Opetusalan Ammattijärjestö

Ethical Principles for the Teaching Profession

Teaching may be regarded as a profession in its own right, and one that demands a great deal of professional expertise. But it also requires its own code of ethics, which may be expressed in a set of ethical principles. These constitute a code of ”quality control” for the profession and those who practise it, a response to the trust shown by society at large.
Professional Ethics

Many professions throughout the ages have set themselves ethical guidelines that express the attitudes and sense of responsibility that members are required to show towards their work, articulating the common values and principles that they should possess with respect to their profession.

The teaching profession is based on the concept of teachers as experts who have been assigned specialized tasks by society, which has also prepared them for such tasks by providing them with the necessary high level of education. The profession then demands that the representatives selected to perform these tasks should demonstrate high ethical standards in all situations, even though the tasks may frequently be difficult to define precisely or call for rapid decisions. lt is essential for society to be able to rely on persons of this kind to exercise a high level of professional skill.

The sense of responsibility attached to the practising of a profession is based on knowledge and vocational skills on the one hand and on the values and norms that form the foundation of the work on the other. Both are essential, and neither can replace the other. Good ethical principles cannot compensate for poor professional skills, and good professional skills cannot make up for a lack of ethical principles. Thus teachers should feel obliged by their sense of responsibility to pay constant attention to the maintaining of their professional skills, and also to show particular sensitivity in the perception of ethical problems and readiness to observe the highest standards of professional ethics when resolving such situations.

Any consideration of the ethics of the teaching profession calls for a distinction to be made between legal and ethical matters. The basic duties and responsibilities of teachers are defined in the relevant legislation and norms, while the content of the teaching is laid down in the curriculum. By contrast, however, the ethics of the profession are not based on compulsion or external supervision but on an internalized concept of the moral obligations attached to the work. One major point of departure for the ethical principles set out here has been the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The results of a teacher's work are often visible only after a considerable time lag, in that good Iearning experiences tend to promote lifelong learning. Teachers can play a significant role in both the generation of positive Iearning experiences and the reinforcement of learners' self-esteem. Thus a teacher's work is a matter of providing opportunities for upbringing, instruction and Iearning for the ultimate benefit of individual learners. ln addition, a teacher is expected to meet up to society's requirements concerning the implementation of the goals of teaching, which means that, on account of changes taking place in society, many teachers are obliged in the course of their work to take care of things for which they cannot bear sole responsibility.

The change in the role of teachers has brought them closer to the learners, but it has also increased their responsibility for the learners' development and has frequently led them into closer cooperation with others who are also responsible for this development. Teachers have a great deal of  power and responsibility in matters concerned with the evaluation of learners, for instance, and it is only by fully internalizing the ethical principles involved that they can avoid abusing their position in this respect.

A high standard of professional ethics is one of the most important resources available to teachers, guiding their work and their interactive relations at the professional level. The work of teaching should include consideration and evaluation of the ethics of one's own goals and motives. ln this sense the purpose of the present account of a teacher's professional ethics is to codify and promote the sense of what is ethically right that has always been a part of educational work.