the school, she designed peer social and mentoring groups so that her students would have successful social situations. Unfortunately this final example is the exception not the rule in educational settings.
It would behoove anyone who is interested in working with children with autism and other related disorders to have strong ethical inclinations. More importantly, such a person must have altruistic tendencies. At the end of the school day, it is the child's needs and concerns that are of primary importance. Our hope is that children with special needs are able to learn to function more fully in our society. Children with special needs are at such an extreme disadvantage that if the professionals are more concerned with bureaucracy, politics, and their egos, then, sadly, the children suffer.
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