Ethics: they’re everywhere.

First it was Blonde Justice’s nice posts on the ethics of dealing with clients. Then the stupid stupid boys yesterday. Today, PostHipChick inspired me to add educational ethics to the mix with her post about teacher induction programs.

When I was teaching, I was required to enroll in a program called BTSA, which stood for something like “badgering teachers with stupid acronyms.” It involved being assigned a “mentor,” who came into my classroom once a month to “serve as a resource” and give me things that were meant to help in my classroom. In theory, teacher-mentoring programs like this are great. Master teachers take a year or two off from teaching to mentor new teachers. They come into your classroom, help you set up a lesson, maybe teach a lesson while you watch, and generally share their wisdom and experience with you.

In reality, these programs often suck. At least it sucked for me. Every month, a woman who had retired from teaching several years ago but then realized she needed some extra money (her explanation, not mine) came into my classroom for 20 minutes and asked me to sign her timesheet to say that she’d been there. Once she brought me a cd of “fun classroom music” featuring misogynistic rap (“it’s the kind of stuff the kids like!”) Several times she shared with me this pearl of wisdom: “my, these children are just so different than the ones I was teaching!” Different as in not white. Different as in non-native speakers of English. Different as in living in a city instead of a mostly white suburb, where she had taught for her entire career. How was this mentoring relationship designed to help me, exactly? “Teaching in the suburbs 30 years ago was different than teaching in the city is today” is a lesson I probably could have figured out on my own. She was a nice enough lady, I guess, but this was just laughably useless for me.

What’s the ethical angle in all of this, you ask? Well, it’s like this. When I was teaching, I was stretched to the limit pretty much all the time. I was tired, overworked, had that “I’m a sucker and I can’t say no” problem, was worried about the kiddos in my class every day. I did not have a lot of time. Had the BTSA woman been doing her job properly, I would have been meeting with her twice a month for at least an hour. This was not time that I had, and after seeing how she ran our twenty-minute meetings, I definitely did not want to be spending even more time with her. So despite the fact that the district was paying her to meet with me (and several other teachers) for at least two hours a month (and I’m pretty sure she was supposed to be prepping for these meetings, too, and was getting paid for the prep time,) I let her get away with about 20 minutes a month by signing her time sheets for the full two hours. No rocking the boat here! Please get out of my classroom and let me continue teaching my different children! If she missed coming in one month, I celebrated a little and signed the damn time sheets anyway.

At a practical personal level, this was certainly the right thing to do. Refusing to sign the time sheets would have subjected me to many more hours of arguing about what she did and did not do, I would have had to document things in triplicate, and I may even have had to go down to the dreaded District Office (where there ought to be a sign on the wall like the ones they have in mines and factories and other dangerous workplaces, the ones that say “It’s been ___ days since our last accident!” except this one would say “It’s been 5934 days since our last efficient action!”) Worst of all, if I had blown the whistle on her, she might have started coming for the full two hours a month, which would have been excruciating. But it’s impossible to deny that by signing her bogus time sheets, I was allowing her to scam the district out of money, and god knows we didn’t have the money to spare.

So what’s the ethical calculus here? I didn’t stop a woman who I knew was committing fraud, and that cost an already cash-strapped district money. But, I saved time that was personally tremendously valuable. I think there was at least arguably a professional benefit, too- I had a duty to do as well as I could to teach my students, which meant giving them the best lessons possible, which meant wasting as little time as I could on stuff that was just silly. But even when I type that, it sounds a lot like rationalization, and if there’s one thing for which I have no patience, it is teacher excuse-making. Hm.

Interesting that two years later I still can’t decide whether I should have turned her in. These ethics, I tell you- they’re everywhere!