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Teaching with Integrity?

Posted on Thursday, January 27, 2011 in Reflections

One of the bigger questions to come out of my trip to Mumbai (more details in previous post) was rethinking what integrity looks like in the classroom teaching environment. The trigger for this line of thinking was around the story I heard about Gandhi (again from the previous post):

“A mother had a boy who was eating too much sugar. His mother had repeatedly asked her son not to eat sugar, but to no avail. Knowing that her boy respected Gandhi, she took her boy to him to have Gandhi tell her son not to eat so much sugar. As she explained the issue to Gandhi, Gandhi said “come back in a month”. Naturally the mother was confused and a little frustrated, but she nevertheless went away and returned one month later. When she reached Gandhi, he told the boy that sugar was bad for him, and that his mother was right: he should not eat sugar. Of course this infuriated the mother: “Why wouldn’t you tell him this a month ago?” Gandhi’s reply was simple: “Until a month ago, I was eating sugar”.”

There’s plenty to think about in a story like that. For starters: so much of the practical advice around teaching methodology (particularly with reference to behaviour management) is that teaching is essentially an acting job. You can’t let students know what you really think, how you’re really feeling, etc. And there’s certainly a sense of self-preservation in that mindset: there’s little doubt that some students will take advantage of any vulnerability. But at the same time, it feels to me as though there definitely has to be a balance in that – in part because I think that lots of the time I’m a rubbish actor. I know that the students I’d been the most “real” with: admitted when I was having a shocker and let them know when I was walking on sunshine, were also the students who were most likely to believe me when I saw something impressive in what they were doing. Of course, it feels farcical to talk about “balancing integrity”…

The other half of this quandary is considering how you respond to kids, when “the official line” differs significantly with your own beliefs. Regardless of which school policy it is that you disagree with: uniform, computer policy, whatever – at some stage there’s going to be issues in which your beliefs side with the students and against the school. What does it look like to take integrity seriously? To shift either way seems a cop out; playing the cool teacher who rebels against the system or towing the party line and playing it safe. I’m really not sure where to land on this: my best effort at this stage is to discuss both sides of an issue wherever possible, but there’s certainly a level of professionalism that does require you to swallow your tongue at times.

Would love to hear your thoughts.

Bring on the comments

  1. ktenkely says:

    This can be a tricky line. I tend to speak openly with students while letting them know that even though I don’t always agree with policy and I can speak up about it, there are some cases when we follow the rules regardless. I don’t believe in putting on an act for students. It puts an unecessary barrier up and students can spot the act from a mile away. While we don’t have to reveal every thought to students, there is a culture of trust that is built when students know they can count on you to be authentic.