Are the values of teaching universal?

In England, teachers use to have a code of conduct and practice before the General Teaching Council was abolished. It was intended to make the values of teaching explicit both to teachers themselves and to the wider public. These have been replaced by the more prescriptive Teachers’ Standards – but serve more or less the same purpose.

But do teachers everywhere share similar principles?

It occurred to me recently that codes of conduct and practice are very much a product of their time and place. When I entered teaching (way back in 1979) we didn’t have a code, but if we had I’m sure it would have looked very different to the one we have now.

Here are a couple of examples why I think this is true:

In 1979, the idea of “striving to establish productive partnerships with parents and carers” was not really on the agenda. That’s not to say that many teachers and schools didn’t already work productively with parents – they did.  But the idea that teachers should do this as part of a ‘code of practice’ would have been a highly contested issue.

Similarly, “co-operating with other professional colleagues”. In those days, the view of many (albeit excellent) teachers would have been to say: “My job is to teach history, maths, chemistry or whatever – not to spend my valuable teaching time liaising with social workers, child psychologists, speech therapists or police liaison officers.”

And as for “respecting diversity and promoting equality”… whose diversity? whose equality?  Less than a hundred years ago, females in the UK didn’t even have the right to vote, let alone have the expectation that teachers would promote equality on their behalf.  Thirty years ago, teachers in the UK were promoting equality by immersing immigrant children in English. Now decades of research tells us of the benefits to language acquisition, cognition and identity from supporting bilingualism.

And what about crossing cultures and societies?

Do teachers in ‘liberal, democratic, pluralist and developed societies’ – like the UK for example – share the same values as teachers in relatively ‘conservative, traditional, authoritarian and developing societies’ like Egypt, Malawi or Bangladesh?

As a profession, do we merely reflect the dominant values of the societies we live in?

Or do we have universal principles to offer the world?




3 thoughts on “Are the values of teaching universal?

  1. The GTC in Scotland also has a ‘code of Conduct’ and to me, the underlying principle is ‘professionalism’. It may be of use to compare these documents and draw your own conclusions as to similarity and/or difference.

    I agree that such things must change over time, as our society and culture change too. However, there is a difference between such codes and what happens in reality in that each school and sometimes each department within a school have their own ethos and culture.

    There are however a number of things that do seem to be universal in teaching as a profession and as a vocation. We have a link with a school in Malawi and when I visited it in 2008 I found staff with the same commitment to do their best for their pupils, work with the community that they serve and the same frustration at those external factors that work to prevent them from doing better.

    What worries me in the current climate, is that just as teachers seemed set to develop and improve on what has gone before, we are now facing funding cuts, job cuts and cuts to conditions of service that put at risk the capacity of the profession to meet the challenge of the increasingly fast pace of change in society and technology.

    It may turn out that the universal feeling that above all else that will unite teachers is the sense of frustration at what we want to achieve and what we can achieve.

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