Troy Hutchings, Ed.D.
Senior Policy Advisor, NASDTEC
Abolishing the Discomfort
Amid our country’s most recent racial reckoning, let’s not forget that schools have historically been – and will no doubt continue to be – a legal battleground for society’s struggle with racism, equity and equality.
The systemic challenges that our educational system faces are profound. But let’s be perfectly clear – it is the individual educator who has the greatest potential to be the arbiter of change and the engine of social progress.
Regardless of the community or grade level, educators will be navigating difficult and potentially polarizing conversations when school resumes this fall – with colleagues, parents, students – related to race relations, power structures in society, the appropriate methods of confronting and challenging societal inequity, and how best to discuss deeply controversial current events.
As we consider how to shape these conversations, we need to honestly and thoroughly examine the impediments that may constrain appropriate action.
This past week, one high school educator in Maryland did precisely that. In an article entitled My Failures as a White Teacher Confronting Racism in the Classroom, teacher Dylan Craig courageously examines why he, and I dare say many of us, have faltered or stood silent when faced with subtle or even blatant displays of racism.
According to Craig, it is not enough to act on discriminatory comments made by students in the hallways and classrooms by applying rote disciplinary actions and demanding half-hearted apologies:
I faltered, not because I felt the discussion was over, or because I felt they had learned something. I stopped because I was uncomfortable. I questioned whether it is my place to discuss false meritocracies. I falter when students frame discussions of human rights as arguments between liberal versus conservative viewpoints, and I fear being accused of indoctrinating students. I falter as I see my students fall back on their personal political views of individualism. School is meant to be a place to allow students to think for themselves and develop their own views — but what views are they developing if those views are based on a false narrative that I am too uncomfortable to address?
Dylan Craig’s experiences are not unique. His honest reflection speaks for educators across the country and exposes what I think is a harsh reality – when faced with deeply disconcerting issues, we may falter because we are uncomfortable acting in isolation.
By identifying our collective professional values and obligations, we strengthen our resolve in countering dangerous and damaging narratives when working with students, colleagues, and other members of the schooling community. Codes of ethics contain the norms that affirm and empower collective professional action. The conversations they engender help to shatter the professional isolation that lead us to question purpose and role – the very competing tensions contained within Mr. Craig’s reflective writing.
Here is the beauty of a broadly agreed-upon code – it unequivocally states what we believe and the standards to which we aspire. Practitioners stand united in their convictions regardless of the turbulent currents in public discourse.
There is a reason why equity and equality are prominent themes in the Model Code of Ethics for Educators – quite simply, they are each central to the mission of professional educators. The Code recognizes and enshrines the fundamental obligation of all educators to acknowledge and deconstruct the barriers to opportunity faced by any student – regardless of whether those barriers are brazenly explicit or insidiously implicit. Eleven MCEE standards, articulated in all five of the Principles, are devoted to the professional responsibilities of equity, equality, and anti-discrimination.
But those MCEE standards go beyond merely stating professional values – they express an ethical standard of purposeful movement. Rooted in action phrases, they refute complacency or neutrality.
Our responsibility to the profession entails not just holding oneself accountable to the ethical standards, but also our colleagues and the broader school community. As uncomfortable as professional accountability may be – it needs to be done. In just the two weeks since the death of George Floyd, news outlets have reported that a public school superintendent, as well as several teachers and coaches, have been fired or resigned due to insensitive, tone deaf, or racist social media posts.
We can do better.
Let’s be emboldened by our stated collective professional norms and obligations as articulated in the Model Code of Ethics for Educators, allow ourselves to have the difficult conversations – and in the process, abolish the discomfort that is often rooted in professional isolationism.
 Craig, D. (June 5, 2020). My Failures as a White Teacher Confronting Racism in the Classroom. Maryland Matters. https://www.marylandmatters.org/2020/06/05/opinion-my-failures-as-a-white-teacher-confronting-racism-in-the-classroom/