Dear New Teacher: Letter Series (Part 1 – Integrity)

Dear New Teacher,

Initially, I aimed to start this letter series off at the beginning of the journey of a first-year teacher… or at least what I deem the beginning. : ) After much deliberation, I’m going to discuss one of the most crucial aspects of teaching, integrity. I assume that if you’ve decided to become a teacher, you’ve already realized it’s a calling and a matter of the heart. (In later posts I will discuss maintaining one’s passion in the face of opposition, discouragement, and various other road blocks). With the rise in high stakes testing and the scandals inevitably to follow, I believe it is necessary to go in with the mindset to uphold an exemplary level of integrity and accountability regardless of how difficult it may be.

Integrity, by Merriam-Webster’s definition, is “…the quality of being honest and fair.” It is often referred to it as, “doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.” New Teacher, you will have plenty of situations to test your character. Don’t think for a second you will be able to remain bright eyed and bushy tailed forever. Nationwide high stakes testing, amended teacher evaluations, and curriculum changes have greatly decreased your opportunities for creativity in the classroom. Not to say you won’t have some level of autonomy, but you will have to teach according to a particular format if your school district has instituted Common Core. Your effectiveness as a teacher will also be evaluated according to certain criteria. The criteria are normally based on observations of your classroom teaching and whether your students have met certain learning targets. I’ve said all this to give you a gist of what could possibly cause anyone to allow their integrity to be called into question. When their livelihood is in jeopardy, a person can be pushed to do things they wouldn’t otherwise do in order to continue to provide for their families. I am in no way endorsing ‘doing whatever it takes.’ I am simply providing another prospective of the causes for lack of integrity in the education field from the perspective of a classroom teacher.

Before you dart through your classroom door with visions of pastel colored bulletins, ActivBoards, and graphic organizers for every activity imaginable, you have some decisions to make. You will have to decide in your heart what you are going to do when an administrator puts the lean on you because a certain number of students are not passing your class, even though they clearly have not earned the grade. You will have to decide what you are going to do when a student who is a disciplinary problem is repeatedly allowed back into your class, and the administration turns a blind eye in other to keep the number of students needing disciplinary action down. You will have to decide whether you will spend your class time ‘teaching to a test.’ To go a step further, the stress placed on classroom teachers in regard to differentiated instruction may be, for you, a source of turmoil. There will be times you ask yourself, “How much is too much modification?”

It would be wise to consult several ethical decision-making models. The Fisher Model, specifically, focuses on being prepared for an ethical decision before it happens. Being proactive is a must in the education field. It doesn’t just apply to classroom management. A teacher needs to be prepared to deal with tough decisions and do so with integrity. It comes with the territory.

If you don’t already have one, genuinely seek a mentor. Some schools may overlook assigning new teachers to mentors. It is normally to the detriment of the teacher and the school because one of the best ways to measure progress is through non-evaluative methods. Mentors are able to give new teachers valuable feedback and wisdom.

Teacher organizations, whether they are professional/academic or labor unions, are consulting resources to be considered. Besides searching out counsel from seasoned professionals, I’ve been doing research. To explore the history of our education system and gain a different perspective of events, I’m reading a book called The Teacher Wars by Dana Goldstein. I’ll post a book review once I’m finished reading it.

My words are meant to provoke thought and discussion. It is not my intent to incite ire or ridicule. It is more of a charge to remain steadfast. I empathize with the crushing need to make a livelihood. On the other hand, I don’t want to question the morality of my actions while acquiring said livelihood.

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