Expert suggests more ethics training needed to forestall teacher misconduct

Staff writerMarch 23, 2014 

Most teachers are well aware that, in the wrong hands, technology can grease a slippery slope that can lead them into crossing ethical or legal boundaries.

Troy Hutchings is a former high school teacher and state teacher of the year in Arizona who is now research chairman for education at the University of Phoenix. He has looked at what’s behind teacher sexual misconduct.

Hutchings says most teacher preparation programs offer soon-to-be teachers little in the way of training on the subject.

“We have to get away from the ‘ick’ factor,” Hutchings advises.

He said cases of teachers who are serial sex predators capture headlines, but most cases evolve from a more subtle environment. He’s developed an acronym to describe it: GONE. It stands for gradualism, objectivity loss, neutrality loss and erosion of teacher-student boundaries.

“Most teachers care for kids,” he said. “Kids reciprocate with their own need for affirmation, like all people.”

A student may ask to speak to a trusted teacher about problems at home. The teacher may share about his or her own relationship or marital problems. And the teacher is flattered that a student has come to him for advice.

He believes teachers need help recognizing when they’re about to slide — and they need permission to ask for help.

“They don’t even realize they’re on that slope,” Hutchings said. “It’s a whole subculture. And it’s very alluring.”

Hutchings is working nationally with various members of the education community, including state licensing regulators and teachers unions, to develop a more rigorous professional code of ethics.

“We often have a code of conduct, but not a code of ethics,” he said. “We don’t even have a vernacular of ethics. Rules are good. Policies are excellent, but we need something besides that.”

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